“In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” In the middle of sentences loaded with action – healing suffering people, casting out devils, responding to impatient disciples, traveling from town to town and preaching from synagogue to synagogue – we find these quiet words: “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” In the center of breathless activities we hear a restful breathing. Surrounded by hours of moving we find a moment of quiet stillness. In the heart of much involvement there are words of withdrawal. In the midst of action there is contemplation. And after much togetherness there is solitude. The more I read this nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action, the more I have the sense that the secret of Jesus‘s ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning, long before dawn.
In the lonely place, Jesus finds the courage to follow God‘s will and not his own; to speak God’s words and not his own; to do God’s work and not his own. He reminds us constantly: “I can do nothing by myself…my aim is to do not my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 5:30). And again, “The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself: it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work” (Jn 14:10). It is in the lonely place, where Jesus enters into intimacy with the Father, that his ministry is born.
I want to reflect on this lonely place in our lives. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures. The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life and should therefore be the subject of our most personal attention.”
– Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude, Introduction