I've been enjoying a great book recommended to me by a friend of Maria's named India. India came to our School for Conversion in February, and during a "side" conversation shared a thought from Henri Nouwen's book "Reaching Out" that has become one of the most timely and important things anyone has shared with me in a long time. I wanted to share a selection from the first part of the book entitled, "The First Movement (of the spiritual life): From Loneliness to Solitude."
"As his life grew in spiritual maturity, Merton came to see with penetrating clarity that solitude did not separate him from his contemporaries but instead brought him into a deep communion with them....He writes:
...'though "out of the world" we (monks) are in the same world as everybody else, the world of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the world of mass media, big business, revolution, and all the rest. We take a different attitude to all these things, for we belong to God. Yet so does everybody else belong to God.....This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in these words: "Thank God, thank God that I AM like other men, that I am only a man among others."....It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrrible mistakes: yet with all that, God Himself glorified in becoming a member of the human race!....I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate......My solitude, however, is not my own, for I see now how much it belongs to them (to others)-and that I have a responsibility for it in their regard, not just my own. It is because I am one with them that I owe it to them to be alone, and when I am alone, they are not "they" but my own self. There are not strangers!"
His own personal experience taught Merton that solitude not only deepens our affection for others but also is the place where real community becomes possible....Without the solitude of heart, the intimacy of friendship, marriage and community life cannot be creative. Without the solitude of heart, our relationships with others easily become needy and greedy, sticky and clinging, dependent and sentimental, exploitative and parasitic, because without the solitude of heart we cannot experience the others as different from ourselves but only as people who can be used for the fulfillment of our own, often hidden, needs.....The mystery of love is that it protects and respects the aloneness of the other and creates the free space where he can convert his loneliness into a solitude that can be shared."