A little snippet from my book, The Naked Mystic (available here in the UK). Here’s Chapter 68 where the traditional, romantic image of ‘the solitary’ is skillfully dismantled by the ruthless hands of Harvey.
Solitude can be a pose, he said.
That made sense. I remembered that the Catholic psychoanalyst, Gregory Zilboorg, had once told Thomas Merton that what he really wanted was a hermitage in Times Square with a large sign over it, saying, ‘Hermit.’[i]
It doesn’t just mean being alone, you know.
What does it mean, then? I asked.
True solitude means not borrowing anything. No words. No ideas. No practices. No tribe.
I was getting the idea.
Being alone means giving up on the hope that you’ll be found because you’ve attached yourself to something else.
I had tried, many times.
All the while avoiding the gaze of the One whose eyes search our emptiness.
It was beginning to make sense to me. I had borrowed so many faces over the years.
Cue me as saved. Cue me as born-again, I said.
He smiled, Cue me as sold-out-for-the-Lord.
Cue me as Bible-believing, Bible-loving, Bible-quoting.
We were going back and forth.
Cue me as the Man of God, he said.
Cue me as the Theologian.
And me as Post-Evangelical, he continued.
And Progressive? Contemplative? Monastic?
Cue me as a Fresh Expression![ii] He put a big smile on for this one.
The absurdity of it all made me laugh harder than I remember laughing for a long time.
You? I exclaimed. A Fresh Expression!
We walked happily on for a while. The sun was shining, and it was good to be with him.
I feel good, today, I said.
Me too, he answered.
[i] Gregory Zilboorg (1890–1959) was a Ukrainian psychoanalyst and historian of psychiatry. He was raised as an Orthodox Jew but abandoned his ancestral faith in his 20s. When the Bolsheviks took over, he fled to Holland, then to the United States in 1919. He converted to Catholicism in 1945.
[ii] A Fresh Expression of church is a form of church established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church. They are self-consciously different in ethos and style from the church which planted them. So, there are so-called churches in pubs and skateboard parks, artists’ studios, and university student unions.