The Christian Disciplines: Solitude

[All posts in series]

Settle yourself in solitude and you will come upon Him in yourself (Teresa of Ávila).

By “solitude”, Foster means also to include “silence” and as usual warns against excess and vanity:

“The person who views the Disciplines as laws will always turn silence into an absurdity: ‘I’ll not speak for the next forty days!'”

Finding peace in the desert places is key to hearing the voice of God, but this does not mean to literally move to the desert. For most of us, that is not our calling.

Foster suggests that we try to find “little solitudes” to fill our day. Quiet places at work, outside, and at home can be havens of calm in our otherwise noisy lives. Once we are habituated to enjoying the quiet of our own company in the presence of God, we can then go further. Try to live an entire day without words at all. I would include here the words we read and type on screens — this is the great noise of our time. Then plan occasional longer retreats.

I would grade myself A- in the discipline of solitude, although that’s mainly a feature of a somewhat introverted character. Because I like being alone, Bonhoeffer’s warning is important to me:

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community . . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.”

Still, it’s a happy thing to find a discipline which comes naturally, although I think I need to greatly reduce the e-noise in my life.

The church gets a B. When we want to we can do reverence very well. Witness our children who sit reasonably quietly for 70 minutes of sacrament meeting. But also witness the cacophony of noise that descends on our chapels once the amen is said. We also seem to abhor silence in fast and testimony meetings as if that is a bad thing. The Quakers are right: in the silence rather than our own babble is found the still, small voice. The retreat tradition is found somewhat in temple worship, especially in Europe where larger temples are built along with patrons’ hostels. As van Beek observed, something was lost in Dutch Mormonism when they had their own “small” temple and no longer went on week-long retreats to England or Germany.

How are you at the discipline of solitude?


  1. Publius says:

    Solitude? Silence? I thought the whole point of blogging was to never have an unexpressed thought.

  2. Indeed. Hence the need for e-silence from time to time.

  3. This is great, Ronan. Solitude is a vital spiritual practice, much more than simply being physically alone. I wrote something somewhat along this theme a while back:

  4. as an introvert, I love this. Could use some more esilence, myself though.

    “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community . . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.”

    I should tattoo this somewhere . . .

  5. John Mansfield says:

    A couple decades ago I was deeply immersed in a math problem for a couple weeks. My boss was away, and I lived alone. My thought became much less verbal than normal, and speaking was awkward at the end. There wasn’t any spiritual component to this experience, but it was fascinating how much my mental processes could shift in just two weeks.

  6. larryco_ says:

    “The church gets a B. When we want to we can do reverence very well. Witness our children who sit reasonably quietly for 70 minutes of sacrament meeting.”

    That’s a very generous grade. In my opinion, the Church teaches “reverence” incorrectly and does not teach about “solitude” at all. “Keeping your mouth shut” and “reverence” are taught as synonymous, probably as much as a survival technique for primary teachers as for any other reason. But reverence has little to do with what goes out of the mouth, but much to do with what goes in the ear, the brain, and the heart. I personally don’t recall being taught that stillness is the gateway to allowing the Spirit to teach, and is needful in allowing us to reflect and ponder on that which is being taught.

  7. Fair enough. I remember a friend lamenting the fact that it wasn’t really possible to just sit alone in the chapel during church.

  8. melodynew says:

    I’m failing at observing the disciplines month-to-month. But this post is a nice reminder to get back to it. Thanks again for bringing us to this beautiful book. I’m re-reading the Solitude chapter this morning. “Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds.” p.96. This is so true. I’m thinking about e-silence. Good point. I needed that.

    As for an ongoing practice of observing spiritual solitude, I do pretty well. I agree with all the comments here and with the idea that balance between community and solitude is sometimes difficult to achieve. I wrote something about that ten or twelve years ago. Hoping you’ll appreciate it. It’s my contribution to the few who are following along with Celebration of Disciplines. It’s about solitude. And silence. (In Jesus’s voice.) I hope the formatting holds when I post it here. Have a lovely Sabbath, RJH.

    Be Still (a psalm)

    Come to the temple of silence,
    away from sounds of weary want,
    from the grinding, the tearing of time.

    Come away from shouting daylight and
    find me in the stillness of your afternoon;
    your ordinary afternoon.

    Put down your swords, your plowshares;
    take up my burden, my quiet,
    easy burden. Carry it beneath your arm
    with flute and mandolin.
    Carry it in your heart, beside
    memories of your mother and apple red
    trees in summer.

    Whisper my name. Then listen. . .
    Listen, perhaps for a very, very long time,
    or only for a heart beat.

    And I will tell you who I am.
    I will tell you who you are and show you
    where we meet, in you, the holy place, in silence.

  9. You too, Melody!

  10. World’s best podcast talks about the philosophy of solitude: