“Sometimes one wonders if the fact that so many people ask support, advice and counsel from so many other people is not, in large part, due to their having lost contact with their innermost self. . . . There are not enough counselors in the world to help with all these hard questions, and sometimes one feels as if one half of the world is asking advice of the other half while both sides are sitting in the same darkness.”
Nouwen really paints a blind-leading-the-blind kind of picture with this quote and he’s indicating what he sees as a really serious problem that exists in the world: most people do not experience enough solitude solve their own issues let alone the issues of those around them. I think he may be onto something here.
I believe (so does my denomination) that God wants to see everyone come to know Him. This isn’t the reality but it is His desire. I also believe that God’s grace is at work in everyone’s lives pulling them towards Him and providing the opportunity for them to respond. A part of what Nouwen is touching on here is that a world that actively fights against an inner solitude of the heart is actively fighting against God’s grace. How can we respond to God if we never stop to listen for His voice? And how can we stop to listen when we are constantly pulled in every direction other than inward? Of course, God can and does conquer this obstacle over and over again and it’s the inner longings of the heart that eventually pull us inward long enough to seek Him.
Now let us move forward along the timeline of our inner spiritual life. The point of heart solitude is to provide an inner peace that can transcend whatever is going on in our lives and allow us to seek and touch God’s heart when we need counsel. Nouwen is not disparaging the practice of asking others for advice but he is asking if we have taken the time to quiet our hearts and seek direction from within first. And in a world where there are precious few seeking true guidance from within, too many are pulled in directions that do not reflect Godly paths, let alone the path their heart longs for. But that’s enough of that, I’ll save that topic for the next blog.
Nouwen notes that “both sides are sitting in the same darkness.” Those who cannot look inside themselves for answers are looking for advice from others in the same predicament. The fact that anyone ever receives good direction may be more of a miracle than we realize. Nouwen believes, instead, that the best answers come from within a heart of solitude that understands my truest desires and listens to God’s voice.
In the previous blog we talked about the kind of heart solitude that allows us to live in solitude despite the storms that may rage around us. We also noted how difficult it is and how much training and practice it requires. So now I think that, until I learn to dwell in the calmness of spirit that comes from the kind of heart solitude I desire for my life, I should never be afraid to ask the advice and counsel of those around me. But I realize the importance of finding those I can trust for such advice and counsel. I’m looking for those who have a greater grasp on that heart of solitude than I do.