Loneliness and solitude are not the same thing. Loneliness feels like it’s imposed upon us. Solitude feels like a choice.
During the pandemic, you’ve probably felt more lonely than usual, in part because you can’t get together with people as you usually would. Even people passing by in the neighborhood or grocery store seem more distant.
Today is Maundy Thursday, the day in the church calendar when we remember the Last Supper. Jesus removes himself and his closest disciples from the crowds and the Passover festivities. This isn’t the first time Jesus has withdrawn with his disciples. Still,I imagine that the disciples, for the first time,start realizing what Jesus has been saying to them all along. You can hear it in the questions they start asking in John 13-14 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+13-14&version=NRSV).
Where are you going? Can we come? How will we get there?
Withdrawing into solitude, they can hear their own hearts beating, feel their own breath, hear their own thoughts. What Howard Thurman called “the sound of the genuine in you.”
Have you had a similar experience during the isolation of the pandemic? How have you embraced solitude? How have you filled the silence?
I am an introvert, but I can fill the silence with the best. Some of my favorite ways to silence my inner voiceinclude: podcasts, books, and staring at my phone. I can also use the crisis of the moment and the expectations that I tell myself others have of me to ignore what is going on inside me.
For others, it might mean: social gatherings, non-stop phone calls, work, dwelling on other people’s problems and faults, and binging on Netflix.
Busyness,in every form, gives us a great reason not to deal with what is really going on inside of us, or at least that’s what I tell myself.
Let’s use this Maundy Thursday to do what Jesus invited his disciples to do. To quiet the world around us, so we can hear the world within us. To listen for our inner voice and the voice of Jesus,leading us into a future, we can neither control nor fully comprehend.
Here are two quotes from thinkers who have helped me to embrace solitude as a gift.
Henri Nouwen helps us to see that solitude helps us to find hope in difficult times. He writes:
“Intuitively, we know that it is important to spend time in solitude. We even start looking forward to this strange period of uselessness. This desire for solitude is often the first sign of prayer, the first indication that the presence of God’s Spirit no longer remains unnoticed. As we empty ourselves of our many worries, we come to know not only with our mind but also with our heart that we never were really alone, that God’s Spirit was with us all along….
In solitude, we come to know the Spirit who has already been given to us. The pains and struggles we encounter in our solitude thus become the way to hope, because our hope is not based on something that will happen after our sufferings are over, but on the real presence of God’s healing Spirit in the midst of these sufferings. The discipline of solitude allows us gradually to come in touch with this hopeful presence of God in our lives, and allows us also to taste even now the beginnings of the joy and peace that belong to the new heaven and the new earth.”
Poet John O’Donohueconnects our unwillingness to listen to our inner voice to our willingness to go along with the voices and false opinions of others. O’Donohue writes:
“Somewhere in every heart there is a discerning voice. This voice distrusts the status quo. It sounds out the falsity in things and encourages dissent from the images things tend to assume. It underlines the secret crevices where the surface has become strained. It advises distance and opens up a new perspective through which the concealed meaning of a situation might emerge. The inner voice makes any complicity uneasy. Its intention is to keep the heart clean and clear. This voice is an inner whisper not obvious or known to others outside. It receives little attention and is not usually highlighted among a person’s qualities. Yet so much depends on that small voice. The truth of its whisper marks the line between honor and egoism, kindness and chaos. In extreme situations, which have been emptied of all shelter and tenderness, that small voice whispers from somewhere beyond and encourages the heart to hold out for dignity, respect, beauty and love.” John O’Donohue, excerpt from Beauty.
I want to close with a final thought from Howard Thurman. Thurman reminds us that we need each other to do this work because each of us unique, and so is our inner voice. If we can’t hear the sound of the genuine, we will stop living our own lives. Thurman writes:
“You are the only you that has ever lived…and if you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”Howard Thurman
None of us want to slow down, but when we are forced into a different rhythmwe can choose to receive it as a gift.
A blessed Maundy Thursday,
A Prayer for Maundy Thursday from the Book of Common Worship:
Liberating and redeeming God,
we give thanks that you hear the criesofyour people. Therefore,inourtimeoftrial,wecalluponyourname, saying:Lord,inyourmercy,hearourprayer.
As you delivered our ancestors from slavery andledthemtoalandofpromiseandplenty, liberateallwho are captiveoroppressed
andbring themto a placeofabundantlife. Lord,inyourmercy,hearourprayer.
As you saved your people from death onthenightofthePassover,
redeemusfromsinanddeath through Jesus Christ the Lamb.
As Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord stoopeddowntowashhisdisciples’feet, teachustoloveandserveourneighbors with Christlike compassion and humility. Lord,inyourmercy,hearourprayer.
As Christ the Lord has handed on to us afeastofgraceinhis bodyandblood, helpusto sharewithallwhohunger thegiftswehavereceivedfromyou.
God our liberator and redeemer,
wegivethanks thatyou haveheard ourcry. Continue to lead us from death to life eternal, andletourlivesbeasignofyoursavinglove; throughJesusChristourLord.Amen.