Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transparent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. ~ Sara Ban Breathnach

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Week II - Day 6 - Solitude

At the beginning of the year I shared a devotional link with a "Sister", which I then lost. Recently she sent it back to me with a devotion she thought I would appreciate. I have begun checking this site every morning. This morning the words resonated with me as I walk this Lenten journey.

The great Christian insight is that we come from God and we return to God. At points in between we sometimes wander. Spiritual wandering is often understood as a circle in which we ultimately return to the important relationships that sustain us, give us life, and give us meaning.
Oh, do I wander. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing - Jars of Clay  AMEN.


Beginning tonight, our family is converging on our home for a long weekend and Joyce wants me to reflect on solitude. Strangely enough, the thought of solitude does not cause me to feel anxious. It is not going to happen this weekend, yet I can hold these thoughts this morning.

"I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over any encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it." ~ May Sarton

I thought of an old Zen Proverb as I sat here considering what I have been reading.

Once, a long time ago, there was a wise Zen master. People from far and near would seek his counsel and ask for his wisdom. Many would come and ask him to teach them, enlighten them in the way of Zen. He seldom turned any away.
One day an important man, a man used to command and obedience came to visit the master. “I have come today to ask you to teach me about Zen. Open my mind to enlightenment.” The tone of the important man’s voice was one used to getting his own way.
The Zen master smiled and said that they should discuss the matter over a cup of tea. When the tea was served the master poured his visitor a cup. He poured and he poured and the tea rose to the rim and began to spill over the table and finally onto the robes of the wealthy man. Finally the visitor shouted, “Enough. You are spilling the tea all over. Can’t you see the cup is full?”
The master stopped pouring and smiled at his guest. “You are like this tea cup, so full that nothing more can be added. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind.
How do we know?
Yesterday, the Wednesday Lunch Bunch asked, "How do we know God's will for us? How do we know that we doing what he wants us to do rather than what 'I' think I need to be doing? How do we know?"

Often, at this point, I must confess I do not know.  I have the tendency to "jump" into something or making a quick decision...without ever stopping to pause and spend time praying.  An Elder at church recently told me that God gave us a brain and that he expects us to use that brain, that we do not need to pray about everything!  At the time, I did not have a response for this, but this morning I think I would say, "That is true, God did give me a brain and yes he does expect me to use it. However, my brain can only work well when I am intentional about spiritual practices including the practice of prayer."

There were several phrases that jumped out at me this morning:
"As we empty the cup of ourselves,....""Solitude refreshes our awareness of God and of ourselves""In solitude...give ourselves space to really listen...""When we are occupied with life's many details...only the surface things of life usually get our attention." (Joyce Rupp, The Cup of Life, p 60)

I can appreciate that it is through this practice that we begin to have a sense of direction. By getting away, without the distractions, then we can listen to the wisdom that is within us, which is what I think the Elder was talking about.  Problem is, I cannot trust my own wisdom when it is occupied "with life's many details."

"Give yourself to solitude. God awaits you there." (Ibid)
This reminds me of the insight that God might have approached a dozen men before he approached Moses, but it was only Moses who was opened to noticing that he was on holy ground.

          Breathing in: God...
          Breathing out: Beloved

Joyce suggest you and I clear everything from our space, except for our cup...and to let this solitary cup call to us in our own solitude...and to LET GO of what we EXPECT to happen. Relaxing and using Teresa of Avila's prayer from yesterday, "God, you are enough for me", Joyce simply suggests that we smile...and allow the message to be deep within us.

My struggles with solitude are...
My blessings with solitude are...
God, my Beloved...

Something important for me, and perhaps you, to remember is that Joyce Rupp, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Henry Nouwen.... did not just snap their fingers one day and exclaim with joy, "I've got it!" and then become wise spiritual teachers.  The men and women from today and from yesterday given to us as teachers, have each traveled a similar path of yearning, questioning, tripping, falling, rising up... That is why they speak to our hearts.

I have journaled before about Terry Hershey.  I love Terry's story of his first adventure with solitude. He attended a week long retreat of solitude at a monastery in California.  At the time, Terry was a full-time Episcopalian priest and he was looking forward to this retreat as a chance to "get caught up."  After the initial greeting and the evening meal, participants were invited to wander the grounds, return to their rooms....whatever in preparation for the beginning of the retreat the next day.  Terry visited with a couple of others and met the monk who was going to be his spiritual advisor for the week. Before the evening was over, he had his laptop set up, his books organized, notes set aside on the desk...he was ready!

The next morning, he was anxious to share with his advisor all he planned to accomplish during the retreat. The advisor listened, but said very little.  Terry took a walk in the morning light and then returned to his room to begin working.  He decided to stretch out on the bed to gather his thoughts for a moment...

He awoke just as the dinner bell sounded announcing the evening meal.

Totally aghast, he hurried to the dining room and went directly to his advisor, "I have failed! One day into this retreat and I have failed!"

...God awaits for you there.

Remember what we have been learning about becoming empty before God can fill us?

Remember the Zen Proverb I just share?

My struggles with solitude are the expectations that "I" have of myself and what "I" perceive others have of me. Which involves my EGO.  I cannot imagine the world being able to stay upright if I am not rushing to and fro in the marketplace.

Yesterday the Wednesday Lunch Bunch talked about the difference of living with a sense of Abundance vs. Scarcity.  One woman mentioned that she had read there was not a lot of looting going on in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami.  We talked how "wrong" looting is, but then began to consider that in some ways, that is what we do.

We have an empty day ahead, we have a sense of restlessness with nothing to do, we have.... And all to often we react, just as Terry Hershey reacted, to that sense of emptiness by running into our day, filling it with anything and everything we can grab!

How do I know what God wants me to be doing?

Without emptying my cup...Without practicing the practice of prayer, journaling, solitude....Without being intentional about caring for myself...I will not know.

It is that TRUST issue from yesterday, carrying over into today.

Can I trust God to lead me?

Can I trust God to know what is best for me?

Can I trust God to listen!

Do I have the faith and the courage to let go?

God, you know the questions I carry in my heart regarding the direction I am to be walking.  You know the pieces of my day.  Help me...Help me to have the faith and the courage to step into this day enjoying moments of solitude.  Help me to receive each part of this day from you.  AMEN.

Many Blessings ~ Sandi


  1. I can relate to the Zen proverb and it makes so much sense as my cup seems to be filled with job expectations, bills, sports and so much more. I really do need to take more quiet time to let God in so everything else is down for a bit and somewhat re-boot. I have had a terrible head cold for the past week and still have it and find myself sleeping more and thinking more about what God wants from me and where I should be. Because I don't believe success is measured by how far you are from the start its where you are where God wants you to be. I am still trying to figure that out. Thanks Sandi I get the blogs every day.

  2. May your cup have room this week to be filled with the laughter and love of your family. Enjoy!