Silence, Solitude, Prayer: A Reflection

On October 14, I set aside 24 hours for silence, solitude and prayer. The quotes are from Henri Nouwen's "The Way of the Heart." Here is my reflection.

The excitement of anticipating a day of solitude eventually ebbed away as I confronted its discomforting reality. Initially, I looked forward to the silence and the disconnection from technology which would simplify  the task of seeking God and finding rest.  I confined myself to an unfamiliar space, limiting my diet to simple foods such as bread, soup, water, and coffee. Being out of reach of  technology made me realize that it had become a part of me, like a limb that needed tending.  I realized that phones and computers, if not carefully monitored, can swiftly morph from being allies to making us their slaves. Nouwen describes solitude as the place to encounter our false sense of self.  The “compulsive” behavior that characterizes my own  false identity was manifested in my reflexive compulsion to check my phone: to be on top of things, to have control, to see if anyone needed me. A certain restlessness was felt because I knew that I was unreachable; I wondered if I should have let more people know where I was and what I was doing. Accordingly, one of the “demons” that I met in the “desert” of solitude was my apparent need to be needed. Solitude placed this need in clear view, convincing me that I am no exception to the luring modern system of “domination and manipulation” which ultimately translates into anger and greed (11). Acknowledging this ailment brought about a posture of confession and dependence on God.

I also recognized that my eagerness for a spiritual retreat was fueled more by the novel nature of the assignment, rather than my pursuit of God. I looked forward to brewing fresh coffee, preparing simple snacks, reading and journaling, and being alone. I soon discovered that silence, scripture reading, and prayer are disciplines that require hard work. Boredom struck sooner than I had anticipated, and maintaining focus on these disciplines became more difficult as time went on. Nevertheless, the progressively lull mood was eventually interrupted. I noticed a difference in my temperament as I became calmer in many respects, no longer planning ahead the tasks for the day or week but allowing silence to reorient me. Prayers became slower and more carefully invoked.

This spiritual retreat created a space for me to be made me more sensitive to the work of the Spirit. I was engaged in the present, no longer anxiously preoccupied with the future. I went from not knowing what to pray for, to praying fervent words of confession, desperation and faith. I committed myself to reading the Gospel of John and the words of Scripture attuned my posture, birthing and reawakening dormant spiritual yearnings. Conclusively, through this retreat the Spirit made me confront the reality of the cross and resurrection: my sin came to light, bringing conviction and the hard work of repentance, which then turned to a taste of the resurrection life through a renewed hope and a reoriented perspective.