Blogging through Bonhoeffer 3

27 Jun

In chapter 2, “The Day with Others,” Bonhoeffer showed us what our life with others, centered around the person of Christ, should look like. In chapter 3, “The Day Alone,” Bonhoeffer explains what spiritual aloneness means for the Christ-follower.

Bonhoeffer begins the chapter with an indictment on people that look to the church to alleviate their loneliness. “The person who comes into a fellowship because he is running away from himself is misusing it for the sake of diversion, no matter how spiritual this diversion may appear.” This is strong language and I find myself challenged by it. I hate to be alone. This is no secret. I am energized being in a crowd of people. I start to go stir crazy by myself. Bonhoeffer would tell me that I desperately need ‘”the day alone.”

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” Some of us go to community looking to get our needs met. Others run from community to bask in aloneness, where the self is king. There is a “together/alone” continuum that we need to find our rhythm in. Truth is found in the tension of opposites. Togetherness means nothing apart from aloneness and visa-versa. We are called to both community and solitude. “One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”

Henri Nouwen calls silence and solitude (which cannot be divorced) the furnace of transformation. It is when the noise and pace of life stops that we hear the still small voice of Jesus. But we run from it. Even those that enjoy being alone rarely experience solitude. We use our aloneness as an opportunity for distraction. We read a magazine, watch 14 episodes of Lost, or mindlessly browse the internet. Be sure, this is not the solitude that Bonhoeffer speaks of. He quickly dispels the selfish aloneness as well as the mystical approach to silence. Christian solitude and meditation is not about emptying ourselves and becoming aware of some mystical reality beyond our world. “Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the word of God.” When we are bathed in the Word of God we find ourselves silent, meditating on what has been lodged into our soul. The Word doesn’t stop communicating when silence begins. The God who inspired the scripture continues to speak to us in the most intimate way. Silence and solitude are not ends but means to an end–intimacy with the father. But too many times we allow the noise of our busy lives to distract us from the voice of God who speaks in the stillness. If we step away from the commotion and retreat to a solitary place, like Jesus did so many times, there the voice of Abba Father speaks tenderly to his children. But it is also in the stillness that we see the darkness of our own heart. So we run. We don’t like facing our fears and our hurts. But it is in precisely that place where God wants to meet you. He wants you at your most vulnerable.

It is only in the context of this deep intimacy with God in solitude, silence, and meditation that the individual can truly enjoy community. Bonhoeffer concludes the chapter with a question about the purity of the Christ-follower’s aloneness. He asks, “Has it (our solitude) transported him for a moment into a spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it lodged the Word of God so securely and deeply in his heart that it holds and fortifies him, impelling him to active love, to obedience, to good works?”

Your solitude shouldn’t lead you some existential euphoria or state of centeredness. It shouldn’t make you withdraw from the world. It should cultivate your heart to prepare you to dive head first into a community that loves each other and the world.

We stand alone together.

-Joseph Phillips

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