Now that we have examined a life or corporate worship and prayer as provided by the Daily Office and integrating it into our daily lives, Bonhoeffer then turns to what it means to have time alone with God.
The Day Alone
People seek to be alone because they are discouraged by other people or even Christians may be discouraged by other Christians. Others might find themselves to be so lonely that they hope to find solace in the company of other people or other Christians. In both cases, disappointment on some level will set in.
Real Christian community is not a place of like-minded folks. If you are using community as a means of escape, you are misusing that community for the sake of diversion. In fact, you may not be seeking community at all, but a distraction from the day.
Solitude and silence
Beware of community, especially if you cannot bear to be alone. “You cannot escape from yourself, for God has singled you out.” (p77) At the same time, beware of being alone, especially if you cannot bear community. Even in death we are not alone, for God is with us. All of humanity is interconnected. Rejecting fellowship, unless you are called to a life of solitude will only be hurtful.
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” (p78)
Speech and silence, aloneness and community must co-exist. The ideal is not striving for one or the other, but striking a balance between both.
There is a relationship between silence and the Scriptures. The silence of the Christian is a “listening silence” (p80) Silence before reading Scripture lends itself to our hearing God, to speaking faith, and proclaiming the Good News. A Christian should set aside this alone time for meditation, prayer and intercession.
Put quite simply, meditation is our alone time with God when we focus on Him. In corporate prayer and devotions we read long and consecutive passages. In meditation, we focus on a brief passage, sometimes for days at a time, in a sort of lectio divina where we read very deliberately. Scripture then, becomes God’s word for us individually during meditation. It must be said it is not for a specific time and place, but more as a reminder of the eternal promises of God. It is not necessary to express what is happening in words, but just to let whatever thoughts or emotions that bubble up just “happen.”
Be careful if you start to have too many experiences as a result of meditation for that would just lead to vanity and put the focus more on the experience rather than what God is saying. In other words, in meditation we are to seek God, not an experience or even happiness or peace. “If you seek God alone, you will gain happiness…that is it’s [Scripture's] promise.” (p84)
Bonhoeffer does not say this, but i happen to think that meditation on some extra-Scriptural works (such as his own books or some writings of the early church parents) would be beneficial. It must be noted that Bonhoeffer takes a very high view of Scripture.
Meditation then, leads to prayer. If we allow our prayer to be guided by Scripture (and Tradition!) then we won’t become victims of our own emptiness and vanities when we pray. ACtually, here in this alone time of prayer we can express things to God that we normally wouldn’t, especially in the company of the fellowship!
When our thoughts wander to other things in our alone time, we should not lose heart of get overanxious or disappointed with ourselves. Such things are totally natural. In fact, they can often lead to intercessions.
“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercessions of its members, or it collapses.” (p86) It is in intercessions that the heart of the church beats in unison, no matter how much a fellow Christian does something or says something that is offensive or irksome. We really cannot condemn him or her.
Interceding on behalf of another is seeing the other as under the Cross and grace of Christ, just like we ourselves are. We do not see what repulses us, but only what they need.
This is much, MUCH, MUCH! easier said than done.
The Test of Meditation
How does our practice of meditation affect how we live in the “real world?”
Are we reluctant to leave that safe place and return to the world of things and “its” we must engage? Are we strengthened because we had an encounter (not necessarily an experience!) with God?
When we do have an experience, is it fleeting or are we really getting in touch with God, who is the ultimate reality? ARe we tempted to continually withdraw from the world or are we compelled to “active love, obedience and good works.”
Remember, as we pray for others, others are praying for you. Our time alone with God should ultimately serve to strengthen the community. We are all interconnected. Our virtues and vices affect us all. There is a reason the Church calls itself “The Body of Christ” for anything that affects one part will affect the entire witness of the Church.
“Blessed is he who is alone in the strength of the of the fellowship and blessed is he who keeps the fellowship in the strength of his aloneness. But the strength of the aloneness and the strength of the fellowship is solely the strength of the Word of God, which is addressed to the individual in the fellowship.” (p89)