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Thursday, March 25, 2010

solitude and silence

In Bonhoeffer's book about Life Together, solitude and silence provide the context for the inward disciplines of meditation and prayer and intercession for others.  Certainly our team has prioritized the "day alone" in new ways in the last few years thanks to the encouragement of Donovan G, who is a minister-to-missionaries spiritual encourager.  We fast from busy-ness to create the space to focus on God, to listen to His written Word, to rest in His presence.  But I was very curious as to how this concept would translate cross-culturally in a place where few people have their own mattress, let alone room or house.  Where ancestors and descendants give life meaning and context, where clan and community reign supreme.  

Not surprisingly, few people here spend intentional time alone, ever.  Perhaps they might be left in bed on occasion during a sickness, but even then family and neighbors do their best to be omnipresent.  A few staff had experience of "quiet time" for prayer.  But mostly they expressed deep concern that to withdraw communicates pride, conflict, anger, superiority, separation.  In a culture where living spaces are communal and crowded, families huge, villages huddled, closed doors or shut shutters rare, where sharing is the highest moral value, and the group affords most of identity, where people prefer to do almost everything together, a person who goes off alone for hours is highly suspect.  Either he is eating/enjoying something he doesn't want to share, or he is passively aggressively punishing the group.

So what do African Christians do with Jesus' example of early morning mountain-top prayer time alone?  Of withdrawing to the desert to struggle with God?  

That's a question for them to answer.  I suspect that it is a bit like our team.  Until there is a critical mass of people who affirm the value of solitude and silence, few individuals will risk being known for it.  But eventually it will become a part of the rhythm of life in community, perhaps with different cultures having different patterns and proportions of time alone and time together, but all having some devotion to both.

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