O solitude, my sweetest choice!
Places devoted to the night,
Remote from tumult and from noise,
How ye my restless thoughts delight!
O solitude, my sweetest choice!
O heav'ns! what content is mine
To see these trees, which have appear'd
From the nativity of time,
And which all ages have rever'd,
To look today as fresh and green
As when their beauties first were seen.
O, how agreeable a sight
These hanging mountains do appear,
Which th'unhappy would invite
To finish all their sorrows here,
When their hard fate makes them endure
Such woes as only death can cure.
O, how I solitude adore!
That element of noblest wit,
Where I have learnt Apollo's lore,
Without the pains to study it.
For thy sake I in love am grown
With what thy fancy does pursue;
But when I think upon my own,
I hate it for that reason too,
Because it needs must hinder me
From seeing and from serving thee.
O solitude, O how I solitude adore!
Katherine Philip (d. 1664)
I love hearing James Bowman's glorious voice drawing on these words by Katherine Philip.
I must be getting quite a bit of a hermit these days, since I perceive that my best work is done in complete solitude. Yet it seems that so many people fear solitude with a passion. Solitude breeds loneliness, and loneliness is not a desirable sensation in a day in which Blogger, Discussion Forums, and Facebook as well as the many variegated matchmaking websites can connect the lonely soul with someone to talk to.
There is of course a great danger that solitude can bring. One can become too comfortable with oneself so as to exclude others and make oneself the centre of the universe. Indeed, for many people, the example of the hermit is a great fear, fear of becoming strange like the crazy cat lady down the road, for strangeness creates further loneliness.
For many, loneliness means that they have to face up to what is going on in their head. Whilst work and business, fun and trips to Agia Napa, wine, women and music, and whatever else we choose to fill our day, at some point we have to sit down alone and face whatever is going on inside.
I don't think it's necessary for me to elaborate on just how horrific and upsetting some of our thoughts can be. Indeed, how often do we disturb ourselves with some absolute shockers that seem to have dredged themselves up from the pit of Hell itself that make us doubt our own sanity?
For others, it is the sheer torment of past follies, indiscretions, mistakes that have compounded and built up into guilt, past cruelties, petty hatreds and the misplaced word. They bubble up to tell us that we are wicked, wicked beings and make us shudder and feel worthless.
For others, it is the sheer emptiness of life, its futility, that sense that everything has been done and makes no difference. We can have the sense that there is no point to our lives, that all we are doing is just staving off the inevitable.
I wonder if you are comforted to know that we all have thoughts like this.
These thoughts tend to occur when we are alone, so we try to blot them out, anaesthetise ourselves and pretend they don't exist with activity and chatter.
What would happen if we decided to stop and confront the tyranny of our own thoughts? Just stop sit down for an hour or two completely alone and do nothing except listen to the buzz in our brains, can you do that?
Of course, a Christian realises very quickly that he is never alone. Again, this can paralyse a particularly scrupulous individual on realising that God is aware of every single though that passes through his skull - including those from the Pit. Yet as he grows in maturity, the Christian not only accepts this fact, he derives great comfort from it. Making a good confession really does liberate the soul from past transgressions - I speak from personal experience here. Knowledge that we are loved unconditionally by God, and that we are fallen human beings helps us realise that there is nothing that can stop us from being regarded as valuable.
Armed with this, we can do something quite spectacular - let our thoughts tell us something about ourselves, even the infernal ones. We see how we can be tempted into doing wrong, where we need support and, most importantly of all, where God fits into our lives. If it isn't the centre, then we have to ask how we can put Him there. The more that we can accept our thoughts as they are, the more we can accept ourselves as human beings, and in due course love ourselves and others in the commonality as thinking beings. So why fear solitude? Why not try it out occasionally?
After all, what thoughts await you tonight in the wee small hours of the morning when you can't sleep? What are they really telling you?