Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Power of Solitude

We're back from our road trip and had a great time. We got in on Thursday evening, a few days before we thought we might. But when your done, your done.

I remember a conversation I had with a park custodian in the New York State Park at the Niagara River whirlpool. We were there rather early in the morning and he was emptying trash barrels and the like. I struck up a conversation and he asked where we were from and headed, and told him a bit about our trip. He responded by saying something like, "Traveling is good for a person. You need to get away and see new places and get refreshed. When you get back you will be ready to tackle whatever is there for you." He was a great guy who loved his job and had learned some wise lessons in life. I thought about Tafiya ya fi zauna.

Anyway, a bit to my surprise, getting back from the journey and settling into sabbatical life has not been as easy as I thought it would be. Not sure why. I think some of it is just finding a routine, and some of it relates to my nature of being rather task driven. Normally,my days are full with responsibilities and involve significant contact with people. All great, but taxing. At those times I long for a day alone, but now that I am faced with a lot of alone time, I find it challenging. Henri Nouwen speaks to this in the book I mentioned in my previous post (and which I listed in the side bar of this blog). In his section on the need for solitude, he shares about how in solitude we have to face our issues, or demons, if you wish, and we come face to face with our bare souls. He is so very right, and this part of sabbatical is so very important.

A quote here will suffice:
In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding; no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me--naked, vulnerable , weak, sinful, deprived, broken--nothing. It is this nothingness I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. But that is not all. As soon as I decide to stay in my solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree. Anger and greed begin to show their ugly faces. I give long hostile speeches to my enemies and dream lustful dreams in which I am wealthy, influential and very attractive--or poor, ugly and in need of immediate consolation. Thus I try again to run from the dark abyss of my nothingness and restore my false self in all its vain glory. The task is to preserve in my solitude, to stay in my cell until all my seductive visitors get tired of pounding on my door and leave me alone...That is the struggle. it is the struggle to die to our false self. But this struggle is far, far beyond our own strength. Anyone who wants to fight his demons with his own weapons is a fool....We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with him and him alone.
(Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, pp 27-30)

I have been experiencing some of what Nouwen defines. It is hard, but so very good. I am surprised at the compulsions that normally drive us, and the places from which we glean our self-worth and value. My position in Christ is my value and my authenticity, not my work, and this time of solitude is taking me to me places in my ability to live in and out of this spiritual relationship.

Though one of the central goals of this sabbatical is to have significant time for solitude, silence and prayer, I am taking some time to reconnect with a number of people who have been important to me in the past. Nouwen points out that solitude leads us to a place of being authentically compassionate. I have said that the move to Ephrata and the demands of leadership in the congregation have taken their toll on some of the friendships we have had outside the church, and Doris and I are taking the advantage of this sabbatical time to reconnect with a few significant people. I do not regret this, only recognize it and want to do some reconnecting.

Yesterday (Monday, Sept 21) I begin my work with Fee's tome, God's Empowering Presence. This book is divided into two sections. The first, and largest (nearly 700 pages) records Fee's exegetical work with all the verses in Paul's writing that deal with the Holy Spirit. I hope to have worked through this section in the next three weeks, taking time to work with some of the scriptures myself. The second section (about 200 more pages) of the book includes Fee's attempt to synthesize the information learned in the exegetical section, into more of a systematic and comprehensive teaching on the the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. (Those of you who are reading Fee's other book, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God, are reading a condensed version of this section.)

Yesterday's read included several important insights for me, which I suspect I will blog about in the days to come. One thing I have recognized, and you will notice this in Fee's smaller book as well, is that a recurring theme in relation to the Holy Spirit is joy. I know that there has been a level of joy lacking in my life for the last little while and I also know this has spiritual ramifications. I have been asking God to restore to my soul the Joy of the Lord as I wait on God and study his word.

Please join me in this prayer.
Enough for now.