I recall being severely disciplined as a child. Dad’s razor strap hung in the basement stairway, and while I only directly encountered it once, it did nevertheless have a powerful influence on my behaviour by just hanging there.
The more severe punishments were “Go to your room” and “No supper for you!” Thus, it was instilled in me from an early age, that the worst things that could happen to you were to be denied community and food. A little later in life I learned (but not by personal experience) the negative connotations of “isolation” and “confinement,” the worst of all being “solitary confinement.”
I have sometimes wondered how different it might have been if, instead of being used for punishment, isolation was given as a reward. “Since you have been so helpful today, I will let you go to your room all by yourself for an hour.” All this to say that it is no wonder I had a hard time with the spiritual disciplines of solitude, silence, and even fasting.
The matter has come back to me in recent days in hearing of all the advice in dealing with quarantine and isolation, as though they were something terrible. I would not deny the dark side of being alone, knowing that we are designed for community, whether as an individual or as a family unit, but when it comes to growing in our personal and spiritual lives, solitude and silence are critical elements for that development. In the famous words of Robinson Crusoe, who said, after eighteen years of being alone on a deserted island “I learned to master everything but myself. Alas. Alas.” Or in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “We are so afraid of silence that we chase ourselves from one event to the next in order not to have to spend a moment alone with ourselves, in order not to have to look at ourselves in the mirror.” *
Imagine what impact it might have on our lives, were we to have fresh encounters with ourselves, as we encounter God afresh. Freed from the need to be occupied and stimulated, we give God time as we grow deeper in understanding our true identity in Christ. The word that I wrote on my stone as we began Lent was “listen”. Little understanding did I have of the opportunity I would have to do that in this special time.