Solitude Brings Coherence

We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness. Only discord can come of the attempt to share solitude. True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures. One returns from solitude laden with the gifts of circumstance.

– Wendell Berry, “Healing,” Stanza IV in What Are People For?

Wendell Berry’s statement that we lose loneliness by entering solitude seems completely counter-intuitive. Most of us are afraid of solitude for the very reason that we feel, in being alone, we will necessarily become lonely. But it does not have to be that way.

As Berry mentions, it is often in the “wild places” are where I feel most at ease in solitude. The fresh air, the rugged wildness, and the scurrying of creatures around makes me aware of both my smallness in the vastness of God’s creation, yet also God’s infinite attentiveness to the cosmos He has made. In the midst of this, nature’s contours soothe my soul. I am sure this soothing arises in part because, as Berry writes, in these wild places we are without “human obligation.”  In wild places we are away from people we feel obligated to engage with and things we feel obligated to do.

Both for good and ill, it is in solitude that we hear inner voices. Words that have been floating around inside of us – whole streams of though – suddenly take on such clear force that we are at times overwhelmed. We wonder, “Where did that thought come from?” Or, “I haven’t thought about that in awhile.” In reality these thoughts and ideas – these inner voices – are ever-present yet go unheeded because of the clamor of people and things in our daily lives. The voices and thoughts are there, but until we quiet ourselves enough, both externally and internally, we often either suppress them or ignore them.

When we are attentive to these inner voices and more intimate thoughts, we have the opportunity to come to a more comprehensive internal order with God and ourselves. We bring those clamoring voices to the living God and ask to hear His voice in it all. The unheeded voices that were always there speaking messages of fear or hurt or joy to us have been heard, conversed with, and brought to greater resolution in conversation with the God who hears and knows us. They grow quiet now. God’s voice becomes more solid, enduring, and strong. It is in this journey that we achieve a sense of coherence. We become less divided and distracted.

It is from this order and coherence that God sends us out with the ability to more fully engage with others and the created world. We become more fully present and able to connect with those around us.  We are in tune with God and the cosmos because of His work in our turbulent souls. With the Spirit’s power strengthening our will we can face the things that come into our daily lives, both planned and unplanned.

In solitude the various slivers of our distracted and fragmented selves come to a greater unity in God’s presence. That greater unity enables us to receive people into true relationship and bring our tasks toward completion. It is that powerful reality mentioned in the psalms:

Teach me Your way, Lord, that I may rely on Your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name. (Psalm 86:11).

||40days|| week three: turn from distraction

Recent studies show that we are more distracted than ever before. A documentary entitled Digital Nation, featured a study of multitasking MIT students who attempted to complete more work by simultaneously doing five or six tasks. The students assumed they were more efficient by doing this, yet the study revealed that they were actually slower and distracted more easily as they switched from one thing to another.

In another arena, there has been serious discussion about legislation to deal with road safety and distracted driving in the last two years. A 2008 study revealed that 16% of all traffic fatalities involved distracted driving. In raw lives, this means that six-thousand people died in 2008 from distracted driving accidents.

Distraction is a powerful thing. Even as I have been writing this blog post, I’ve switched tabs on my web browser multiple times, checked my email, adjusted the music I was listening to, and had a conversation with someone. Distractions are all around us.

Superficially, distraction really has nothing to do with the ||40days|| journey with Jesus we’re on right now. Distraction does not seem like a spiritual issue. But the truth is that the more we make a pattern of distraction in our lives, the less we are able to be truly present with God and others.

We need to turn from distraction in order to focus with God. In all of the things that call out for attention when we are at work, at home, or simply moving from place to place, we must be able to turn our attention to God. Many people will say that this means establishing a set apart time each day to read Scripture, pray, and be still. Regardless of the time we do that, it is probably a good idea. If we are willing to set apart specific times to eat meals, prepare for our work, or watch a favorite television show, why shouldn’t we have focused, un-distracted time with God?

Give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear Your name. (Psalm 86:11, NIV)