A Mighty Fortress


. . . is our God, a bulwark never failing. . .

I've never much cared for the hymn--cumbersome, overblown, bombastic (seemingly) all that overwhelms me in German composition. And once again, I get to see how my prejudices get in may way.

I'm sure Luther didn't intend it in the way that I now read it, but for the Carmelite, and for those with Carmelite affinities, God is a fortress and the fortress is named Solitude.

Solitude is not loneliness, it is not simple isolation. The Carmelite vision of solitude never really permitted reclusion. There were isolated hermitages, but they were meant more for a time of refreshment than a constant living arrangement (outside of the earliest practitioners). For a Carmelite, including even the cloistered nuns, the fruit of solitude was to be shared with the entire world. Reclusion, in such circumstances, is not an option.

But the danger in sharing the fruit is that one will not frequently visit the fortress of solitude. What then is solitude properly considered? If isolation is not, what then is the purpose of being alone? How is it related to solitude?

St. John of the Cross taught that faithfulness to physical "alone" time even on a very limited basis led to a solitude that was a permanent fixture of your life--a solitude of heart. Thus solitude cannot be merely separation from other human beings, although it may start with some time of this. Rather solitude is being alone with the Alone. That is, solitude is total immersion in God. Solitude takes away not merely people but all of the varied trappings we carry with us to protect us from God--our books, our learning, our understandings, our conversations, everything that could potentially carry us away from God is gone in solitude. And in solitude we receive our refreshment from God Himself. In solitude we find the mighty fortress who is our God and we become part of that fortress. From the citadel of solitude we can set forth to change the world as the Spirit directs and we can be guided always, carrying our solitude with us.

Solitude is our shield and our fortress, it is our link with God's strength, it is the promise of His Love fulfilled. Solitude is not merely alone time, because in solitude, we are not alone but we are complete with the eternal and infinite. Thus in solitude, we transcend who we are and assume our proper places in the body of Christ.

Without solitude we cannot fully know who we are or what we are called to. Solitude, time alone with God, starts with separating ourselves for some period to be with Him, but it grows in the heart and becomes an "Interior Castle." In solitude we prepare the dwelling places in the bridegroom, and in the solitude of the people around us, we are joined in spiritual marriage. The fruit of this is to be shared with everyone. Solitude is not about single joy, it is about rejoicing in what Jesus rejoices in.

Solitude, for the Carmelite, has always occupied a central place. Without solitude, the Carmelite rule disintegrates. Without service, the Carmelite rule disintegrates. The Carmelite rule is Mary web to Martha for the salvation of souls and the service of the world. It is being Martha, while always sitting at the feet of Jesus. I'm sure that this is true for other orders as well, but I can only speak what I know of my own. For the Carmelite this is the end of all rules--to be so joined in intimacy with God that Solitude and the strength and bulwark of it are with us at every moment--we are alone with the Alone and never more so than when we are joyfully serving others and seeing in them the Solitude of Christ.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 16, 2006 7:32 PM.

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