Friday, September 20, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 38 - S for Solitude and Sociability

I am always conscious in myself of a tension between wanting to be sociable and needing solitude. This tension is present in Quakerism too. We worship together, we meet together, we act together but if we do not also have times of solitude we are in danger of being carried away by busyness and of not being able to hear our Inward Teacher.

It is finding a balance that is most difficult. Although solitude comes naturally to me I am aware that I do need other people and make an effort to connect with them - even though sometimes this is only online. Facebook can be a lifeline for me in this way and I love the sense of being part of a variety of friends' (and Friends') lives that it gives me. Writing this series of blog posts every week is one way of reaching out and I am always happy to get a reaction of any kind!

When I set out to write about solitude this week two quotations came to mind which I would like to share with you. In 1694 William Penn wrote some advice for newly convinced Friends which I find as useful now as then.

' Remember it is a still voice that speaks to us in this day, and that it is not to be heard in the noises and hurries of the mind; but it is distinctly understood in a retired frame. Jesus loved and chose solitudes, often going to mountains, to gardens, and sea-sides to avoid crowds and hurries; to show his disciples it was good to be solitary, and sit loose to the world.'

The second quotation comes from one of my favourite 18th century Quaker women friends - such friends as are often the companions of my solitude. In her seventies Lydia Lancaster, living in the Lake District, wrote to her old friend James Wilson about her own struggle between solitude and sociability. I love the way in which the letter seems to continue a long-standing conversation between them.

'I now go very little out of my own house but to meeting, and sometimes to get a breathing in the fields, and when I do it is mostly alone, for that is what I most delight in and have done most of my time, finding profit in retirement and loving solitude; there being little company that suits my taste or adds to my improvement, having gained more by meditation and application to the Inward Teacher than any other way. But methinks I hear thee saying, it is not so well, we are made to be conversable, and I do not so much service as I probably might do if I accustomed myself to company. I answer, bear with me , my friend, I have tried that way sometimes, but it hath not often answered so much to my advantage, there being so few but are full of the world in almost all their discourse, which may be well enough in them; but I look upon myself as a lonely pilgrim, whose comforts and honour have still come another way; yet I frequently go to visit any that are afflicted, and am glad of my friends' company when they visit me.'

I think that as I grow older keeping a balance between solitude and sociability may be one of my most important tasks.

1 comment:

janhutton said...

Thank you. You speak my heart and mind.