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Time out

March 29, 2012

Yesterday afternoon I unashamedly drank an entire bottle of the finest quality solitude.

Obvious statement alert: living in community, life is full of people. People in your kitchen, people in your lounge, people in your garden, people in your hair. As a married man there’s even another person in my bed (and, if any of my children have a nightmare, there’s more than one other person in my bed).

Now I believe a life full of people is the life God calls us to. After all, his commandments can be summed up in the word ‘love’. Ever tried loving on your own? Even the solitary hermit has a community of beloved people in his heart – otherwise, I contend, he is no true Christian.


Yet for a life full of people to remain fresh – to remain, in fact, loving – there is a need for times of solitude. I’m not talking about solitude’s rather shallow cousin, sometimes called ‘me time’; I’m talking about deliberate times of aloneness and stillness in which a person comes back to themselves, to their centre – and therefore to God. It may involve prayer (all of life involves prayer), but not necessarily conscious prayer.

So yesterday afternoon I went to a village near the city in which I live. I sat on a bench, overlooking a pool. I read a bit of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. An old chap came and sat next to me and we said nothing to each other. The sun was warm. I wrote a poem and didn’t worry about the fact that it wasn’t very good. I wondered along a country pathway. I sat next to a field of cows, reading a commentary on Romans. Then I dozed off (it wasn’t the commentary, more the peace and the sun).

And after that, I read some more of the commentary. Then I came home.

That night I spent about an hour listening to someone who’s been pretty troubled and needed to talk. I was able to listen. Not perfectly (listening doesn’t come naturally to me, as my wife tirelessly points

out); but I was able to be there for that person. I don’t think I would have been able to be had I not taken a good long swig of solitude earlier.

That’s the difference between solitude and ‘me time’. Solitude, ultimately, is about community. It resources us for love.

To live in community, it is vital that we make space for solitude.

(This post first appeared at

6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2012 10:13 am

    wise words here! I get my dose of solitude walking the dog 🙂

  2. March 31, 2012 12:21 pm

    Great Article. We’ve been using Christopher Jamieson’s “Finding Sanctuary” as the focus of our Lent reflections and he says, “You can find tranquillity in private, but you cannot find peace there. Finding Sanctuary requires you freely choose to place yourself in the context of a community of faith. Here you will avoid the tendencies to be self-absorbed … You will instead be “seeking and obeying the truth”…

    • April 26, 2012 11:41 am

      Thanks. I read “Finding Sanctuary” a while back and found it refreshing. Then recently I interviewed Penelope Wilcock, author of the “Hawk and the Dove” trilogy (set in a Benedictine Monastery), and more recently a Benedictine nun, Sister Catherine Wybourne (@digitalnun on Twitter!) Talked through the Rule of Benedict with both. It’s full of practical wisdom on ‘how to live’ – in community, as a disciple. Pen Wilcock admires its common sense (e.g. the ‘great silence’, the custom of not speaking last thing at night or first thing in the morning – great way to avoid arguments and fall outs in community! But Sr Catherine cautioned against describing it as a ‘moderate rule’ until you’ve tried to live it. Fair point, I thought.

  3. Jack permalink
    April 4, 2012 11:13 pm

    This couldn’t have been timed better – the future I’d always envisaged for myself has recently been completely turned on it’s head. The goal I thought God was leading me towards and that I worked on for the past four years has just been taken away and many alternatives I could imagine would be good ideas have gone too.

    I’ve been meaning to make some time to think it over and listen to what God ACTUALLY wants but wasn’t really sure how to go about it. I’m going out tomorrow, and, weather-permitting, will spend the afternoon strolling in the countryside as you suggest!

    Thank you 🙂

    • April 26, 2012 11:42 am

      Thanks Jack. How did it go? Was the weather kind? 🙂

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