We’re in an uncertain space as we move through this pandemic crisis. Work routines have changed. Some of us have no work. Schools are closed. Young children are home. The daily pace has slowed.
This global halt to life as we’ve known it has created time to take walks, read, and notice little things like family, sunshine, and fresh air. We now have more pockets of solitude.
It’s as if someone waved a wand and blanketed the world with a deep quiet.
Gerald May, a psychiatrist and theologian, calls this quiet the “power of slowing.”
In his book, The Wisdom of Wilderness, May says he longed for a direct encounter with Divine Presence. He wanted to experience “that Something that is in you but not yet completely you— something dynamic, surprising, and very, very wise.”
May said he was tired of the indirect, intellectual experience of God—a god who was something or someone “out there.” It left him feeling separated from himself and the Divine. May wanted to feel Presence rising from his deepest parts—to experience it inside his very muscles, to feel the gentle hand of the Creator taking his arms and legs and stilling them. And most of all, he wanted to hear the Voice of Wisdom speak within him.
In 2005, May was diagnosed with incurable cancer. It was then he realized he had to choose. He could get angry at God and the Universe, blaming them for his illness, or he could let this unexpected event invite him into the wilderness of his inner life. He chose the latter.
After his diagnosis, May spent time in the quiet each day. On weekends, he went alone to the mountains. He sat in contemplation. Listening. Waiting. And after a time of faithfully showing up for daily solitude, May experienced the Presence for which he longed. He heard the Voice of Wisdom within him.
He described it as a “sweet, irresistible voice speaking in my belly. ‘Be still now,’ it whispered. It’s not a real voice, not actual hearing, but the message was clear,” May wrote. “No rush, no need to do anything, just be.”
This Presence, through the power of quiet, guided May through his illness and led him courageously to the Other Side.
I wonder if the pandemic we are facing offers us the same choice May had to make. We can shake our fists at the people or gods we believe caused it, or we can let it invite us into the Power of Slowing, the Power of Quiet.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and follow it.”
Perhaps this time of slowing is an invitation to enter into daily quiet so we can hear the Voice to which Jesus refers. Maybe the Holy Spirit is up to something because the Spirit uses everything, even suffering, to bring about good.
Many people believe we’re in a personal and universal teachable moment. I believe we’re being invited to come to the quiet so we can experience Divine Presence.
For years, I’ve tried to follow Gerald May’s example. After rising each morning, I go to my den, light a candle, sip morning coffee, and pour my heart out to the Creator.
The other morning in my time of solitude, I told God, “I am afraid.” My daughter who works in a California nursing home as a dietician may have caught the coronavirus. As I wept, I felt the Father hold me, touch my skin, and comfort my heart. I asked him to help us—all of us—because we are all suffering. Then, I felt a stillness rise up in my belly. That familiar voice that has no sound, whispered in my heart, “I am with you. All shall be well.” Later that week, my daughter’s test came back negative.
I can’t understand intellectually how or what this Divine Presence is. I only know I feel it in my body and in my emotions as I sit in the quiet and experience my heartbeat and breath. I can’t see it—whatever “It” is. I just know it’s real.
In this global time of slowing, God is showing us the Power of Quiet. He is using this time to lead us into our wilderness, inviting us to create space for the Presence we need so deeply.
If you have a current quiet time, savor it. You have heard the nudge from the Power of Slowing and have allowed it to draw you deeper into the heart of the One who loves and speaks to you.
If the practice of daily solitude is new to you, consider setting aside 20-30 minutes each day as you let the Power of Slowing lead you into the quiet. Then sit still and listen with your heart. See how this daily experience holds you. Take your worries and cares, your joys, and your sorrows to the Divine, and find peace there. Try it for 10 days and let it become your oasis, your time of comfort, as you care for your soul and discover the Power of Quiet.
Before his death, May wrote these words. I pray they lead us Home.
“I would bet that if you are willing, and if you listen very gently and carefully, you will sense that this mysterious Wisdom is ready to lead you, guide you to where you need to be. It is your wilderness calling.”
—-brian j plachta
PS—Last week I invited readers to share how they experience the gift of solitude. Here are some of their responses. InJoy!!!
“To me, Solitude means a quiet time I am mentally free from unwanted distractions. It is a quiet time that that I can focus on talking to God. I can focus on what He has done in my life and ask Him what His Will is for me.
“To incorporate solitude in my life, two things come to mind.
“First, I love to fish. Being in the boat by myself allows me to witness the beauty of God’s creation. I see His work everywhere on the water, in the sky, and on the shore. This usually turns into a time of thanksgiving for all of the things He has given mankind.
“Second, when I take my dog for a walk early in the morning, it provides lots of quiet time so I can talk to God. I can just observe and reflect on what God has created. It’s a really good time to commune with God.
“What I usually experience in these times is a quieting of that squirrel cage in my head revved up from the news of the previous day and the list of things I need to do. It gives me a chance to get myself back in focus.”
“Thanks for starting this conversation. This was good to re-center myself on this daily practice, and I’m looking forward to hearing what others have to share!
“What does “solitude” mean?
“To me, solitude means to withdraw, to have my own special time with God. It is a time for me to give God my full attention and for God to give me his full attention, with no one else around, for me to rest in his unique delight in me, instead of driving forward, competing and comparing to get that feeling of being special and important.
“How do I incorporate solitude into my daily life?
“Having time in the morning is a special time for me, before the rest of my family gets up. But I’ve also been seeking to practice stepping away throughout the day for even 1-2 minutes to “retreat” and allow the Spirit to re-center me.
“What do I experience during that quiet, sacred space?
“Sometimes I get that emotional/mental feeling of being special to God, experiencing that sense of “He really does love me!” or “Wow, he really is that beautiful.” But most of the time I experience a sense of contentment and openness to experience whatever God has for me in this moment, and to be re-centered on what is most important in life – loving God and loving others.”
“Nowadays, I start my morning prayers right in bed. I find peace in the solitude of thanking God for giving me another day. Generally, I spend about 15 minutes. Then, I go to the living room, where I pull a card out from a box filled with Bible verses and thoughts for the day.
“I spend about an hour. It varies because as the words speak to me, I pause to contemplate what has touched me, and try to listen to what God is telling me.”
“What is Solitude?
“Undisturbed/ hidden away private Holy place for my Quiet time with God. This can be in my home or it can be in the forest or a church. God chooses and I comply.
“How do I incorporate Solitude into my daily life?
“I have tried various times of the day to accomplish this—morning is my best time. I am always listening to hear the Voice of my God, but when in Solitude, it is much easier (although if God wants to be heard, He will make his Voice as loud as Thunder).
“I am open most readily during this time to accept God’s presence and be aware of His guidance and blessings. This includes such times as when God calls me to only, Rest and Relax in Him.
“What do I experience during this time of quiet, sacred time of Solitude?
“Openness/ Trust/ Fortitude/ Finding myself humbled to accept God’s forgiveness and for me to forgive myself each day, for the weakness of my yesterday.
“I also obtain the fruitful messages that God wants me to claim as my own! I obtain Excitement over hearing his Voice, in the audible sense. I could never tire of this amazing gift He chose for me. He fills me to overflowing on some days. That is when I experience this as I feel the tears washing down over my cheeks…but oh, so thankful!”
“For the past ten years I have been living in the solitude of my rectory apartment. I learned the spiritual value of solitude from my ten years (1958-1968) as a Benedictine monk in a monastery in NW Arkansas, Subiaco Abbey. You probably know the etymology of the word “monk” is from the Greek, meaning “alone” or “solitary”. I have experienced being “alone” differs greatly from “being lonely.” I have grown to treasure solitude, as did one of my many mentors, Thomas Merton, as he so eloquently wrote it from his hermitage at Gethsemane.
“I connect “silence” with solitude. I know it is implied….but one can be solitary and not be silent.
“To me solitude is being alone with God. I have a very comfortable space in the lower level of our house.
“I start of each day by going to my special place and doing some deep breathing to connect and meditate. I use my Apple Watch and I try to get my heart rate down to the mid 50’s. To do this, I have to relax and not think about anything. I can’t get there every day, but sometimes I do.
“After I do this, I meditate for 15 to 20 minutes. I talk to God. I listen. Sometimes I am given a word or a phrase—sometimes nothing. I often ask him—what is the work you want me to do know?
“When I finish, I exercise. We have a lot of exercise equipment in the lower level of our house. To do this, I have to get up early so I can go to class, go do volunteer work or go about my day with whatever we have planned. When I exercise, I often listen to—Pray as you go. I read the scripture for the day before I start and then do part of my exercises.
“I also try to read in the evening. Sometimes I also read in the morning—it depends on what is going on.
“I work on this. I am not perfect but I try.”
“My thoughts on solitude include not so much a specific time and place but more the action or process.
“For me, there is a daily structured aspect, early morning after getting up and starting a cup of coffee, sitting at my desk in the kitchen or comfy upholstered antique rocker in my small bedroom, but it also includes the brief time in bed before I actually get up in the morning. It includes my night-time in bed just before falling asleep. Actually, sometimes it’s in the shower! Alone, thinking of my day. The warm water is a daily blessing! The conversation begins!
“I guess the commonality and my benefit is “Me and God” with no distractions. It’s an opportunity to speak with God with my daily pleas, and importantly, listen for His response. These times allow for conversation without distraction.
“What I have experienced is comfort, knowing it is our time. I receive a connectedness I need, not only in these challenging times, but also every day on my spiritual journey.”
Here are some other responses with links to ways people incorporate solitude into their day:
Pray as You Go. Each morning during my meditation time, I pull up Pray as You Go online, which offer the day’s scripture. After listening to it, I sit quietly for 15 minutes and let the words and music speak to me. Here is the website:
Evening Walks. I talk with God during my morning shower and all day long. But, my favorite time is in the evening when I go for a 20-30-minute walk in our neighborhood. As I walk, I listen and hear God talk to me. Here’s a short video that introduced me to prayer walking. During this time of health concerns, I walk alone to avoid spreading the virus. Prayer Walking. Maybe soon we can walk together again.
Music. I listen to some gentle music during my devotion time, and then sit quietly and ponder the words after the song finishes. My favorite meditation song is “Come to the Quiet” by John Michael Talbot.
Here is a link to it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/O2R-Vpo26ys
Art/Writing. I spend a half hour in quiet meditation. Toward the end of that time, I often have a piece of art or a piece of writing that stirs in me. It’s as if the Creator places them on my heart. When it feels right, I get up and let the art or writing flow onto the paper through me. This Ted Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert inspires me to greet the “muse” who shows up during my meditation time.
Guided Meditations. I like to listen to a guided meditation to focus and center me. I like the meditations on your YouTube Page: Guided Meditations.
The Rosary. I love to pray the Rosary each day. It allows me to reflect on the life of Christ. Here’s a video that gave me some background.
Body Prayer. I love the Julian of Norwich body prayer. I also do the same body prayer at the end of my day to offer the day back to God. Here’s the link:
Centering Prayer. I have used Centering Prayer, as introduced by Father Thomas Keating, for my daily meditation practice. It has changed my life. Here is a link to Father Keating’s introduction to Centering Prayer:
Next week: Spiritual Reading
Next week our Simple Wisdom reflection will focus on the practice of spiritual reading.
Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know:
- What is the spiritual book that most inspired you?
- What did you learn from it?
With your permission, I’ll share your answers in next week’s reflection.
Thank you for Finding Flow with me. It’s life-giving.