Summer solitude

Sister alies therese

By Sister alies therese
Many of you will be going on retreat, vacation or an adventure this summer and might wonder how to overcome being overwhelmed . . . especially if your normal routine includes a lot of silence. Or it might be the other way around . . . what to do with too much silence?
Have you ever considered artistically representing your Lectio Divina, spiritual reading or even your prayer?
Take some reflection time and pull out a sketchbook, maybe some markers and a good permanent micro-fine pen. Or maybe you’d prefer watercolors or pencils . . . whatever works for you. Even the pasting of pictures or words from magazines; gluing and taping that ‘psalm’ or reading into a new format. The very fact that you have deepened your focus, away from yourself and away from external noise, supports the silence within and the joy that follows.
As a doodler/artist I find that this discipline frees my heart. I love color. I love to explore lines this way and that way, much like the life we live, both in the known and unknown. For many, many years, I have done at least one page every day as a part of my first morning prayer. Over the years this has taken the form of different sizes, colors, places, styles of handwriting and printing . . . even becoming a lefty after breaking my shoulder! I ask myself one quick question while reflecting: what might this look like? . . . and then I proceed to be surprised. Sometimes the page is my all-time favorite. Other times it seems like random scribbles and not very appealing artistically (a bit like life). Other times I discover the wealth of simplicity in the art and I am full of a secret laughter.
You probably know this: there is the silence of solitude and that it is an ancient tradition. One can be silent, not just not speaking, but actually filled with silence, in a crowded room, among many folks bustling about, in the car going here or there . . . in the presence of great natural beauty. No, not always external silence, but the discipline of inner silence carved out over years of practice so that when one is in unfamiliar or challenging situation, silence, the resting place, can be entered into. Laughter often emerges and we won’t miss God’s voice.
Most people do not live in solitude. Some people try to convince themselves they are living such a life when they are really living an ego-filled life that distorts both silence and solitude. A silence or solitude turned in upon itself is closed. God is about openness!
“Despite their dullness and apathy,” the Carthusians tell us, “The children of the promise paid heed to Moses and set out for the desert of Sinai. For 40 years, obedience kept them marching through the desert toward a promise land whose blessings remained elusive.” As will yours, I suspect. If we avoid the grumbling and offer that moment of suffering, so that our hearts might be transformed. What might that look like?
When you meet your ‘false self’ as you journey, or find disgust and resentments, well, these are wonderful to add to your book of sketches . . . as if they were snapshots of a moment where everything is crushed and not full of peace or harmony. Though our hearts are challenged to shout and scream, to weep and moan. We have the opportunity to enter ever more deeply and explore the truth of waiting. Waiting for God to be our silence, for God to be our solitude? No! We enter into God’s silence and God’s solitude, so that we might be nourished and set free. It is not about us. This is always the great and blest discovery . . . it really is all about God.
Also, from the Carthusian Miscellany, The Wound of Love, we find this: “True solitude . . . must trace its way back to its source. It is not obedience to an external law, nor a flight from others, nor a world closed in upon itself, but an encounter with the living God. Solitude is a gratuitous gift, destined to be received in all humility; it is not our own creation, nor that of anyone else. It does not consist in doing anything, nor in trying to become somebody: it is sharing in the solitude of God.”
Don’t forget that notebook when you go visit granny or find yourself alone on a mountain. Explore the riches of your inner artist and allow yourself the pleasure of discovery. Remember you never have to show anyone, nor speak of the adventure. What God is inviting you into is a wonderful feast of relationship, color and design, that lights up your deepening heart where God, the best artist of all, dwells!

(Sister alies therese is a vowed Catholic solitary who lives an eremitical life. Her days are formed around prayer, art and writing. She lives and writes in Mississippi.)