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Solitude in the Faith Traditions


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Solitude is a condition of the spirit that is recognized, honored, and practiced by adherents of virtually every major faith. The founders and followers have discovered it, practiced it, and handed it down.

This article was originally published as "Solitude in the Faith Traditions: Because No Great Religion Was Founded by Committee," in our February 2006 issue. In his classic study of ecumenical spirituality, the Irish Jesuit William Johnston tells this little story: After studying Zen with all its rigor in a traditional Japanese monastery, he eagerly reports his findings to a group of traditional Christian nuns, telling them of a meditation technique involving sitting in stillness and silence, alone, facing a blank wall. “Oh, that,” their Superior replies. “We already do that all the time.” At first, Johnston was deflated. He had thought he was bringing them something new and exotic. But he soon realized that he had made a profound discovery. Here were two utterly separate and contrasting sets of spiritual seekers — male, Japanese, Zen monks and Christian, Benedictine, Irish sisters — who discover the same thing: the value of stillness in solitude. Solitude is, in fact, a condition of the spirit that is recognized, honored, and practiced by adherents of virtually every major faith. The fo …

Rev. Clair McPherson, Ph.D., has been an educator, writer, spiritual director, and priest for more than three decades. For the past 16 years, he served as Rector of Trinity-St. Paul’s parish in New Rochelle, New York. He is the author of Understanding Faith, Grace at Tins Time, and Keeping Silence. He currently teaches at the General Seminary in New York and at New York University, and writes reviews, poetry, and articles for a range of publications. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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