We are responsible for our own solitude. Precisely because our secular milieu offers us so few spiritual disciplines, we have to develop our own.
—Henri Nouwen

Solitude is a human need, a need for everyone. Never mind about who is an extrovert or an introvert. Solitude offers an opportunity for reflection, for sorting things out. There are days when I feel driven out of the workplace (simply because it is the workplace) into another place: a coffeehouse, a bench outdoors, a porch swing, a chair in the library. Such places, as much as a church pew, provide openings to grace.

How do we use this solitude? For me, at first, this time is no more than a straightening up process. I open my briefcase to find countless jumbled papers: receipts, odd assortments of cash and coin, appointment slips, ticket stubs, a worn calendar, a half-filled notebook, a pen and pencil case, a cell phone. The state of the briefcase reveals the chaos of my life, my state of mind. I'd better turn the cell phone off, for now. It is time, in the middle of everything, to come into quiet as best I can.

Sometimes in workshops on prayer I hear questions (often from those who are just beginning) about how to design a structure for spiritual life. Obviously, there are many ways to answer them. When talking to a group of young mothers not long ago, I did not mention solitude as primary, lest that sound too monastic, too far out of reach. Instead, I emphasized keeping a journal. By this I meant a dedicated journal, reserved for reporting on our spiritual encounters. "How do you go about this? Well, you make a trip to the drug store, you choose an inexpensive composition book, a pen that you like. …" By the ordinariness of my response, I wanted to make ...

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