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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"Holy Solitude" (Heidi Haverkamp)

TITLE: Holy Solitude: Lenten Reflections with Saints, Hermits, Prophets, and Rebels
AUTHOR: Heidi Haverkamp
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018, (148 pages).

In the season of Lent, Christians traditionally practice a more solemn mood as they reflect on the life of Christ, how Jesus watched and prayed, and determined Himself to go to the Cross. It is a time of loneliness. It is a time of emotional and spiritual struggle. It is a time of quiet reflection to ponder from the intersection of faith and doubt; God's will or our will; and for self or for others. Knowing the right thing to do does not necessitate choosing the right thing. Fear has a way of dislodging our wills from the sills of faith. Daily, we are confronted by the insidious spiritual forces of darkness that often creep into our unsuspecting lives, to deceive us, to derail us, and to discourage us in our spiritual walk. In Lent, we sharpen our spiritual senses through fasting, through praying, through meditating upon the Word, and through the practice of various spiritual disciplines. This book is a way to help us through these practices of reflection, introspection, and self-inspection of our hearts, as we look at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We learn about fasting as a remembrance of God's grace rather than a test of human endurance. Haverkamp recommends Sundays as feast days which would exempt us once a week from our chosen abstentions. On Saturdays, we are encouraged to give generously. As the author hands our a ten-dollar bill each week, she notices the changes in her heart, not to pre-judge others, but to be grateful to God. Other helpful tips include what to decorate or remove in our houses; our shopping and leisure choices; the proper timing to light candles; etc. She is quite comprehensive, showing us the things we could do to prepare for Ash Wednesday; Holy Week; Maundy Thursday; Good Friday; Easter; and so on. For each day of Lent, there is a brief write-up about a specific Lent topic that could be based on a personal experience; learning from the Church fathers; hermits; spiritual writers; desert monks; the saints of old. For each week, there are reflective questions and practices we could embark during the week. There is a gradual intensification of prayer and devotional moments as we approach Holy Week. Using solitude as the central theme, Haverkamp explores the heightened opportunities for listening; for struggling; our journeying; our practice of hospitality; our resisting of the tyranny of non-stop work; and of being confined either by choice or by circumstances.

For the last point about confinement, the author explains it through the lens of the persecuted prophets, the martyrs, and the modern heroes of the faith like Martin Luther in the 16th Century; and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr, and others like Nelson Mandela in the 21st Century. Jesus himself was also imprisoned and subsequently executed. Imprisonment comes both external as well as internal, physical and spiritual. Through the practice of solitude in Lent, we experience a wide range of emotions and spiritual experiences. Essentially, we are practicing the passion of Christ that in spite of what happens to us, we remain faithful to God.

The appendices are filled with helpful tips about "Ten Ways to be Silent," and easy recipes to minimize our cooking time.

Three Thoughts
First, solitude is a deliberate decision. Like Jesus who spends time with God in the early hours of the morning, holy solitude is something planned for by a determined soul to want to meet God. According to the author, solitude "isn't loneliness, but the practice of a deep integrity." While some may claim that  loneliness and solitude are not very different, the author points out that there is a world of difference in that loneliness is a sense of inner emptiness while solitude stems from inner fulfillment.

Second, solitude is creating space for God. It is no secret that many of us are inundated by the demands of this world. We are busy simply doing stuff. Whether it is about family commitments or school assignments, work deadlines or traffic snarls, we are always caught up in the world of activities. Not doing anything could thus be seen as a waste of time. In contrast, solitude agrees with this in a sense, but in a positive way. By creating space for God, we are also deliberately "wasting time" as far as the world is concerned, so that we could encounter God who is not restricted by any time dimension at all.

Finally, this practice of holy solitude through the forty days of Lent and Holy Week should be a springboard for something deeper. While there is always a goal in spirituality, much of life is about the process, the journey, the formation. The prayers, exercises, and reflections should not simply end at Easter. It symbolizes the transition toward the next level of spirituality, of growth, of maturity. It will make us more aware of ourselves, our limits, our strengths, our weaknesses, and our need for humility when relating to others. True spirituality is always about love. Love for God that translates into love for others, which in turn brings a unique love experience back to ourselves. Then it continues the cycle of giving and sharing. We learn to stop when God asks us to pause. We learn to move when God prompts us to. We learn to be still to know that God is near. We listen for that gentle whisper and pray that when God appears, we will be ready.

Heidi Haverkamp is an episcopal priest, a retreat leader, a preachers, as well as a writer of spirituality books. She has contributed articles to Christian Century and her blog is part of the CCBlogs network. Her personal website is https://www.heidihaverkamp.net/

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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