Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
For the first time in our nation’s history, church doors were locked on Easter Sunday! There was no singing the great hymns of Easter, no egg hunts, no Easter brunches, picnics in the park, or all the fellowship we enjoy. We did not get to look at each other in the eye and say, “He is risen; He is risen indeed!” Once busy streets looked like something from the Twilight Zone, and stores and restaurants were shut tight. We had little choice but to hunker down at home.
But as one who tends to look at any glass as half full, I think there might be some serendipitous opportunity in this that might enrich our coming together again. Philosopher and theologian Dallas Willard thought that today’s most needed spiritual disciplines were solitude and silence. (Sounds a bit like social a social quarantine to me!) I suspect that, along with me, there are others needing to detox from a noisy world in order to spend some time alone with our heavenly Father.
During these weeks I have been thinking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s warning to people longing to be in Christian community:
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will not only do harm to himself and to the community…Let him who is not in community beware of being alone…Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls.” (Emphasis added, Life Together)
I know something about the “perils and pitfalls” of not taking time to be alone and quiet. French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal believed, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” (Blaise Pascal, “Pensees”) Perhaps that is why we see in Jesus a rhythm of life moving from solitude into community into ministry. (See Henri Nouwen, “Out of Solitude”) To be out of step with Jesus in this life rhythm always proves dangerous for His followers.
Consider a few Scripture passages (including Mark 1:35 above) that highlight the priority Jesus put on solitude and silence for Himself and for His followers:
Mark 1:12-13 “And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”
Mark 6:31-32 “Jesus said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.”
Luke 5:16 “But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places and pray.”
Luke 6:12 “Now during those days Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God.”
Luke 9:18 “Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him…”
John 6:15 “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
Jesus liked to intersperse His ministry of preaching, healing and discipling with strategic retreats to be alone and still with His Father. If we want to be more like Jesus, then it makes sense to be more like Him by also pulling back from the rush of activity in order to be alone with the Father. This works for families as well as individuals.
We did not choose this time of social isolation, but Charles Swindoll pinpoints our desperate need for being still and quiet with the Lord:
`“In our fast-paced world, most find it difficult to find silence and solitude. However, this two-fold discipline is necessary to focus our attention on God and to receive spiritual nourishment from His Spirit. Yet the Holy Spirit speaks in ways that noisy crowds can often drown out. Following Christ’s example of silence and solitude prepare us to hear God’s ‘noiseless voice’ as He ministers the gifts of rest, clarity, and peace in a wearying, confusing, and tumultuous world.” (Charles Swindoll, “So You Want to Be Like Jesus”)
I so hope and pray that soon our church doors will be open, and we will be together again! But I think we will come together as different people. This time apart gives time for falling into step with Jesus’ rhythm of solitude, community, and ministry. We will be the better off for it, and so will our churches.
I see I don’t have any place to go tonight! What a great time for being still with the Father, meditating on His Word, praying, and recalibrating my life.
A Fellow Traveler,