Synodality and Solitude

I remember fondly my summer childhood hikes in the hills and mountains of St. Andrew, Jamaica…hiking, not alone, but with the youth and altar servers groups of my childhood church community. With joy and excitement, I always anticipated the summer months – these hikes, the ritual of the preparation of food and gears, the sleepless night before the day of the hike, the assembly of young people at the meeting point, the roll call, and of course the actual hike, filled with a mixture of emotions, joy, anguish and sorrow, and a mixture of experiences, injuries, or competitions to see who would arrive first at the destination.  And most of all, the excitement and exhilarating feeling of the arrival, and the aftermath of terrible physical aches and pains. 

Along the journey, I would periodically separate myself from the group for brief moments to admire plants, flowers, or steep precipices, to take a break from the noise of the group, or simply to play with my own thoughts.

On these hikes I learnt the value of solitude. As Joan Chittister reminds us, solitude or separation from others is not an escape from life; “as scripture puts it, ‘go apart for a while’ that you’ll listen, exactly what it is that is driving you. You also find out what it is that is weighing you down. . .” (The Monastic Heart). In a word, solitude gives space for inner listening – listening to our feelings and thoughts, listening to our fears and our dreams. 

While the synodal journey is about a community walking together, what nourishes or allows individuals to contribute to the communal journeying is our individual spiritual development, and solitude is key to that spiritual development. It’s like the individual withdrawal of trees in the dry season when they lose their leaves and then regain them in the wet season to contribute to the growth of the forest.

As it was with Jesus who took time away from the communal journey, each participant is called to seek God and self in solitude in order to seek God in communion. 

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