Solitude- an oft not practiced spiritual discipline and yet one that has been thrust upon us in an unwilling fashion. Solitude is an outward spiritual discipline with inward ramifications and is defined as “the state or situation of being alone,” but it does not have to be synonymous with loneliness. As an extrovert who lives alone in a new city far from home, I was terrified at the prospect of being alone when the stay-at-home orders were announced back in March. Instead of living into that fear, I began to accept this forced time of solitude as a spiritual discipline and made the active choice to live into it joyfully. In making that mental switch, I looked at it as an invitation to take a break and rest, to step out of the busyness of the world and to somehow learn how to be still and remember that God is above all of this, above everything.
In first engaging in this period of solitude, I thought I was destined to be lonely, not realizing that this period of solitude would actually cause me to create a deeper community. Richard Foster writes in his book Spiritual Classics, “...being completely alone in solitude can often heighten our understanding of those we love most. A companion to solitude is silence, and together they enable us to value people for who they are, not what they say.” In this new virtual reality of Zoom meetings and FaceTime and suddenly and unexpectedly switching to online learning, I have come to realize that the blessing of this time of solitude is the necessity of intentional engagement. I have to be proactive in scheduling time with those I value and love because our time is no longer a fungible commodity, but something that must be pursued with purpose. It is through this heightened understanding of those we love most that I have been able to reconnect with friends and family and my church family in Arlington. I value my time and relationships so much more deeply than I did before and while I mourn the former spontaneous nature of interactions on campus and in my neighborhood, I am that much more grateful when I have set aside time to commune with someone I love, even if it is only virtually, because I know it is what is needed right now.
“There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (The Message)
Solitude as an outward spiritual discipline creates community by respecting it. This period of solitude is what is required of us and is needed to protect our communities right now and by engaging in it with an attitude of intention, we can care for the community that you may not physically be able to be a part of right now. It has not erased our need for community, but by living into this period of solitude, we can learn what we value most and hopefully, continue to set aside time to “be still” and to “step out of the traffic” when this period of forced solitude is over. Do not forget this time and do not be dismayed. Take joy in the invitation of a spiritual discipline and remember that we are still the Church, even though the building might be closed.