Nouwen addresses our deep needs for solitude, silence, and prayer. Here are the reasons:
Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people's fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives.He then calls out our great sin: our compulsive need to maintain a false self. In other words, "what matters in how I am perceived by my world." He then goes on to show how Jesus faced these things in his 40 days in the desert, where he was confronted with three sins of the false self:
- To be relevant (turn stones into bread)
- To be spectacular (throw yourself down from a great height)
- To be powerful (I will give you all these kingdoms)
Obviously, the irony of writing about all of this on a blog, for the world to see, is not lost on me. Again, I won't be airing my laundry here. I am simply reminded that the goal of solitude is not privacy, but transformation. As Nouwen says, in solitude we struggle "to die to the false self" by having our scaffolding (friends, calls to make, meetings to attend, emails to answer, etc) removed. Rather, we bring ourselves (vulnerable, sinful, weak) to the feet of Christ.
The wisdom of the desert is that the confrontation with our own frightening nothingness forces us to surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is here then that Spirit-filled compassion takes hold, and from which ministry can then emerge (see Matthew 4 for how it unfolds in the life of Jesus.)
I'll end with Nouwen's words:
It is in this solitude that we become compassionate people, deeply aware of our solidarity in brokenness with all of humanity and ready to reach out to anyone in need.