Scope and content
This item is a 15 page article by Henri Nouwen entitled, Solitude and Community, published in the UISG Bulletin (International Union of Superiors General), Rome, 1978. The article is described as a conference given by Henri Nouwen as part of the program of monthly meetings arranged by the English-speaking councilors of generalates in Rome. Nouwen begins by describing a number of world events occurring in the weeks before, which he concludes leaves our world in ‘a state of emergency’. He goes on to say, ‘while we approach the end of the second millennium of the Christian era, our world is clouded with an all-pervading fear, a growing sense of despair and the paralyzing awareness that indeed humanity has come on the verge of suicide’. Nouwen then asks how or if, the christian (sic) community can or will respond and says he wishes ‘to try to explain how the emergency situation …in which we live can open for us a new understanding of the indispensability of solitude in the life of the christian community’. Nouwen writes under three major headings: 1) Solitude and Intimacy, 2) Solitude and Ministry and 3) Solitude and Prayer, as they relate to communities of religious. 1) After an introduction in which Nouwen states, ‘ a community in which no real intimacy can be experienced cannot be a creative witness for very long in our fearful and angry world’. Nouwen then moves to discuss further under two major headings. The first,’ solitude: grounds for community growth’ suggests solitude is necessary for the growth of a loving community and for increasing fruitful intimacy among the members. The second sub-heading is ‘solitude: where we learn dependence upon God’. Nouwen says here, ‘with solitude, we learn to depend on God by whom we are called together in love, in whom we can rest, and through whom we can enjoy and trust one another…’ 2) Under the heading Solitude and Ministry Nouwen speaks of the new varieties of ministry available but also of the loss of communal character and therefore, common witness. Under the sub-heading ‘solitude: place where common vocation becomes visible’ Nouwen states, ‘We should never forget that God calls us as a people, and that our individual religious vocation should always be seen as a part of the larger vocation of the community. A further heading in this section is, ‘solitude: a place of communal obedience’. 3) In this section headed Solitude and Prayer, Nouwen begins by stating ‘It is very simplistic to say that emergencies make people pay more attention to God and re-awaken religious feelings’. He wonders if in fact, the opposite is not true. He goes on to remind religious to be aware of how much secularism has permeated religious life and how prayer is ‘has lost its central place’. There are two sub-headings:’ solitude: the place of the great encounter and conversion’ in which Nouwen says,’ In solitude we leave behind us our many activities, concerns, plans and projects, opinions and convictions, and enter into the presence of our loving God , totally naked, totally vulnerable, totally open, totally receptive’. In the second sub-heading entitled, ‘solitude: unlimited space for others’ Nouwen says ‘…through prayer and especially through intercessory prayer, the religious community stands open to the whole world. By their prayers, the members of a religious community form an open square in which there is space for any and everyone’. Nouwen concludes by saying ‘I hope that I have been able to convince you to some degree of the indispensability of solitude in the life of the religious community’.