What is the relationship between togetherness and solitude in community life, between our need to be alone with God and our need for fellowship in him?
We are not almighty; our strength and power are limited. One writer speaks about the breathing of the soul, the breathing in and the breathing out of the inner person. He uses the expression “the creative pause.”
Living together with others means receiving and giving. In every encounter between people there is giving and taking, breathing in and breathing out. We cannot be in the presence of others without giving something. Nor can a childlike, reverent person be in the company of others without receiving something from them.
This reverence and gratefulness in which we give and take are signs of true community. Community is impossible for those who think they are only giving. The opposite is also true – people who try to convince themselves that they only receive and have nothing to give render themselves unfit for community. The secret that makes us all brothers and sisters is that we both give and receive service. We not only live with one another but also from one another. And if the body of Christ receives the Spirit in all its members and the whole body is of one soul, then all members serve one another. No one can do without the other. Each one lives for the others, and all live together for the one united body. That is the secret of life in community.
But we are weak human beings; we cannot constantly give and take, breathe in and out. This is where the creative pause comes in. We cannot live without it. The day is spent in a rhythm of wakefulness and sleep, and the life of the soul needs creative quiet, an inner resting point, a gathering of our innermost thoughts before God in solitude. To be sure, a believing heart is never completely alone; God is always close. That is why common silence is of such importance.
…The secret of common silence between souls is the secret of the creative pause, a silence in which we are attentive to what God is accomplishing in us. That is why there can never be total solitude for us, for people who believe and love. But we do need silence, a time when we neither take nor give but rest close to the source of life.
If our community life is so bustling with activity that we have too little time for sleep and for this creative pause, then our spiritual life is in great danger. A soul requires quiet – God created it that way. Without quiet we feel exhausted and burned-out, and an unnecessary crisis follows. We are spiritually unfruitful when we are deprived of the creative pause. We are incapable of a constant love when we do not know moments of quiet. Such moments are essential in human relationships. We must not forget this. We are not fanatics about community, saying we should never be alone. That would be inhuman and ungodly. We know we are weak people, and sin follows hard on the heels of overstrained nerves.…
Instead, we need to ask God for the right rhythm – the rhythm that allows us to draw strength in quiet; new strength to love, to give, and to receive. We must never seek solitude just because living together with so many people is a strain on our nerves. Such loneliness would be unbearable after having once known the gift of voluntary community. We should watch out when the temptation to get away from it all comes over us. It is a signal for us to turn once more to God so that we can love again. For a short time we should enter the lonely cave of solitude so that we can return to people with renewed love – a love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Let us also sometimes be silent together. Then both will be given to us – the creative pause, in which God speaks to the heart of each one, and the awareness that in our common silence he speaks to the hearts of all who are united here.
As published in Called to Community (Plough Publishing, 2016).
Article edited for length and clarity.