Chaplain Residency: #2 Solitude

Chaplain Residency: #2 Solitude

Solitude: the capacity to be alone.

Week four of the chaplain residency has just finished. As my husband jovially commented, “Only 48 more weeks to go.”

I spent Friday evening at the hospital on call, opting to stay on-site rather than chance the middle of the night wake up. It was a relatively peaceful evening and once I fell asleep around 11pm, I did not wake up until 7 the next morning! A welcome peaceful evening.

I am reading a book: “Becoming a Pastor” written by Jaco Hamman and it is a very insightful and foundational resource for me. I was hooked with the opening sentence: “You and I were created to seek experiences and relationships that promise transformation of our sense of self” (p. 1). I love being in relationship with other people and find the process (and promise) of transformation very life giving, even when it is challenging. For me, this searching for transformation is what led me to begin my seminary studies. Hamman writes, “our souls constantly seek out transformational experiences” (p. 3) and this certainly rings true for me!

This book is full of thought provoking ideas and I am most captivated today by his chapter called, “The Capacity to be Alone.” It begins, “To become a pastor is to be alone with your self in the presence of others and God. The capacity to be alone describes the ability to contain one’s emotions and appetites and to enter into appropriate relationships with significant others and strangers” (p. 88).

Relationships with people, both friends and strangers, provide a great source of joy in my life but there is a depth of peace in the time I spend alone; alone in the presence of God. My soul yearns to sit in silence and pray, read, listen, reflect—away from the business of daily life. I often find people surprised that I enjoy and crave this solitude because I am a very active extravert, yet this does not preclude my need for solitude. It is often through and in the solitude where I am able to ground myself deeply, allowing my roots to sink richly into the lovely garden of God. My emotions and appetites are nurtured, held and contained with love, providing the nourishment and strength I need to be fruitful in my daily life.

Henry Nouwen has a wonderful writing on solitude that Hamman quotes. Nouwen writes, “The solitude that really counts is the solitude of the heart; it is an inner quality or attitude that does not depend on physical isolation…Solitude is one of the human capacities that can exist, be maintained and developed in the center of a big city, in the middle of a large crowd and in the context of a very active and productive life. A man or woman who has developed this solitude of heart is no longer pulled apart by the most divergent stimuli of the surrounding world but is able to perceive and understand this world from a quiet inner center” (p. 95).

I love the image of the heart (which you already know if you have read some of my prior blog posts) and as a chaplain, I am assigned to the Heart Hospital where every day, the people I see have some direct connection to the heart—and often, their heart issue is not arising from a quiet inner center but rather from a place of sickness and disease.

Every day, I am invited to be transformed by God; to let myself move into the experiences that will transform the very core of my being. At the hospital, this transformation is being formed by the experiences and relationships I encounter with the staff, my colleagues and patients. I feel the presence of God around me and deeply within me; and it is truly a gift. It is busy and full of various stimuli and yet, I feel a deep “solitude of heart.”

Nouwen also writes, “With solitude we learn to depend on God, by whom we are called together in love, in whom we can rest and through whom we can enjoy and trust one another even when our ability to express ourselves to each other is limited.”

The capacity to be alone—the solitude of heart—truly serves as a rich foundation in my work as a chaplain and allows me to be conscious of my own presence. It helps me rest and trust others.

Hamman writes, ‘Achieving the capacity to be alone in the presence of others beckons you to experience yourself as one created by God and invited into a significant relationship with your Creator. In addition, it urges you to accept that you are never alone, but you live with persons and relationships you have internalized and the different parts of you that constantly engage each other even before you engage the outside world” (p. 116).

It is my prayer that God will provide a restful place of quiet inner peacefulness for those I encounter and experience in relationship every day, as our sense of self is continually transformed. For truly, we are never alone.

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def. Bliss: -noun Supreme Happiness, Utter Joy/Contentment; the Joy of Paradise!