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Solitude and Carmelite Spirituality


John Coates

Solitude is not the same as isolation. The latter is an unhealthy withdrawal from human society; a turning in on oneself that is only too often a trait of neurosis. Solitude, in contrast, is a healthy turning toward one's beloved."Solitude, when it is healthy, will bring us closer to our Lord Jesus Christ and not lead us away from Him. If one finds it difficult to live with others, one will surely find it difficult to live alone. Solitude is not intended to be empty and void, but alive and filled with activity; the activity of loving and communicating with Jesus be it a prayer of thanksgiving or just enjoying God. Contemplative prayer and solitude should be restful and not fill us with boredom and anxiety.

Solitude should give us an opportunity to make advances in prayer but, in order for this to happen, we must free our mind of anxiety and learn to put aside all of our worry. Learning to be with God does not happen over night. This period of communication strikes fear even into the hearts of priest and religious. In our society we are taught to abhor solitude. Television, radio and other distractions make it very difficult for us to appreciate being alone.

"Silence and solitude does not refer only to the lessening of decibels.” It is almost impossible for us here at Carmel, to commune with the Indwelling Spirit unless we withdraw from the hustle and bustle of the world. This does not always mean that we must physically withdraw.  Often this is not possible, but we can withdraw ourselves spiritually. A divided attention is an exhausting attention. If we drain our psychic energies by the endless multiplicities of images and sounds, many of them garish and deafening, we cannot retain the inner stamina necessary or prayer.

Prayer is so necessary for us to grow in virtue. It is impossible for one to practice prayer on a regular basis even though the prayer may be one of distraction, without a noticeable growth in virtue. “The divine presence is bound to transform one from sin to virtue and eventually from common goodness to heroic sanctity.” Often there are those whose period of.solitude are constantly 'interpupted cecause of the inordinate interest in the business of others. We should not meddle in things that do not concern us. If we can avoid the needless interfering in the lives of others we can and will avoid many distractions. Our inner peace is unsettled by gossip and our prayer life suffers. When we are trying to direct the actions of others our own affairs go unattended. So we must avoid letting the faults of others distress us. We should learn not to focus our attention on their petty faults. "The safe path for the soul that practices prayer will not be to bother about anything or anyone and to pay attention to itself and pleasing God." This does not mean we are not to be concerned about others.

The spiritual experience that one has in solitude, of course, varies from person to person, but you and realize "that God treats each of us differently." Though He has several times entered into me, he has never made His coming apparent to my sight, hearing, or touch. It was not by His motions that He was recognized by me, nor could I tell by any of my senses that He had penetrated to the depths of my being. Only by the movement of my heart was I enabled to recognize His presence, I know the might of His power by the sudden departure of vices and strong restraint put upon all carnal affections:  and it is by God's mercy and grace that we discover and are convinced of our secret fault. How can we but admire the depths of the wisdom of God? The goodness and kindness of so loving a God we are aware of co& we have perceived in some degree the loveliness of his beauty, and have been filled with amazement at the magnitude of his greatness.

As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister." 


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