Friends! A more personal note today; I hope that’s alright.
Nouwen’s The Way of The Heart has been one of the books with the most spiritual impact on my life. been one of my favorite of his book’s for a long time. When I first read it a decade or so ago,
Out of all the spiritual formation books I’ve read, written by Nouwen or anyone, The Way of The Heart has had some of the most impact in my life. I’m grateful for it, and find it challenging and clarifying in all sorts of ways. What I’ve appreciated so much about it is that reading this book at different points in my life, in the different situations I find myself in, has meant different insights each time.
The most recent time I opened it I was struck by a number of things, but as I read the passage below I felt as if it was written about me. Nouwen is writing on “solitude” here, what he calls “the furnace of transformation”–that is, the place where we fight against “the three compulsions of the world”: to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful (25). It’s a great concept, a great chapter. But Nouwen says this soon after, as a corrective:
In order to understand the meaning of solitude, we must first unmask the ways in which the idea of solitude has been distorted by our world. We say to each other that we need some solitude in our lives. What we really are thinking of, however, is a time and a place for ourselves in which we are not bothered by other people, can think our own thoughts, express our own complaints and do our own thing, whatever it may be. For us, solitude most often means privacy. We have come to the dubious conviction that we all have a right to privacy. Solitude thus becomes like a spiritual property for which we can compete on the free market of spiritual goods…[or] a station where we can recharge our batteries…[or] the corner of the boxing ring where our wounds are oiled” (The Way of The Heart, pp.26-27).
What is solitude, if it’s not this:
“It is the place of conversion, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born, the place where the emergence of the new man and the new woman occurs” (27).
So, so often, and to my embarrassment, I don’t want solitude–the opportunity to have my world-shaped compulsions reshaped by God’s Spirit, by the simple fact of staying put, with God, when what I’d rather do is check my phone, check the web, check out from the moment. What I really want is privacy; the ability to do whatever I want by myself. Frankly, this has only grown since having a little one, but it’s always been something I’ve sought out.
I think, frankly, privacy is solitude’s cheap, sugar-instead-of-nutrition craving that I have. I should eat dinner; what I want is a Coke and some Reese’s Cups.
I think most of us are more honest than Nouwen gives us credit for. We say “I just want some time alone,” and that’s what we mean: time by ourselves, without anyone nagging us, and definitely not time in which we challenge our “false selves.” But I could be wrong.
What is your relationship with solitude? Privacy? Alone time or whatever way you talk about this? Do you think what Nouwen says about what we really want rings true? What’s your relationship with these things?
Comment if you want…
(Today’s book, which I completely recommend, is available from the Henri Nouwen Society’s Amazon Book Store: http://astore.amazon.com/hennousocusab-20/detail/0345463358)
~Post written by Rich Hagopian