Excerpt from The Making Of An Ordinary Saint

In our day God is using the spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline of soli­tude as the great lib­er­a­tor. Soli­tude lib­er­ates us from all the inane chat­ter that is so char­ac­ter­is­tic of mod­ern life. It lib­er­ates us from the ever-present demands that are put upon us; demands that in the moment feel so urgent and press­ing but that in real­i­ty have no last­ing sig­nif­i­cance. In soli­tude the use­less triv­i­al­i­ties of life begin to drop away. We are set free from the many false selves” we have built up in order to cope with the expec­ta­tions oth­ers place upon us — and we place upon our­selves. Soli­tude empow­ers us to walk away from all human pre­tense and manipulation. 

In addi­tion, God uses our expe­ri­ences of soli­tude to enable us to become who we tru­ly are. We begin, slow­ly at first, to live sim­ply before God. Increas­ing­ly we come to see things in the light of eter­ni­ty, and as a result, suc­cess­es and fail­ures no longer impress us or oppress us. Expe­ri­ences of soli­tude root in us a deep, abid­ing hope; a hope that sees every­thing in the light of God’s over­rid­ing gov­er­nance for good. In soli­tude we are so bathed in God’s great­ness and good­ness that we come to see the immense val­ue of our own soul. The result is that we become increas­ing­ly freed from our fran­tic human strivings. 

Of course, all of our expe­ri­ences in soli­tude are done in the pres­ence of the liv­ing God. We are, after all, expe­ri­enc­ing soli­tude as a Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline. In times of soli­tude, we become enveloped in God’s very presence. 

There is an inti­mate con­nec­tion between soli­tude and silence. Silence, you see, cre­ates in us an open, emp­ty space where we are enabled to become atten­tive to God. And oh, how we need such open spaces in our mod­ern tech­no-world with its relent­less bar­rage of sound and fury, sig­ni­fy­ing noth­ing.” Indeed, many peo­ple today have become lit­tle more than walk­ing tow­ers of babble.”

Today silence is one of the most essen­tial dis­ci­plines of the Spir­it sim­ply because it puts a stop­per on all this mind­less chat­ter and clat­ter. It enables us to step aside from the noise and hur­ry and crowds of mod­ern life long enough to allow God to cre­ate in us atti­tudes and habits that will hold us con­stant­ly in the lov­ing pres­ence of God. 

There was a time, not so very long ago, when soli­tude and silence were avail­able to peo­ple by the nor­mal con­di­tions of every­day life. Not any longer! In our day we have to choose soli­tude and silence and plan our lives accord­ing­ly. It can be done, of course, espe­cial­ly as we catch a vision of their lib­er­at­ing qual­i­ties. Thomas Mer­ton wrote, It is in deep soli­tude that I find the gen­tle­ness with which I can tru­ly love [oth­ers]… Soli­tude and silence teach me to love [oth­ers] for what they are, not for what they say.”1

Fos­ter, Nathan. The Mak­ing of an Ordi­nary Saint: My Jour­ney from Frus­tra­tion to Joy with the Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines. Bak­er Pub­lish­ing Group.

For each chap­ter in Nathan’s book, Richard Fos­ter writes an intro­duc­to­ry essay — like this one from the chap­ter on solitude.

[1] Thomas Mer­ton, Through the Year with Thomas Mer­ton: Dai­ly Med­i­ta­tions from His Writ­ings, ed. Thomas P. McDon­nell, Feb­ru­ary 4, In Deep Soli­tude” (Gar­den City, NY: Image Books, 1985), 22.

Pho­to by Thanh Tran on Unsplash

Text First Published October 2014

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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