Mornings in India are communal, with the vast majority of society outside with the sunrise, hand-washing clothes, bathing at neighborhood taps, and brushing teeth on their front stoop. Even in prestigious neighborhoods in mega cities, the road will be filled with walkers, joggers, women outside watering flowers and men sitting, sipping their chai. And because the slums and palatial mansions are all intermingled, one can witness every aspect of life happening (in one gaze) from marble balconies to tents of migrant workers.
Many westerners are unsettled by the presence of neighbors early in the morning. For us, the morning hours are reserved for getting ready behind closed curtains, for privacy. We even have mugs that say, “Don’t talk to me till I’ve finished my coffee!”
In my 6+ cumulative years in Asia, I have always loved this intimate glimpse into my neighbors’ lives, and somehow it didn’t bother me that they could see mine too. Not like we chatted it up at sunrise between apartment windows (I still don’t want anyone talking to me till I finish my coffee).
In our mountain home these past 3 years I would sneak out of our bedroom at 6am into the dark hallway/kitchen with wall-sized windows to the road. As I made my coffee and cleaned up the living area, I would see my neighbor Kalpana (or her husband or kids) ambling up the hill to the public toilet, or filling up their buckets at the public spigot to bathe and make breakfast with. They would glance at me through the windows and nod, silhouetted against the rising sun; I would smile and nod back. We wouldn’t talk. Just nod, and go about our morning solitude.
Solitude. Even in a clump of apartments, six families stacked on top of one another against the face of the mountain, each one found his or her means of solitude.
Solitude and silence. I needed it under our Himalayan green-tin-roof, and I need it these months in the midwest countryside.
If you haven’t experienced silence in a while, it’s unnerving. Something feels wrong, like you should be doing something or rushing off somewhere. But if you take a deep breath and allow your soul to detox from the usual overstimulation, you will suddenly become aware of a deep hunger inside.
A deep hunger for more of this thing called solitude. A hunger for–and an awareness of–God.
It’s something I crave.
Having a speaker and public figure as a father gave me a sense that people were always watching me. Not like stalking me, but that I was being observed.
This has deeply impacted my experience of communal worship. I rarely feel “alone” enough to experience vulnerability in a large setting. The times when I sit in the back as a stranger, I have been overcome by a sense of God’s presence, by the words He was speaking to my soul.
This is part of why solitude and silence are so powerful in my own journey with Jesus. I so desperately need a place where I can silence all the voices and come to grips with what “is”.
Solitude is the space for us to sit with what is.
To sit with our fears, joys, hurts, and longings. To recognize them. To hold them openly before Jesus, our Prince of Peace.
Today I reread the chapter on Solitude in Ruth Haley Barton’s “Sacred Rythms”, and it struck me. Solitude is not an American value. It’s a God-given need. It just looks different in each setting.
I hope that today you find this liberating. The fact that God is pleased when you seek solitude with Him, and that He will meet you in that solitude, no matter what that looks like. Even if it’s on a mountain path headed for the public restroom, or sitting on a dimly lit front stoop with your tea. Solitude is there for everyone, a space to sit with what is and a space to meet with God.
What does your solitude look like? Send me a picture.