"Nearly a half century ago, Thomas Merton wrote "Notes on a Philosophy of Solitude," an extended essay in which he pointed out that a person who enjoys solitude, by which he meant the quiet possession of the self, is the one less likely to be beguiled by mass movements, collective passions, the false siren of advertising and the lust for the ephemerally fashionable. True solitude (as opposed to individualism or "going it alone") is the cultivation of the sense of the self that permits us to adjudicate the cry of the mob and resist the lure of the moment.
Such self-possession is both a gift and a risk. It is most often a risk when acting against the consensus; such acts can earn scorn or, at worst, actual physical harm. Decades ago Ignazio Silone, the Italian political novelist, said that the first lethal blow against fascism came when the first brave person in a village chalked a large NO on the wall of the town square. Interior solitude has always been the mark of the true revolutionary. It was the inner force of Gandhi's resistance; it was the inner strength of a Solzhenitsyn whose inner life could not be broken by the horrors of the Gulag.
At a deeper spiritual level the cultivation of solitude is a necessary matrix out of which comes authentic prayer. By that is not meant that one must seek a solitary place (even though that may be a good thing to do on occasion) or go to a monastery for a retreat (also a good thing) or give up one's ordinary pattern of living. What it does mean is that if we are to pray, as opposed to saying prayers, we need the capacity to slow down, get in focus and become re-collected, albeit for a short period of time. The Bible describes that capacity as watchfulness, the alertness that brings our interior attention toward a single One. God says, through the psalmist, that we are "to be still and know that I am God" (Psalms 46:11). That stillness is the defining element of solitude."
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
solitude as the mark of a true revolutionary and the source of authentic prayer
The following is from an essay by Lawrence S. Cunningham, a professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame and a frequent writer about Merton. The entire essay, "Alone Among Many", is here.