I guess we can say that summer is effectively over, so I am effectively back at the keyboard. With children opening books at their kitchen tables for homework, slinging on backpacks and boarding buses in cities and towns all over America, the collective sighs of relieved mothers can be heard in every workplace I enter. Despite the cloying heat we’re experiencing now in my part of the country, I can almost get a whiff of the scents of autumn in the air.
Autumn is one of my two favorite seasons, especially September and October when a typical school year begins with fresh starts, new folders, pencils with unused erasers, books without markings in them, and bright futures planned. A crispness develops in the air tinged with a fragrance that is not present at any other time of the year; it seems to create the bluest of skies. By the middle to end of October, the brisk nights require a jacket if there is a bonfire or hayride planned.
Around the first of November I begin to cocoon, mentally and spiritually hunkering down, preparing for the cold, dark months of winter to arrive. Mentally because, being a natural introvert, I can easily choose to isolate, remain inside with my dog, wearing several layers of clothing, drinking warm drinks, reading books, waiting for spring to arrive. After too many weeks of this behavior, history has repeatedly revealed that the result is a slide into depression. I can rename it or reframe it, as some in my profession like to call it, but the truth is, without a reasonable amount of physical activity, social interaction, and sunshine a great many of us will land on the same barren mental desert island. Interestingly, and thankfully, the Bible provides several examples of depression…(David, Jeremiah, Elijah), probably so the effervescent extroverts wouldn’t be tempted to shame the rest of us. 😉
When I focus on the spiritual aspect of my cocooning, I find that being still, being alone, and being quiet can prove to yield an intimacy with God which occurs no other way. Why is that? Why can’t I draw near to Him if I am involved in the busyness of a life of service? Henri Nouwen said, Solitude allows us to be alone with God. There we experience that we belong not to people, not even to those who love us and care for us, but to God and God alone.
Our world is a world of busyness, which too often involves self-importance. You’ve overheard conversations around you in the office, the coffee shop, the gym, or at the Bible study about how exhausted, overcommitted, and busy everyone professes to be. No one wants to be seen or known as someone who isn’t “busy” because we’ve come to believe that it implies a lack of usefulness or importance. Our culture has grown dependent on people and their responses to us – after all, they’re immediate with texts, Twitter and Facebook! Social media seems to have become the modern ‘search for significance.’
However, solitude involves being away from the stimulation of people and social media. Twentieth century philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich once said, Language…has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.
Solitude brings me into God’s presence sans my attachments, be it my phone, computer, family, or friends. There I learn to shed the anxiety of being alone without my props, being alone with the One who gives me ultimate significance because He created me and loves me more than I can fathom. I can relax in the growing awareness that my Father has intimate knowledge of all my inner workings and yet continues to lavish His love upon me. His love will purify me and draw me closer to His side, much as a mother cuddles her child closer under her arm to establish warmth and a sense of safety.
Please don’t hear me suggesting that people and community are not important. The New Testament speaks clearly of the deep value of the Body. Solitude and time with others requires balance and discernment for each of us. Truthfully, however, I doubt that most will ever need to be challenged to spend more time with our phones, family, and friends. 😊