Reflection on Solitude, Silence and Suffering

“But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord.  I have said, “You are my God.  My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.  Make your face to sine upon your servant, and in your loving-kindness save me.”  (Psalm 31:14-16 The Book of Common Prayer, p.623).

There is a common misunderstanding about solitude.  Solitude in the common understanding tends to mean alone and to be lonely.  Solitude for the contemplative is not a running from something.  Solitude and silence for the Desert Monastics was how they cleared away all obstacles to be quiet and alone with God within their deepest selves.  Spending time in solitude and silence does not imply being completely peaceful and tranquil.  We do hope for tranquility at some point.  Camaldolese Benedictines spend our time in the cell of our hearts in solitude and silence to let God take us into the depths of ourselves to see what is really there.  In our cells, we find how deep our own suffering has taken us, and let God use it however God wants.  This is the letting go in contemplative prayer that I write about all the time.

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday shows the fickleness of the human heart.  We want Jesus to be received by us in all His glory, then at His Passion and Death we become content with letting Jesus go it all alone.  The actions of Jesus’ Disciples tell us so at length in the Passion narratives.  Yet, what we see throughout the Passion story, is that Jesus gracefully and lovingly accepts the suffering He experiences.  Even before Pilate and the questions he asks Jesus: in the Passion narrative of St. Mark 15:5 we read “Jesus made no further reply, so Pilate was amazed.”   Jesus completely surrenders Himself to what is happening.  Jesus faces it for what it is, and pays the ultimate price of His life.  And of course, His death is not the final word.

The mystery of Holy Week for contemplatives is that Jesus enters into our suffering in a attitude of solitude and silence, because He knows that God is in the midst of it all with Him; even if He cannot feel Him.  Jesus finds the presence of God in faith alone; even as Jesus cried out the words of Psalm 22:1 “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus trusts in God alone.

Whatever our suffering might be we are never there alone.  When we enter into our suffering in solitude and silence with trust in God, we leave our times in God’s hands as the Psalmist wrote.  Holy Week reminds us that though suffering happens to all of us, including God’s Son, even death is a transitory result.  We are invited by Jesus this week, to follow Him in His suffering and our own to let go of ourselves and find the joy of the Resurrection of new life.

“But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.  Never swerving from his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom.  Amen.” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English.  The Conclusion of the Prologue, p.19).

3. The way is via the Psalms-do not leave it.  If, in your beginners fervor, you fail to do the whole Psalter, do a little here and a little there. (From the Short Rule of St. Romuald).

How are you entering into your relationship with Jesus in the midst of your suffering?


Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Palm Sunday Reflection: The Fickle Human Heart

Palm Sunday


The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ (Matthew 21:9 NRSV).

Pilate said to them, ‘Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ All of them said, ‘Let him be crucified!’ Then he asked, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!’(Matthew 27:22,23 NRSV).

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday is the most vivid display of the fickleness of the human heart ever put into writing.  The cheerful greetings of the crowds crying out to Jesus on Palm Sunday with “Hosanna in the highest” becomes the shouting of “Let him be crucified” on Good Friday.  “Welcome Jesus on Palm Sunday.”   “Kill Him on Good Friday.”

If we are all bluntly honest with ourselves, we must admit that our hearts today are just as fickle.   We say we want God’s peace and salvation in our lives, but, we brush God aside by many of the choices we make.  We say we want to love God from our hearts, but we quickly turn that love away when we allow our hearts to hold grudges or say unkind things to someone in our family or otherwise.  The more we learn, the more we have yet to learn.

The greatest news and mystery of Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter Day, is that our God in Jesus Christ comes to be with us and love us, regardless of how fickle our hearts are.  Jesus shows us God’s unconditional love as Jesus experiences the most generous welcome and the worst of our worst.  Our worst is no match for the powerful love of God who gave His only Son to be “obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 NRSV).

The greatest mystery to spend some time in Lectio Divina and Contemplation during Holy Week is that God loves each of us so very madly and deeply.  God knows that there is a lot of  good in our hearts and God wants redeems us to reclaim that goodness in and through the Paschal Mystery.  God gave us Jesus to know that God walks with us in our moments of great celebration and gladness; and when we mess things up as badly as we possibly can.  In Jesus, God shows us that it is possible for us to let go.  As St. Benedict wrote in Chapter 4 vs. 74 of The Rule “And finally, never lose hope in God’s mercy.” (RB: 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English, p.185).

Are you open to the Presence of Jesus in your own fickle heart?


Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB