Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Silence & Solitude
In His book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer looks at the close and dynamic relationship between the spiritual disciplines of community and being alone, in terms of intentionally seeking out silence and solitude. Both are essential, Bonhoeffer would suggest, to the benefit and formation of one another. Each feeds the other just as each depends on the other.
Whether we are leading a community or members of one, we will find that silence and solitude increase our capacity for community care and growth and we will find that life in community will amplify our alone time.
With these thoughts in mind, we’ve put together this collection of a few of Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on that relationship as part of this series on Silence & Solitude. Spend a few moments reflecting or journaling on each of these quotes. Then close your eyes and listen to the invitation to silence and solitude that comes from God to you.
“The silence of the Christian is listening silence, humble stillness, that may be interrupted at any time for the sake of humility.”
“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either.”
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God.”
“Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle you pray.”
“You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out.”
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.”
“The mark of solitude is silence, as speech is the mark of community… Right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech.”
“There is a wonderful power of clarification, purification, and concentration upon the essential thing in being quiet.”
“Silence can be a dreadful ordeal with all its desolation and terrors. It can also be a false paradise of self-deception; the latter is no better than the former. Be that as it may, let none expect from silence anything but a direct encounter with the Word of God, for the sake of which he has entered into silence. But this encounter will be given to him. The Christian will not lay down any conditions as to what he expects or hopes to get from this encounter. If he will simply accept it, his silence will be richly rewarded.”
Quotations taken from Bonhoeffer, D. (1954). Life Together. (J.W. Doberstein, Trans.) Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag.