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Solitude, Silence and Stillness

“Silence completes and intensifies solitude…silence is the way to make solitude a reality.” Henri Nouwen


Solitude is not a time out, but rather an intentional withdrawal to avail ourselves for an encounter.  Solitude then becomes a place of encounter. An encounter with:

  • Myself

  • God

  • and the fruit of these encounters leads to encounters with others.

As in the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19: Elijah encounters the self, God and then others. Jesus follows the same pattern. He retreats into solitude and then moves towards encounters with people. 

What happens during solitude?

  • Solitude invites us to listen. There is a deep connection that comes through listening. 

  • We rest, we receive the ability to see things as they are. To see with the heart. 

  • Solitude creates the fertile “soil” for God's gifts to be birthed and grow. 

  • These gifts are given back when we engage with our communities and the world. 


Thoughts on Contemplation

1. The vision of the nature of things: 

Prayer is the meeting “place” between God and the human spirit and finally, the only lens through which created reality can be truly seen. - Evagrius Ponticus

Contemplation is the opening of ourselves to the vision of the nature of things. We see things as they really are. It is a way of seeing with the heart. Seeing beyond ourselves. 

2. Faith vs contemplation?

Contemplation is gazing in faith at the vision of God. 

3. The journey towards union 

" I have given them the glory you have given me- the glorious unity of being one, as we are - I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one - so that the world will know you sent me and will understand that you love them as much as you love me. John 17:21-22

All prayer is aimed at union with God. It is a grace that is given to us. 

4. Journey of kenosis

Mark 10:17-31 tells of the two stages of the spiritual life. The rich young man starts his journey with doing everything to keep all the laws and commandments. But Jesus says: "Sell all!", which starts the second part of the journey of emptying ourselves, so that we might be filled. Not only is this a giving away of money, but of self. It becomes a journey of following Jesus' kenosis - the emptying of the self. (Phil 2:5-8)

5. A prayer in solitude

" But when you pray, go away by yourself, all alone and shut the door behind you and pray to your Father secretly, and your Father, who knows your secrets will reward you." Math 6:6

When we shut the door, there are less distractions, our eyes gazing at the Father to see him as he really is. 


The effects of contemplation:

We live in a noise-addictive world. We fear ourselves, more than anything else. 

  •  Communication with God has moved from verbal to non-verbal.

  •  The deeper and more open and honest you are with yourself, the more you can authentically be yourself, and find yourself before God. You don't have to try to be someone else. 

Thereza of Avilla: Self -knowledge = God knowledge and vice versa.

  •  How you deal with others shifts.  I found that I am more kind and loving towards others. It is not an escape from the world, but rather a loving engaging in the world. 

  •  Your relationship with the world changes. You begin to see reality and start letting go of that which is not important. 

  •  Self -awareness is important. Asking where is my attention now? In Gen 3:9, God asks Adam and Eve a meaningful question: Where are you? Name where you are. If we cannot find ourselves, we cannot find God. It is in our humanness that we encounter God. Being present enough to yourself when entering the contemplative space, fully available to God. 

  •  Contemplation does not mean there are no interruptions or distractions. I am still experiencing all of that too.  “I am who I am. “Ex. 3 He is Present and Presence, despite the distractions. Jesus promises to be with us always (Math 28:18). The invitation remains, become aware of where we are, then open ourselves to God's presence. 


Some personal notes.  

  • Contemplative prayer takes time. It cannot be rushed. 

  • Find your own rhythm, set apart a time where you intentionally enter the contemplative space. 

  • The busier you become the more you will be drawn into this space. 

  • It is a practise that develops over time, like a muscle that is strengthened over time. Start with 20min and slowly build it up as you find yourself more at home in this space. 

  • It is useful to start off with a framework:  Position (place), Become aware of your Breath, have a sacred word/mantra to return to. See the framework as scaffolding, it is not hard and fast, but there to help us in the beginning. It might change over time. 

  • Contemplation isn't a performance; nothing needs to be achieved and it is hard to let go of expectations. It is rather a time of intention to be present to myself and God. 

  • I experience changes in how I cope with my day if I had a time of contemplation. 


Opening to God: A guide to prayer. Thomas H. Green SJ (1992. Ave Maria Press)

Invitation to Solitude and Silence. Ruth Haley Barton (2010. IVP Books)

Clowning in Rome. Reflections on Solitude, Celibacy, Prayer and Contemplation. Henri Nouwen (2000. Darton-Longman-Todd)

The Contemplative Way/ Quiet Savouring God’s Presence. Franz Jalics SJ (2011. Paulist Press)





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