The fathers of the desert fled society because they felt it had a ‘deep sickness.’ Not only did they flee from the sickness of the culture, but from the sickness of the church of the post-Constantinian era. Jarslov Pelikan said,
“These monastic athletes, as one scholar has put it, ‘were not only fleeing from the world in every sense of the word, they were fleeing from the worldly church.’ The monasticism of the fourth and fifth centuries was a protest, in the name of the authentic teaching of Jesus, against an almost inevitable byproduct of the Constantinian settlement, the secularization of the church.”
At a seminar/retreat a few weeks ago, we watched two very different films whose characters have similar impulse and similar inclinations. Out of Great Silence, a silent documentary on the Carthusian monks in France and Into the Wild, Sean Penn’s depiction of the tragic journey of 22 year old Christopher McCandless, who fled to Alaska in the early 90s to escape the sickness of the world and the dis-ease in own his family.
In the films there is a beauty to solitude, being enraptured in nature and the deep quietness of the wilderness. While there are numerous problems with our world, what stands out to me is our inability to see and to hear; that is, our inability to use our senses in their fullness–both physical and spiritual.
2 thoughts on “Seeking Solitude”
I think you are correct. There is a deep yearning for solitude in most people with whom I speak.
There is also a great drawback to this yearning. Most see it as an escape, an if only I could be alone. In reality it is a dangerous place to be. Do we really want what we will discover in our solitude and will we wrestle with them in the presence of God? I mean our brokenness, our petty hatreds, our sins, our resentments. This is what scares me about solitude, and why it is a discipline in my life.
I watched Into The Wild last year for the first time, and I was very impressed. I assumed it was going to be a movie that preached the gospel where the problem is outside ourselves (in this case society), and the solution is inside (getting away from civilization, getting in touch with your heart, etc.). But I was impressed because (although it was far from a Christian movie) it actually came close to getting that distinction right–although there is value in solitude, joy isn’t complete until it can be shared. A very well-made and thought-provoking movie; much better than I expected.