Mar 24, 2014

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MEDITATION: On solitude and loneliness

MEDITATION: On solitude and loneliness

Psalm 102 – the prayer of an afflicted man – speaks of a terrible loneliness.  From the King James’ version come the haunting, evocative verses 6 & 7:  I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop.

What difference can there be between solitude and loneliness?  They come from the same Latin root, solus, alone.  And they mean exactly that. To be solitary is to be alone, to be in solitude is to be in a lonely place – alone in a lonely place.

In a novel recently read, I found a sentence which challenged me, remained in my thoughts: She craved solitude, but feared loneliness.  It seems to me that that is often a reflection of our lives.  The mother of five or six young children must cry out for some peace and quiet in solitude, but would probably start worrying about them the moment she leaves them alone.  The doctor who has to listen to complaints all day, may be able to ‘switch off’ in the evening, find rest in a book or music.  But perhaps not in solitude, for surely his thoughts will keep straying back to his patients.

Some people are simply incapable of being alone.  For them solitude is loneliness. I remember a woman on a retreat once who when confronted by silence from after supper until after breakfast – no radio, no cellphone, no magazine and certainly no talking – burst into tears.  I can’t do it ! she wailed.

Solitude is a discipline, certainly, and a choice. Loneliness, however, gives you no choice.  No children, no family, no friends.  Alone, always alone.

Christ also was often alone;  in solitude in the desert – in preparation for his ministry;  on a mountain-top for the essential  daily conversation with his Father. But He also knew what loneliness was:  In Gethsemane He cries out for human company, then pleads with the Father that the bitter cup not be His.  And then horribly, on the cross, in the words from Psalm 22,  My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?

He chose, suffered, and accepted both solitude and loneliness, that we may find release from loneliness and life and peace in solitude.

Cecile Cilliers

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