By Dave Lescalleet
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
– Psalm 42:1-2
In this season of quarantine and social distancing, author Robert Foster offers us a timely reminder in his book The Celebration of Discipline. He describes what he calls the human need for communal solitude. Foster writes:
If we possess communal solitude we will not fear being alone for we know that we are not alone. Neither will we fear being with others for others will not control us. And that even in the midst of noise and confusion we will find ourselves settled into a deep inner silence. Whether alone or among people –we will always carry with us a portable sanctuary of the heart.
How wonderful, as we are isolated from one another, to know that we carry with us a portable sanctuary! This is helpful in knowing what the Psalmist desires and sings about in Psalm chapter 42. Whether with people or by oneself, the Psalmist thirsts for God. He longs for the living God, the way a deer pants after streams of water. But then he asks, where can I go and meet with God? The answer is that we meet with God in times of communal worship (i.e. worshipping side-by-side with others). But communal worship, while essential to spiritual survival, as water is to physical survival, should never happen at the cost of solitude—seeking God by oneself. We must have both. But we can have both, because the heart, rightly understood, is our portable sanctuary.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic text Life Together titled one of his chapters The Day Together and the following chapter The Day Alone. He understood both times of solitude and times of community to be essential to lead healthy lives.
He writes: Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. But let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Each carries with it pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.
During this time of quarantine, let us cultivate the heart towards God with individual solitude so as to better equip the heart towards God in community. But let us be reminded that we need both solitude and community in order to thirst after the living God in all of life.