Solitude as Art

Posted: June 25, 2020 in Uncategorized

“Solitude as Art” is the title of James A. Smith’s editorial in the latest issue of Image Magazine (105). It is an outstanding piece.

He states at the beginning, “We have lost loved ones; lost confidence in our institutions; lost both community and privacy; lost sanity and the simple things that give joy. Many of us have lost the mental bandwidth to dream and make. Can we find something in all this loss?”

And then he pivots. He turns to Stephen Batchelor and his book The Art of Solitude. The premise is stunning and timely: Just because you’ve been forced into solitude, even with those you love, that does not mean you know what to do with it. In fact, Improperly armed, it can work against you, undermine you, shred you. More demons of the restless soul may appear than angels. Solitude can be a graveyard.

“There is more to solitude than being alone,” Batchelor writes. “Solitude is an art.”

Which means that unless a cultivated inner life is not already developed before the pandemic strikes, that forced isolation can be more curse than blessing. But if one already works with the quiet spaces of the spirit those same spaces might represent an interior castle, to borrow imagery from Teresa of Avila.

The best outcome of the art of solitude might be a paradox. Again, quoting Batchelor:

“Here lies the paradox of solitude. Look long and hard enough at yourself in isolation and suddenly you will see the rest of humanity staring back. Sustained aloneness brings you to a tipping point where the pendulum of life returns you to others.”






  1. Don Lanier says:

    Interesting piece, Tim. My impression is that as a culture we are not encouraged to value solitude. During my working years I felt myself pushed to keep busy. Watching your ministry I gained an appreciation for the solitude of silent retreats. But my inner voice kept insisting on being busy and “accomplishing something.” That was curious, as I think about it, because I was an only child growing up. As a small boy I learned to enjoy solitude. There weren’t any siblings to engage.

    Then, as an adult I found myself being measured by what I had accomplished. Busy, busy helping churches grow. It worked, too. Play the game, you get the prize. But solitude got lost in busy-ness.

    Now here I sit retired wondering “what should I be doing?”

    Thank you for returning me to the nourishment of solitude.

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