Saturday, September 12, 2009

Solitude

While vacationing in Oregon I read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s, “Gift from the Sea,” a series of essays first published in 1955 in which the author attempts, among other things, to formulate – in elegant, insightful prose - a method for achieving what she calls ‘a state of grace,’ where the inner and outer person are at perfect peace.

She insists – rightly, I think – that we women do not so much resent the fact that we spend a substantive amount of our lives giving, but that our giving, because it is so varied and so often undocumented, sometimes feels purposeless. It is for this reason, she suggests, that we often become drained, deflated, and despondent, victims of what Ms. Holly Golightly would call 'the mean reds.'

By way of chronicling the cluttered and fragmented nature of most women’s lives, Lindbergh contends that in order to achieve this ‘state of grace,’ we need, above all, time to be alone – either to be contemplative and creative, or simply just ‘to be.’ “Eternally, woman spills herself away,” she writes, “in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim” (p. 38).

Lindbergh asserts that in order to “fill the pitcher” or feed the soul amidst its myriad activities we should aspire to be internally still as “the still axis within the revolving wheel of relationships, obligations, and activities” is still; and that such inner stillness can only be accomplished by means of solitude.



A beautiful idea, undoubtedly; but is this the way to keep the axis still? For a time, certainly. But solitude for its own sake is worth little, I think. One can spend a solitary 60 minutes of every day knitting, gardening, cooking, painting, exercising, reading, or any one of an infinite number of other things and find a certain degree of enhanced tranquility; can, indeed, develop a more serene disposition. But does an improved outward disposition also improve the inner fabric of one’s soul? Does it bring the inner and outer man into perfect harmony? And is it equivalent to living in a ‘state of grace?’

I'm not so sure.

Lindbergh’s election to use the term “state of grace” is interesting for although she doesn’t use it in a distinctly Christian sense, it stems from Christian theology. The theological definition of the word grace (charis) is: “unmerited favor.” In simplest terms, God has bestowed His unmerited favor upon mankind by giving us the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, His Son (Eph. 2.8, Rom. 3.21-25). Thus, from a Christian perspective, to live "in grace” or in a “state of grace” must, if it means anything at all, imply that one is living in a new reality whereby Christ is the light by which we see and experience the world.

To borrow and modify Lindbergh’s metaphor, solitude is, more accurately I think, but one of the many spokes emanating from what should be, what is, man’s only Hope of achieving any kind of lasting inner peace. It is a means and not an end; and to mistake it for the solution to all our disordered-ness, is, as Dutch would say, a bit like trying to cut down a tree by pulling its leaves off.

For it isn’t solitude alone that is going to cure our frenzied-ness, despair, and inner malaise – it is solitude spent with Christ.

1 comment:

Havilah said...

Well said Heather. Thank you for posting this. ;) HAV