Solitude Is Where Community Begins

Henri Nouwen

Reading by Liz Helgesen (Download file)

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Solitude is where community begins. That’s where we listen to God. Sometimes I think of life as a big wagon wheel with many spokes.  In the middle is the hub.  Often in ministry, it looks like we are running around the rim trying to reach everybody.   But God says, “Start in the hub; live in the hub.  Then you will be connected with all the spokes, and you won’t have to run so fast.”

It’s precisely in the hub that we discover the call to community.  It’s remarkable that solitude always calls us to community. In solitude you realize you’re part of a human family and that you want to lift something together.

By community, I don’t mean formal communities.  I mean families, friends, parishes, twelve­step programs, prayer groups.  Community is not an organization; community is a way of living: you gather around people with whom you want to proclaim the truth that we are all divine.

Community is not easy.  Somebody once said, “Community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.”  In Jesus’ community of twelve apostles, the last name was that of someone who was going to betray him.  That person is always in your community somewhere; in the eyes of others, you might be that person.

Why is it so important that solitude come before community?  If we do not know we are the beloved sons and daughters of God, we’re going to expect someone in the community to make us feel that way.  They cannot.  We’ll expect someone to give us that perfect unconditional love. But community is not loneliness grabbing onto loneliness: “I’m so lonely, and you’re so lonely.”  It’s solitude grabbing onto solitude: “I am the beloved; you are the beloved; together we can build a home.”  

Sometimes you are close, and that’s wonderful.  Sometimes you don’t feel much love, and that’s hard.  But we can be faithful.  We can build a home together and create space for the sacred.

Within the discipline of community are the disciplines of forgiveness and celebration.  Forgiveness and celebration are what make community, whether a marriage, a friendship, or any other form of community. 

What is forgiveness?  Forgiveness is to allow the other person not to be God. Forgiveness says, “I know you love me, but you don’t have to love me unconditionally, because no human being can do that.” We all have wounds.  We all are in so much pain.  It’s precisely this feeling of loneliness that lurks behind all our successes, that feeling of uselessness that hides under all the praise, that feeling of meaninglessness even when people say we are fantastic—that is what makes us sometimes grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give.

If we want other people to give us something that only God can give, we become a demon.  We say, “Love me!” and before you know it we become violent and demanding and manipulative.  It’s so important that we keep forgiving one another -- not once in a while, but every moment of life.  Before you have had your breakfast, you have already had at least three opportunities to forgive people, because your mind is already wondering, "What will they think about me?  What will he or she do?  How will they use me?"

To forgive other people for being able to give you only a little love -- that’s a hard discipline.  To keep asking others for forgiveness because you can give only a little love -- that’s a hard discipline, too.  It hurts to say to your children, to your wife or your husband, to your friends, that you cannot give them all that you would like to give. Still, that is where community starts to be created, when we come together in a forgiving and undemanding way.

This is where celebration, the second discipline of community, comes in.  If you can forgive that another person cannot give you what only God can give, then you can celebrate that person’s gift. Then you can see the love that person is giving you as a reflection of God’s great unconditional love.  “Love one another because I have loved you first.”  When we have known that first love, we can see the love that comes to us from people as the reflection of that. We can celebrate that and say, "Wow, that’s beautiful!"

Excerpted from here.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the connection between the discipline of community and the disciplines of forgiveness and celebration? Can you share a personal story of a time you were able to exercise the discipline of forgiveness and celebration? What helps you recognize the reflection of the ultimate unconditional love in the love that anyone gives you?

Add Your Reflection:

18 Previous Reflections:

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    On Jun 8, 2021 Phatma wrote:
    What helps me recognize the reflection of the ultimate unconditional love in others is the oneness of love from the source that we as souls share...we are each a small particle of the bigger particle...This we are one and the same...if we keep fragmenting...the bigger particle will loss power and beauty!!!

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    On Jun 7, 2021 Ruby Grad wrote:
    A leader in my spiritual community hurt me deeply once. I idealized the relationship and couldn't see how I made that person feel insecure. So I relied on promises that were made that, in hindsight, I realized weren't made to be kept. And the promises ultimately broken. I was so deeply hurt, I walked away. I even tried to sway others to my side and in some cases was successful. But I deeply felt the lack of that community. With the passage of time, I realized that two people had to be forgiven for me to rejoin and remake the community for myself: the other person and me. The process of forgiving the other person had a lot to do with seeing them more clearly and accepting them. The process of forgiving myself had a lot to do with also seeing myself more clearly and accepting my imperfections. I have rejoined the community, but with firmer boundaries and a commitment to opening my heart when I sense it closing and moving back into old habits and stories.

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    On Jun 7, 2021 Lee Ogden wrote:
    I was finally, after years of therapy and spiritual practice, able to forgive my mother. Scott Peck's book on evil helped me understand that she was just trying to preserve her own self in the only way she knew. This has been a huge comfort.

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    On Jun 6, 2021 Barbara wrote:
    Wowza ❤️🙏❤️

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    On Mar 30, 2021 as y wrote:
    There is forgiveness, but we must receive it. It is like Jesus and the twelve disciples. Jesus actually told the disciple who betrayed him thatit were good for him if that man had not been born. yes, love is available, but we must receive it. Yes only God can forgive. There was one time that my friend hated my post on facebook because it did not align with his values. He said some confusing and mean things and maybe I was confusing and mean to him because of my post. But I forgave him. I was not looking to please others or to depend on others for forgiveness.

    1 reply: Kk | Post Your Reply
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    On Mar 30, 2021 AS wrote:
    a

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    On Feb 21, 2021 David Hardy wrote:
    On forgiveness:

    1) Forgiveness is when you set the prisoner free, only to discover that the prisoner was you.

    2) Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel of the one who has crushed it.- Mark Twain

    3) Anger does more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than on any person on whom it is poured.

    4) One of the hardest, yet most liberating things that a person can do is to open their heart and release their right to be angry.

    5) Pain is physical and often cannot be avoided. Conversely, suffering is a conscious choice.

    6) One cannot experience a sense of community if they are incapable of putting the needs/feelings of others above their own.

    Community is found in self-sacrifice.





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    On Jan 28, 2021 Guru Raj wrote:
    Very moving lines ...."To forgive other people for being able to give you only a little love -- that’s a hard discipline. To keep asking others for forgiveness because you can give only a little love -- that’s a hard discipline, too."
    One of the best Awakinpieces I have read in recent months- Thanks to the creator/author and contributor here - and the Reflections on it which have preceded mine.
    Actually, when I am a bit closer to the hub - rarely (thanks to a dynamic solitude) it is hard not to be connected and loving. The difference is stark as i drift to the usual peripheral existence.

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    On Jan 27, 2021 Aaron wrote:
    First of all thank you for sharing what is as i see it another of Gods beatiful paradoxes. I find the more I am quiet and take time for silence and solitude the more I attract the higher conciousness of others and those of a higher consciousness, which raises the quality of my interactions and shows me where that community is.
    I have always found it painful not being able to share with loved ones the unconditional love I have felt and is given to me from my Higher Self. In solitude I find a community of others that share these human challenges, reminding me of the greater connection we all share in.
    Namaste

    1 reply: Amy | Post Your Reply
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    On Jan 26, 2021 Amy wrote:
    This is Brilliant! Monday thru Friday, when I am blessed with at least a half day of solitude, my cup is filled. The weekends are NOT ideal for solitude! (My cup is pretty much empty by noon on Saturdays and Sundays! True Forgiveness and Love are found in God. If I am not allowed ample time for solitude, I am unable to get my Love on! With limited solitude, comes limited forgiveness. YES, holy community does have it's roots in alone time with Him. Amen

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    On Jan 26, 2021 Patrick wrote:
    Henri is as usual delightful here, and the wonderful image of the dervish too.

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    On Jan 26, 2021 Sally Mahe wrote:
    Thank you Nipun for this deeply insightful reflection on solitude as heart of communityFor organizations I think it is especially relevant...and yet still so "counter-cultural' in most places to prioritize going to the "hub" of the wheel. Gratitude to Henri Nouwen and to you for sharing this truth.

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    On Jan 26, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    Forgiveness is letting go of a grievance, getting past it, and relating openly with the other. Celebration is to recognize, honor, and be joyous about forgiveness or whatever. The disciplines of forgiveness and celebration allow and create community. I felt hurt by my best friend, held onto it, distanced from him, and was stubbornly unforgiving for long time, depriving and hurting both of us during that time, probably me more than him. Eventually I saw and accepted that I was very much part of the problem, that I cooperated in making happen what I was so angry at him for, and I forgave him, got past it, and celebrated his being my best friend again. What helps me recognize the reflection is knowing that we are God in human form, and the love anyone gives me is the human expression of the Ultimate Unconditional Love.

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    On Jan 22, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    In the worldly world, we judge people who are outwardly and inwardly different from us and who may have a differentorientation to life. Sadly, such a way of thinkingand behaving has caused divisiveness in our country, in our communities, and also in our close relationships. The thread of common humanity that ties us, bondsus and helps us lift from the lower level of consciousness to the higher level of consciousness is created and sustained when we relate to each other as children of God. We do not run on the many spokes of the wagon but we come to the hub, live in the hub. This way we will be connectedwith all the spokes. This way we relate to ourselves and others in our life. We are human beingsprone to making mistakes. We forgive us and others for making mistakes and celebrate life at the hub. We need to discipline ourselves in order to stay at the hub. Life offers many opportunities to learn from our mistakes and walk on the right path. We have been watching destructive behaviors o... [View Full Comment] In the worldly world, we judge people who are outwardly and inwardly different from us and who may have a differentorientation to life. Sadly, such a way of thinkingand behaving has caused divisiveness in our country, in our communities, and also in our close relationships. The thread of common humanity that ties us, bondsus and helps us lift from the lower level of consciousness to the higher level of consciousness is created and sustained when we relate to each other as children of God. We do not run on the many spokes of the wagon but we come to the hub, live in the hub. This way we will be connectedwith all the spokes. This way we relate to ourselves and others in our life. We are human beingsprone to making mistakes. We forgive us and others for making mistakes and celebrate life at the hub. We need to discipline ourselves in order to stay at the hub.
    Life offers many opportunities to learn from our mistakes and walk on the right path. We have been watching destructive behaviors of some protesters and also some of our elected members, our representativesin the House and in the Senate. It is not easy for me to forgive them for their destructive and demeaning behaviors. I want to let go of my anger for my own peace of mind. I am working on it. It is not easy. When my mind is free from the grip of anger by forgiving me and them I will have a genuine celebration.Non-judgemental awareness of what is going in my mind and heart has been
    always helpful to me for recognizing my own limitations and going beyond them. It is an inward light that guides me make wise choices and keep me at hub of the wagon of my life.
    Awake! Rise! And walk on the hard but the wise path!
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave'




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    2 replies: Amy, Jazz | Post Your Reply

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