Solitude: Lens of Tradition

Pulling from historical Christian documents, there are two that stick out concerning solitude and silence: Thomas a` Kempis and St. John of the Cross.

Imitation of Christ
Thomas a` Kempis was actually born Thomas Hemerken. At the age of 21, he was accepted into an Augustinian monastery at Saint Agnes in the Netherlands. He spent the next 71 years a monk and during his life time he wrote a devotional piece called The Imitation of Christ, first published in 1418 AD. He would go on to take the name of his hometown of Kempen, hence Thomas “from Kempen”.

There are many gems on solitude hidden throughout his work , including an entire chapter devoted to solitude and silence. Here are a few of his thoughts on the subject:

  • It is easier to be silent than to not speak too much.
  • Never promise yourself security in this life, even though you seem to be a good religious, or a devout hermit. It happens very often that those whom men esteem highly are more seriously endangered by their own excessive confidence.
  • In silence and quiet the devout soul advances in virtue and learns the hidden truths of Scripture…for God and His holy angels will draw near to him who withdraws from friends and acquaintances.
  • Is is better for to be obscure and to attend to his salvation than to neglect it and work miracles.

Dark Night of the Soul
St. John of the Cross was a Roman Catholic Saint from Spain in the late 16th Century (1542-1591). His most well known contribution to Christian theology was the concept of the Dark Night of the Soul. He addressed a serious, sometimes daunting, place in our spiritual journey where our prayers seem to hit the ceiling and we feel as though God has withdrawn from us. The preaching bores us, the worship is lack luster, and we no longer desire to be a part of it all. Our tendency is to move on to the next thing that give us “spiritual goose bumps”.

St. John challenged this concept. He didn’t see it as punishment or affliction, but rather as God lovingly drawing us away from all the distractions in life to see him clearly. We are encouraged to become still and wait. Allow the unnecessary to pass.

Have you ever experienced a dark night of the soul? How did you make it through?

Solitude Series



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