Friday, February 13, 2009

On Solitude

"Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself." Franz Kafka.

Is Kafka right? I am not a writer but am married to one who is also a voracious reader, like her mother, and like her oldest daughter (jury is out on other kids so far).

It seems that writers, even when introspective, are reflecting the world around them, particularly their human interactions. Is one truly in the descending into oneself when the experiences of life and other people have shaped that abyss? Maybe.

I was thinking about this as I prep a sermon for Sunday evening on Mark 1, in which Jesus cleanses a leper (come on Sunday to learn why I say "cleanse" instead of "heal"...). Just prior to this cleansing, an act of wonderful compassion, Jesus was alone in a desolate place praying.

And Jesus is noted for going off by himself whenever the crowds pressed in on him. In this case, he leaves a successful gig in Capernaum and moves on to other towns. He states his mission was to preach the Gospel.

But back to his solitude. He wasn't really alone. He was praying, that is, experiencing communion with the Father. So I think in this sense Jesus was never really alone in these times of "solitude". The only real solitude he ever experienced was on the Cross, when he bore the sin of the world, and cried out in a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?". The ultimate agony for God's eternal Son was separation from the Father.

It would seem true to say that a Christian, who by definition experiences constant fellowship with God (by means of the Holy Spirit), is never really alone.

Don't get me wrong: Solitude is good, for reflection, and prayer to the Father just as Jesus sought out himself. And simply to think.

But it must be a qualitatively different experience than what Kafka describes -- the abyss of himself.

I do like to be off by myself sometimes, particularly doing something physical like rowing (years ago now), working on something outside, running, or downhill skiing (again, doesn't happen much). And I know that giving little bits of solitude to the Authoress is a great gift indeed.

We are not made to be alone, it turns out. Those who know Christ will be among countless others around the throne of God for eternity -- Comfort to many experiencing loneliness in this city of several million. And comfort to me as I write this in a room alone, awaiting a colleague to open the door to our office having forgotten my keys...