During a recent visit to Alexandria, Egypt, I had several impressions of city life that left me pondering about the search for silence and solitude. A historic city with deep significance for Christianity as it once was the “thought-centre” for Christianity, it was also the city from where several of the ‘desert fathers’ originated. Athanasius of Alexandria even wrote the biography of one of the most influential hermits, Anthony the Great. The current situation of Egypt, with the recent “Arab Spring” and all the outcomes from it, is clearly one of change and flux, and some of the views of the city of Alexandria are not the most inspiring with many buildings in need of a bit of TLC. My feelings after walking around a very small section of the city where not much different from those early Christians who sensed a need for solitude.
The desert fathers certainly contributed much to the development of the Christian life, and to this day, holding solitude & silence in balance with “life among people” is a challenge for many of us. Michael Quoist states it well:
“I’ve always dreamed of solitude, the hermit’s life, a cabin in the woods or a tiny chalet on the edge of a mountain. I’ve always dreamed of deserts and silence. But I’ve resisted the dream, with the exception of one time when I offered myself the luxury of a retreat with a a hermit: four hours by foot, far from any living creature and a hermit happy to see me. We talked a lot.”
A short “time-out” with family in a beautiful setting last week was a bit of a retreat for me – and yes, the need for silence and solitude is real in our over-loaded life style. How to seek and follow Christ? That is the more important question. Can we do it both in the busy lives of our days, and in the silence and solitude of the desert?