As a kid on the farm, when I was supposed to be doing chores in the old barn, I loved to sneak through the haybarn, exit out the back and go into the woods next to the creek. This was my “happy place” because the solitude and silence enabled the things in my heart, mind, imagination and memory to flow with great authenticity and freedom.
Regardless of where I lived, it was important for me to find my “happy places” of solitude and silence because they were the places where I felt most comfortable being my authentic self. They were also the places I could most easily experience the authentic “self” of God—that is his presence, grace and love. It was by the creek in the woods behind the old barn in solitude and silence where I sensed God calling me to be a priest.
Solitude and silence benefit us tremendously if we find our “happy places” where we pray, reflect, ponder, listen and receive what God wants to share with us and what we want to share with him. It could be a prayer corner in our house, kneeling next to our bed in the morning or night to listen intently to God and share what is on our heart, in adoration, daily Mass, reading the Bible or driving in the car to work or other activities.
These are places where we can be our authentic selves so we can, in turn, experience the authentic “self” of God manifesting his love, mercy and spiritual graces. Such spiritual loving companionship with God fills our hearts with joy and peace. Samuel (1 Sm 3:9) and Elijah (1 Kgs 19:12) and other people in the Bible provide us with witnesses of finding God and God’s love or plan for them in solitude and silence.
However, if we seek out solitude and silence but isolate ourselves from God by not opening our heart, mind and will to him, we find ourselves humanly ruminating, imagining, trying to figure things out by ourselves, or being distracted by things like video games or other things that fascinate our imagination. Such experiences eventually leave us empty, dry, lonely, bored and feeling isolated. So rather than loving intimacy through communion with God, which satisfies our deepest longings, we try to escape from the emptiness and loneliness by gratifying ourselves with worldly pleasures for the body or ego.
This Advent, I invite you to carve out time and space to go into solitude and silence with God, even if we can only do it for short periods because of demands of work and family. By doing this, I hope we all discover a deepening loving communion with God as he fills us with the spiritual graces.
I hope St. Augustine’s great expression becomes our own: “Oh God, our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” May our resting in the silence this Advent as we joyfully anticipate the coming of Christ at Christmas, each day and at the end of time, find us resting with delight in loving communion with God and others.