Monday, September 19, 2011

Loneliness Vs. Solitude

Henri J.M. Nouwen, in Reaching Out, which I believe is one of his greatest books, spoke to the very important distinction between "loneliness" and "solitude" which is often confused in the minds of many who take seriously their quest of the inner life.  Many run from seeking an encounter with the Holy within, out of fear of being alone and coming face-to-face with themselves, or that which they may not understand.  By being willing to live only in the active, outer world, deprives one of the riches of the soul which we discover in the inner quiet, while on this mysterious, mystical journey towards God.

Godly living is not a matter of "either/or" -- active life or contemplative life -- but rather to live in a balance of action and prayer.  Each nurtures the other and, as the liberation theologian, Segundo Galilea, writes: "Authentic Christian contemplation, passing through the desert, transforms contemplatives into prophets, and heroes of commitment and militants into mystics."

Nouwen wrote: "To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. This requires not only courage but a strong faith. As hard as it is to believe that the dry desolate desert can yield endless varieties of flowers, it is equally hard to imagine that our loneliness is hiding unknown beauty. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play."

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