Talbot’s chapter on “solitude” as one of the lessons we can learn from the life of St. Francis almost seemed to be written in a foreign language. In today’s world, solitude (keeping in mind that solitude includes not only aloneness but also silence) is almost unimaginable. This chapter can almost be summarized by the analogy that Talbot uses to open the chapter. The paragraph below is the JT (Joan’s Translation) version of the introduction to the chapter.)
On a still day the surface of a pond reflects. It reflects the blueness of the sky, the billowy clouds, and the brilliance of the sun. When your eyes penetrate the surface and look into the calm, motionless water, you can see clear down to the bottom and see rocks and occasionally a fish or a frog. But when the water is disturbed by a rock, a dog, or a group of active children, the surface no longer reflects and the water under the surface is clouded with mud. Our lives are much like this. When our lives are calm and quiet, we can see clear down to the bottom and detect what is really deep inside; but when things are unsettled, everything is murky and impenetrable.
There are some thought-provoking quotes in this chapter:
Anne Morrow Lindbergh: We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen …We choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place.
St. John of the Cross: Contemplation is nothing else but a secret, peaceful and loving infusion of God, which, if admitted, will set the soul on fire with the Spirit of love.
Cornelius Plantinga, Jr: A loss of silence is as serious as a loss of memory and just as disorienting. Silence is, after all, the natural context from which we listen. Silence is also the natural context from which we speak.
This lengthy quote from Glenn Tinder is worth the time to read: If you have never, all alone, tried to define your major convictions, you cannot enter into truth-seeking conversation and are thus incapable of deep human relations. If you cannot be apart from others, you cannot engage in prayer and meditation and thus cannot enter into genuine relationship with God. If you recoil from solitude, it may even be said, you are politically disabled; you necessarily lack the spirt of independence needed to stand for what is right in the public realm.
St. Isaak of Syria: No one can approach God without withdrawing from the world.
John Michael Talbot: If you want your life to be built around things that are tuly important rather than things that are simply urgent, you have to take positive steps. And the only way to be absolutely certain that solitude happens is to schedule it.
Father Andrew: The soul that is growing in holiness is the least lonely when it is most alone.