Silence and Solitude Discovered

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Silence Part 2: Wendy Bray meditates on the value of solitude

It is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’—‘a voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’

The Bible illustrates desert areas as places of wandering (for God’s peo- ple, Israel) and sometimes of commissioning (for example, Moses at the burning bush) and preparation (Jesus being tempted in the wilderness), but rarely as places for personal solitude or silence in search of God. although Mark 1 tells us that ‘the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out’ to John the Baptist (v. 5) they went to hear his words, not to find quiet. It is likely, however, that John may have found, in the desert’s silence and solitude, a place to be with God.

It was only in the middle of the third century that Christians started going into the desert for silence and solitude—initially around egypt and east of Jerusalem—and in surprising numbers. Many of them became known as the desert Fathers, and anthony is perhaps the most recog- nised of them. Was this flight to solitude and silence a move of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps the end of martyrdom around this time meant that there was a need for another way of showing rigorous asceticism and devotion to God. Was it a time of highly experimental spirituality—a time when people tried sitting on pillars and in trees in order to feel close to God and, in so doing, discovered him in solitude and silence?

We’ll never know. What we do know is that the practice of seeking a quiet place became established in the Christian faith as what we now call ‘contemplative spirituality’. For some of us, seeking silence and soli- tude can feel just as ‘experimental’ today. It may seem odd or uncomfort- able to think of drawing away from people, noise and routine. However, a little like John, we may find that places of silence and solitude not only bring us face to face with ourselves before God but also offer us some- thing of God to bring to the world. 

Taken from Day by Day with God, published by Bible Reading Fellowship. 

6th March

March 6th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Ian Matthews

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