One writer whose novels have often stirred me is George MacDonald. Listen to this little dialogue between two people about holy loneliness or solitude:
“What I want to ask you,” said Ian, “is, did you ever feel alone? Did loneliness ever press itself so upon you that you felt that if you called nobody would hear? You are not alone while you know that you can have someone with you the instant you choose.”
“I don’t know if I was ever that alone.”
“Then what I would have you do,” continued Ian, “is to make yourself alone in one of nature’s withdrawing rooms, and seat yourself in one of Granny’s own chairs. I am coming to the point at last! On a day when the weather is fine, go out by yourself. Tell no one where you are going or that you are going anywhere. Climb a hill. No book, remember. Nothing to fill your thinking place with the thoughts of others.
“When you are quite alone, when you do not even know the nearest point to anybody, sit down and be lonely. Look out on what you see, with the lonely sun in the middle of it all. Fold your hands in your lap and be still. Do not try to think anything. Do not try to call up any feeling or sensation; just be still. By and by, it may be, you will begin to know something of nature, and then possibly of the God whose clothing it is. I do not know you well enough to be sure about it; but if you tell me afterward how you fared, I shall then know you a little better, and could perhaps be able to tell you whether nature had or will soon speak to you.” (MacDonald, George. The Highlander’s Last Song. Ed. Michael R. Phillips. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1986, p. 155-56.)
MacDonald’s character, Ian, seems to be extending the same sort of invitation that we at The Leadership Institute extend to Christian leaders often: the invitation to be truly alone with God for long enough to sense God’s presence, hear God’s voice, know God’s affection and delight.
Silence and solitude are a sifting place. When we put ourselves in the place where we cannot escape into human company or even electronic communication, we can find ourselves alone with the Alone. Such a place is so rare in our 24/7, hyper-connected world, but it is a place that can be an encounter with the One Who is our Life.
When have you been alone like this? How might you make such space sometime in the next few weeks or months?