Reflections on Solitude and Silence from the Holy Land
“Immediately (Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” (Matthew, chapter 14, verses 22-23,
By definition solitude means the creation of an open, empty space in our lives by purposefully abstaining from interaction with other human beings, so that, freed from competing loyalties, we can be found by God. Throughout Scripture we read about times when Jesus public ministry was purposefully interspersed with periods of solitude. This passage of scripture in particular came to life during a recent visit to the Holy Land. I had the opportunity to ride in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and see with my own eyes the area in which Jesus, with his disciples, was ministering to the crowds. There was something special about the solitude and silence that came to me while on the boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. There on the water I was able to retreat with God and hear Him speak in the silence.
Emilee Griffin writes, “When there is no time to do it, that’s when you most need to unclutter the calendar and go apart to pray. When the gridlock of your schedule relentlessly forbids it is the time you most need retreat. That is when your heart beats against the prison walls of your enslavement and says, ‘Yes, Lord, I want to spend time with you.’” Times of solitude and silence may not always come in the mountains or in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee as it did for Jesus and his disciples, but I have learned the importance of deliberately creating an open, empty space in which I can be found by God. This time does not just happen. One of the keys to the definition above is the phrase “the creation of an open, empty space.” We must work to create this space, to “purposefully” withdraw even when – especially when – it seems that we have no time to do so. We can all learn from Jesus’ example and take time to focus on our relationship with God, replenishing and nourishing ourselves for busy lives.
Times of solitude and silence may not always come in the mountains or in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee as it did for Jesus and his disciples, but I have learned the importance of deliberately creating an open, empty space in which I can be found by God.
The story of the loaves and fishes, one of Jesus’ best remembered crowd experiences, is both preceded and followed by a time of solitude. Jesus craves solitude and rest not for selfish reasons, but because this is where the spiritual resources for ministry are found. Jesus says to each of us individually as he said to his disciples so long ago, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” – Mark 6:31. Today, will you do just that? Will you seek to do exactly what Jesus did? Withdraw to a place where you can be alone with God and use that time to pray even if all you can manage is a solitary cup of coffee in the morning or a few moments of prayer in your car before your drive to work. Remind yourself that these times of solitude and silence will nourish and refresh you in the presence of God.
Written by Major Faith Miller, Assistant Education Secretary, USA Eastern Territory