I’ll be away from home for a few days, in a secular setting…with some good Catholics, but in a secular setting nonetheless – no chapel, no solitude. I’m a bit apprehensive about it because I haven’t done a trip like this in years.
Still, the “hermitage of my heart” should be with me always, and I hope to be able to retreat into it at times. Sometimes I think I am too dependent on my physical surroundings when it comes to my prayer times.
On the other hand, writing in praise of the life of solitude, the Carthusian monk Guigo, Fifth Prior of the Grande Chartreuse said
…in the Old Testament, and still more so in the New, almost all of God's secrets of major importance and hidden meaning were revealed to His servants, not in the turbulence of the crowd but in the silence of solitude; and you know, too, that these same servants of God, when they wished to penetrate more profoundly some spiritual truth, or to pray with greater freedom, or to become a stranger to things earthly in an ardent elevation of the soul, nearly always fled the hindrance of the multitude for the benefits of solitude.
Thus — to illustrate by some examples — when seeking a place for meditation, Isaac went out to a field alone (Genesis 24:63); and this, one may assume, was his normal practice, and not an isolated incident. Likewise, it was when Jacob was alone, having dispatched his retinue ahead of him, that he saw God face to face (Genesis 32:24-30), and was thus favored with a blessing and a new and better name, thus receiving more in one moment of solitude than in a whole lifetime of social contact.
Scripture also tells us how Moses, Elijah and Elisha esteemed solitude, and how conducive they found it to an even deeper penetration of the divine secrets; and note, too, what perils constantly surrounded them when among men, and how God visited them when alone.
So those of us who seek solitude are in good company!
Sometimes, my station in life demands that I join in with the comings and goings of the world, even if I don’t really want to. I do not enjoy any kind of party, even the rather tame, benign ones I’m required to attend a couple of times a year. I try to accept the inconvenience with grace, as the reasons for attending involve taking care of my family, essentially. I approach the coming trip with mixed feelings; part of me is happy to go, while the “hermitess” part is anxious about departing from a way of life that becomes more stable with each passing month and year.
Well, there will be lessons to learn, I am sure, and I know my soul will seek God no matter where I am. At least I know that there is nothing wrong with seeking and preferring solitude. Guido concluded his thoughts on solitude with this:
And now, dear reader, ponder and reflect on the great spiritual benefits derived from solitude by the holy and venerable Fathers — Paul, Antony, Hilarion, Benedict, and others without number — and you will readily agree that for the spiritual savor of psalmody; for penetrating the message of the written page; for kindling the fire of fervent prayer; for engaging in profound meditation; for losing oneself in mystic contemplation; for obtaining the heavenly dew of purifying tears, — nothing is more helpful than solitude.