This past weekend Ruth and I went away to celebrate our 41st anniversary, which was Sunday. It snowed the morning of our wedding in Kingston in 1976, but fortunately it didn't on the weekend because we were camping. We paddled to an island campsite at Depot Lakes Conservation Area north of Kingston (return to the scene of the crime?) and not surprisingly had the lake to ourselves. Even in that setting we could hear "planes and trains and automobiles" off in the distance, but there was a sense of solitude which we enjoyed. We read, watched loons swim within metres of our campsite, paddled to a waterfall, and opened ourselves to the presence of God.
Entry into times of silence and solitude show up in scripture in the lives of the prophets and of Jesus and Paul. It seems that even in ancient times it was important to turn down the chatter to commune with God.
There is an online course being offered by Spirituality and Practice called " Field Guide to Solitude," led by James Kullander. While I'm not participating in this course, I appreciate Kullander's description of the importance of solitude:
"We are pulled in so many directions and distracted by so many things that we are skipping across life like a flat stone over water, never slowing down and going deep to see what’s there — our better, genuine self. Suddenly, it seems, everything is important all the time except ourselves and what matters to us. The result is that we are lonely for ourselves; we are lacking a real connection to what's truly meaningful to us. Only when we find that — on our own — will we begin to alleviate our isolation from ourselves and others."
I have been aware through my years of ministry that there is great reward for being visible and busy and virtually no reward for reflective time away from the hubbub of churchianity. Yet I think that people want the depth which can only come from contemplative oases in the midst of the activity. Eugene Peterson, one of my heroes of the contemplative life makes this cogent observation:
[Pastors] have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns–how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.