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Contemplative Prayer and Solitude

By Fr. James Farfaglia
November 24th, 2012
Catholic Online (

Moments of solitude are possible if we are capable of being alone.  Solitude renews us.  Short or long periods of solitude allow us to be more productive.  

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - To sit on rocks, to muse o'er flood and fell,
To slowly trace the forest's shady scene,
Where things that own not man's dominion dwell,
And mortal foot hath ne'er or rarely been;
To climb the trackless mountain all unseen,
With the wild flock that never needs a fold;
Alone o'er steeps and foaming falls to lean;
This is not solitude, 'tis but to hold
Converse with Nature's charms, and view her stores unrolled.

But midst the crowd, the hurry, the shock of men,
To hear, to see, to feel and to possess,
And roam alone, the world's tired denizen,
With none who bless us, none whom we can bless;
Minions of splendour shrinking from distress!
None that, with kindred consciousness endued,
If we were not, would seem to smile the less
Of all the flattered, followed, sought and sued;
This is to be alone; this, this is solitude!

Lord Byron (1788 - 1824), a famous British poet, gives us a glimpse into solitude.  Solitude is not that same as loneliness.  Loneliness can be rooted in isolation and self-pity.  Rather, times of solitude provide profound moments of encounter with God and with nature. 

Moments of solitude are possible if we are capable of being alone. 

Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862) once wrote: "I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude."

Centering prayer, lectio divina and the gift of contemplative prayer all depend upon moments of solitude.  Prayer is only impossible if you consciously and for concrete periods of time leave behind your work and your apostolic endeavors.

Solitude renews us.  Short or long periods of solitude allow us to be more productive.  

The lay faithful need to incorporate regular moments of solitude into their busy lives. 

Like monasteries and religious communities, families can build into the hustle and bustle of every day moments of solitude, especially in the morning and at night where the television and the cell phones are turned off and conversations cease. 

Where there is order, silence and solitude are possible. 

Prayer, study and perhaps the development of an interesting hobby can be interwoven within the fabric of family life. 

At the same time, larger moments of solitude can also be a part of your yearly routine.  A weekend silent retreat is an important aspect of the spiritual life.

There are many types of retreat experiences.  Finding something that will help you encounter God and reflect upon your own personal life is very healthy. 

The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola would be my first recommendation.  This type of retreat can be done every year for a weekend or for even a longer period of time if possible. 

Along with an annual retreat, monthly shorter retreats provide a time of respite and renewal.  A monthly retreat experience can be a directed morning or evening of recollection. 

As the gift of contemplative prayer begins to orient your life, it is quite possible that you no longer find directed retreats helpful.  Instead, you thirst for the experience of total solitude where you are alone with God. 

You may find it difficult to discover places of solitude, but they still do exist. 

John Keats (1795 - 1821), another famous British poet once wrote:

O SOLITUDE! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,-
Nature's observatory - whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river's crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
'Mongst boughs pavillion'd, where the deer's swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
But though I'll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin'd,
Is my soul's pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

Father James Farfaglia is a contributing writer for Catholic Online and author of Get Serious! - A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics.  You can visit him on the web at 

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