Book Review: – Invitation to Solitude and Silence – Ruth Haley Barton

silence One disturbing trend I have found in my long study of Spiritual Formation and discipleship is how quickly these ideas can be reduced to a listing of spiritual disciplines or a discussion on spirituality that seems very foreign and inaccessible.

Then someone like Ruth Haley Barton comes along and Spiritual Formation moves away from what normally gets presented. In its place is a life with Jesus that seems absolutely necessary for a truly Christian life. The practice of solitude and silence may be foreign to many people, but Barton explains why it is essential to her life and to every serious Christian.

I don’t know how she does it but her writing is always accessible, down to earth, and doable. She explains through personal experience and quality research, why solitude and silence are so needed. When you read this book, you are left with a glimpse into an inviting world of closeness with God. Solitude and silence may be awkward at first but Barton shows the reader why that awkwardness is worth it in the end.

If your exposure to Christian Spiritual Formation has left you feeling dry or guilty, give this book a try. You will be grateful you did.

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How Solitude And Silence Are Helpful For Repentance

This week’s 23 Thingsfocused on solitude and silence. To illustrate some of the points of these practices, I asked my good friend,

prayer..

prayer.. (Photo credit: aronki)

Hieromonk Alexander, to offer his insight on the subject. Hieromonk Alexander is a priest in the Russian Orthodox Abroad and lives and works at the Hermitage of the Holy Cross, a monastery in rural West Virginia.

Enter Hieromonk Alexander:

Solitude and Silence are valuable tools for every Christian who seeks to withdraw from time to time, or even daily, from the worldly cares which can so easily drown out the still small voice of God. It is important however that we understand these tools theologically so that we benefit from them and don’t simply waste our time – or worse – fall into spiritual delusions that will harm us and our relationship with God.

Following the example of our Lord who “went up on a high mountain to pray, ” Christians from apostolic times have sought out secluded places to pray.

When these early Christians went out to quiet places to pray, removing themselves from the company of men, what exactly did they do? We understand from tradition that they did primarily three things: They prayed fervent prayers of repentance (for we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and by habit of sin we have become spiritually sick with “sinful passions”), they prayed in such a way as to unite their mind to their heart, and they called upon the name of the Lord. When we say that they united their mind with their heart, what do we mean? The mind is often directed outwards – toward circumstances, fearful possibilities, toward the past or the future or perhaps concerns about how other people view us. All these thoughts with their associated emotional and spiritual baggage not only prevent the mind from communing with the heart of a man (the center of his spiritual life and relationship to God), they even send pollution into the heart. When we think unclean thoughts our heart is polluted along with our mind. Inasmuch as we seek in our Christian life a pure heart as we know such a thing is pleasing to God, we seek silence and solitude in order to relieve the mind of the many impressions which it encounters through the five senses. When the mind begins to calm down we can then focus the mind’s attention on our heart, and begin a sincere prayer of repentance. In the Orthodox tradition this prayer usually takes the form of the “Jesus Prayer” which is “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Thus we imitate the early Christians who were taught by Jesus Christ himself to call upon the name of the Lord.

We have as the object of our silence and solitude HEARTFELT AND SINCERE PRAYER. And by such prayer we hope to call down upon ourselves, without hysteria or manufactured emotion, the grace filled energies of God. One short attempt at silence in solitude will only be frustrating for us. When we first begin to be silent and alone, we can have various reactions. Some become disturbed, feeling the impulse to call someone or check their email of make lists. It can take time and a lot of effort to become used to silence and solitude. If we persevere in this effort and understand our goal properly, these tools can be transformative for every Christian who seeks to purify his heart and please the Lord.

23 Things – Week 2: Solitude and Silence

Week 2: Solitude and Silence

3. Read this article on solitude and silence.

4. Embrace pockets of solitude and silence today. Here are some ideas. Choose what works for you. Every time you find a pocket of solitude and silence, ask God to be with you in a special way.

  • Leave the car radio off while you drive
  • Take a walk around your work place during lunch
  • Limit TV watching to no more than one hour
  • Start a meal with everyone silent. Then have someone read a chapter from Mark before beginning speaking.
  • Park farther away from your intended location to give yourself more time to reflect while you walk.
  • Replay before falling asleep the day’s  events  and notice where God has been present.

This is week two of 23 Things. See last week’s post for the first two things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.

Why Solitude?

Why is solitude a spiritual discipline?

1. Jesus Did It – Read Mark and pay attention to how often Jesus goes off by himself to pray. Being a devout Jew, Jesus no doubt participated in the daily prayers that all Jewish people participated in but scripture tells us that Jesus did more than the prescribed prayer and needed even more time listening to his Father in the quietness and stillness of time spent alone. I have trouble finding the time for solitude much less the motivation. Jesus was intentional about his time with God.

2. It Exposes Your Mind – Try this, go spend 15 minutes in silence and solitude and record the first thought your mind gravitates toward. This is the baseline for your thought life. If you are like me, this thought was probably not very spiritual. Even if your first thought was spiritual, note how fast it took you to move to a less than spiritual thought. In solitude we come face to face with the reality of our thought life. No wonder we like to stay so distracted. Our thought life is a minefield of temptation, negativity, evil, and laziness.

3. It Makes Room For God – When I was dating my wife, I didn’t like being with her in larger groups with her friends because, being an introvert, I couldn’t compete very well for her attention. I much preferred having her to myself. I could be more comfortable and more like myself. God, of course, can arrange moments any way he likes but he seems to relish times that he can have us to himself. Corporate worship is essential to our relationship with God but it is in our times alone with God that we learn to hear his voice and be impacted by his presence. It is also where we learn to know him. As the scripture says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

We are coming up on the busiest time of the year. Don’t lose sight of your need for solitude. Make this Christmas season filled with meaningful moments, not just with family and friends, but with God.

Making All Things New – Hacked

Henri Nouwen, for all of his scholarship and academic pedigree, was a master at taking aspects of the spiritual life and making them accessible and appealing. I have read his book, The Way of the Heart, many times and his Return of the Prodigal Son is one of my all time favorite books. I have recently completed reading Making All Things New and would highly recommend it as an introduction to the spiritual life and to the use of two important disciplines – solitude and community. I have provided my summary notes below so that you also can draw key insights from this book.

Our Present State

– We all share the same human condition

– Resignation of our spiritual state keeps us from growing

– Our occupations and preoccupations fill our external and internal lives to the brim and leave no room for God

Setting Our Hearts On the Kingdom of God

– A heart set on the Kingdom of God is a heart set on the spiritual life

– Jesus was concerned with one thing: to do the will of his father

– Everything that belongs to Jesus is given for us to receive. John 15:15

– Kingdom of God = rich variety of ways in which God makes his presence known to us

– In the Kingdom, everything is a gift or challenge that strengthens and deepens our new life.

– Hearts set on the kingdom = worries will slowly move to the background

Spiritual Disciplines

– Spiritual Disciplines allow us to become attentive to the voice of God and respond to it

– God constantly speaks but we seldom hear it.

Solitude

– If God is who he says he is then he deserves our undivided attention

– We often use our outer distractions to shield us from interior noises

– We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside time to be with God and listen to him.

– A day without solitude is less spiritual than a day with it.

– To fight distractions, use scripture as a way to focus.

– Solitude= living active lives in the world while remaining always in the presence of God

Community

– True community – always reveals to us who we are before God.

– Community is obedience practiced together

Conclusion

– Through solitude and community we try to remove the many obstacles which prevent us from listening to God’s voice.

– Spiritual Life – active presence of God’s Spirit in the midst of a worry filled existence

– If we are faithful to our disciplines, a new hunger will make itself known. First, we will start to recognize God’s presence. Then we will be led deeper into the Kingdom of God. Finally, all thing will begin to be made new.