Monday, October 19, 2009

Alone with God

I sought out the Quiet Place on Abilene Christian University’s campus after weeks of hustle and bustle. In the foyer, a statue of a kneeling pray-er, with hands lifted high greets visitors, and the sound of trickling water gently soothes tired minds.

The small rooms are designed for those seeking a few moments of solitude and prayer. Soft lighting and simple furnishings invite busy people to a place of stillness, prayer, and listening. The memory of my hour of solitude lingers.

This week we’ll explore the spiritual discipline of solitude, derived from Latin and Old French meaning “alone.” Even in a crowd, one can be alone with their thoughts. Away from a crowd, distractions fade so that one can experience deepening awareness.

Many people fear being alone. They sabotage personal solitude through incoming sounds, news, and people. When was the last time you set aside a few hours to be alone and think about your life, your goals?

“Be still and know that I am God” is a directive from God to seek his presence (Psalm 46:10). Another settling scripture: “But I have stilled and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child with its mother” (Psalm 131:2). No longer a helpless infant, a weaned child learned to trust that his needs will be met.

To withdraw in solitude may mean that you plan to talk to God for a few hours or a few days. The voluntary absence of words should never be seen as ritual, but as a sacrifice to better listen in your spirit to God. Richard Foster calls this an “inward attentiveness” to God.

Often when we speak, we only hear our own words, blocking out other speakers and what is going on around us. An old proverb says, “All those who open their mouths, close their eyes!” Rather than a lengthy vow of silence a better discipline might be to speak in moderation, not overusing words, and thereby cutting out some of the noise for the people you break bread with, your companions.

Quaker Richard Foster suggests retreating in solitude four times a year for four hours. In silence, contemplate your life. Start the time with worship and prayer and then be silent. Take along a piece of paper and write down any thoughts that come to you. God may adjust the lens with which you view your life.

Some aspects of our daily lives lend themselves to solitude. Foster calls these “little solitudes.” Contemplate your day when you first awaken in the morning. Drink that first cup of coffee in silence without incoming news. Take a ten minute break in the afternoon before gathering with your family for the evening. Before you retire for the night, go outdoors, look skyward, and offer your evening prayers.

Jesus often went to a solitary place to pray, and one of my favorite prophecies about Jesus speaks about his being in tune with God’s work for him, “The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught” (Isaiah 50:4-5).

This week, may God grant each of you solitude, awakened ears, and words to sustain the weary.

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