When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
How gracious, how benign, is Solitude...
There is really nothing you must be.
And there is nothing you must do.
There is really nothing you must have.
And there is nothing you must know.
There is really nothing you must become.
However. It helps to understand that the fire burns,
and when it rains, the earth gets wet...
All of us are solitaries: we are born alone through the birth canal into the world and time, and we die alone. No one can enter our interior experience, or its continuum with the outer world we call community. Solitude is the human condition, the universal vocation to be human. It is the willingness, with Love indwelling, to go to the heart of pain to find new life and share it with the world even though you may be separated from it physically. It is from this commitment to be focused through the narrow gate of solitude that self-emptying love is outpoured, and the heart of the community, the heart of its pain, is transformed into the heart of joy.
Alone, in the cave that he loved so well near the summit of Mt. Subasio, Francis met God again ... Silence and solitude had become dear and sweet to Francis. As he reflected on that, he remembered a time when it was not so. In his youth, he dreaded and took refuge in the gaiety and laughter and frolicking of his friends. Always, at the edge of his consciousness, however, was the somber specter called Aloneness.
That's the way Aloneness appeared to Francis then -- a specter, a mortal enemy bearing a sickle in its hand. It was only when he finally met that specter head on, after his conversion experience, that he found the IT became HER; and then he made friends with her. She became, in fact, his best friend and constant companion.
It was a struggle of course, a struggle to be alone and to allow the pain of loneliness to be transformed into the sweetness of solitude. It didn't come easily and without countless ways in which he had to let the specter within him die. Gradually, he saw that the specter was an illusion -- a figment of his own imagining.
Now, as Francis retrieved himself from the reverie, he thought to himself guiltily, I'm supposed to be praying. Then he smiled. He knew the reverie was part of his prayer, an important part. It was through such a reverie that he had come in the first place to understand solitude for what it really was: togetherness.
Most people agree that there is room for much more solitude than our present way of life affords. Whether the solitude is friendly or frightening, we are likely to feel in it God's presence, or absence. It is of great value to feel either ... Solitude reminds us that human interaction is rich and fathomless. Emerging from solitude, either shaken or serene, I nearly always cherish my first contacts with people, and see more clearly that what passes between us can bear meaning's heaviest weight.
The root of friendship is prayer, because the root of prayer is presence -- presence to all that is. It is not easy to be present with oneself. We spend most of our time in a flight from prayer, which is a flight from ourselves. We can take only so much of ourselves; but it is only in a radical presence to ourselves, in a coming to say "I am", that we can be present to the One who is all that we are. Our presence to Christ becomes a compelling force to be present to others. We can know that we are living in Christ, that Christ is living in us because we are invited to share in Christ's spirit. Open your hearts to one another as Christ's heart is opened to you, and God will be glorified. Each one of us has been entrusted with a gift which is intended for one another.
I dedicate this winter day to You, as I now enter into the chapel of my heart to sit in stillness with You. May I leave outside the circle of silence all my worries and concerns for this day, as I enter into prayer. 'O Weaver of oneness and Reader of hearts, I know you need no spoken words to tell you of my affection for you. But may these words of prayer be sacraments of my love.'"
For those who listen in the stillness of their hearts, there comes a time to put what is heard into action and to stand up against that which is unjust, to live that which is beauty and justice...