Luke 5:16: “But he [Jesus] would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”

Reflection: Throughout world history, disease, pestilence and other contagious maladies created many forms of human misery. In addition to fear, physical pain, and loss that often accompanied such events, another form of suffering was less palpable, less dramatic: isolation. 

Today, the coronavirus pandemic carries with it a striking similarity to these earlier contagions. Like them, COVID-19 is also isolating. This disease keeps us separated from friends and sometimes even family; it keeps us from church and other forms of community; and it keeps us from our regular rhythms in social settings.

But there can be a silver lining in these virus-filled clouds. While this period of social distancing and confinement can be a real annoyance, and perhaps even downright depressing as we are told to avoid others, it does provide an opportunity to practice (and maybe even enjoy) an ancient spiritual discipline called solitude. Solitude, the practice of being alone before God, waiting and listening in order to better follow the Divine Presence, can actually be a catalyst for good—for a more profound understanding of ourselves, of others whom we love and interact with, and of God.

Henri Nouwen writes, “Solitude is very different from a ‘time-out’ from our busy lives. Solitude is the very ground from which community grows. Whenever we pray alone, study, read, write, or simply spend quiet time away from the places where we interact with each other directly, we are potentially opened for a deeper intimacy with each other.” Dallas Willard adds that in the intentional practice of solitude, “You will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways.”

As we find ourselves in desolate places, isolated from our normal routines and communities, separated from church and gym alike, let’s use this time to practice that time-tested spiritual exercise called solitude. In doing so, with God’s guidance, some goodness can indeed come out of the trials and hardships of isolation that we are experiencing today.

Prayer: Most gracious and merciful God, as we spend time in social distancing and mandated isolation, forced to keep a distance from family, friends, and most everyone else, help us to plumb the depths of our own souls and to see ourselves and others more truly as we are: image-bearers of your love, beauty and goodness. – Amen

Chad Meister, Ph.D., is chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy and Professor of Philosophy at Bethel University.