In today’s Gospel reading, we see Jesus ascending to a mountain to be alone when people, impressed by his ability to multiply food and feed thousands, wanted to make him a king by force. Why did Jesus go to the mountain? Why did He want to be alone? The Gospel of John does not answer this question, as the emphasis is on something entirely different. Therefore, we must turn to the synoptic Gospels for answers and clues. Luke does not include this story, but the Gospels of Mark and Matthew tell us that Jesus did so to pray (Mark 6:46, Matthew 14:23).
When facing a challenging situation and turmoil, we see that Jesus would leave behind everyone and everything and resort to solitude and time alone. For Him, aloneness was always a conscious choice that teaches us about the importance of seeking peace and inner grounding in the prayerful silence of solitude. But for countless individuals, aloneness is not a choice but a forced reality filled with dark and grim consequences.
Into the Wild is a critically acclaimed non-fiction book by Jon Krakauer, which was also adapted into a motion picture with the same title. It is about Chris McCandless – a young and talented young man who is disenchanted and disappointed by his family, his past and society in general, gives away all his savings to a charity, leaves all his life back and embarks on a journey into the unknown. He travels across the North American countryside, isolated from everyone and all alone. Eventually, he hitchhiked to Alaska, where his journey came to a tragic end. Entrapped in an area he could not escape from, he found shelter in an abandoned bus, where he starved to death all alone. What Chris McCandless pursued and desired was time alone and solitude. Where his journey inadvertently ended was something much darker and deadly – loneliness. Today, we will explore the delicate relationship between aloneness and loneliness.
Ultimately every human is alone. No other person has the same experiences, feels, or sees the world exactly as we do. Every human being is a unique and beautiful divine creation and our aloneness is the direct and natural result of our uniqueness. The question is whether we let our aloneness mutate into loneliness or engage in a spiritual and meaningful way to transform it into solitude. While similar and often confused, these two phenomena are radically different. Loneliness creates an inner desperation and need to cling to others for support and guidance. On the other hand, solitude creates an opportunity for deep self-examination, personal and spiritual growth and deeper relationship with people around us and God.
Learning to navigate and find our way from aloneness to solitude and not loneliness is a lifelong struggle. It requires a conscious choice and determination about the direction of our lives, what importance faith, reflection, prayer, the study of the Scriptures hold for us, who we want to be, and where we seek spiritual counsel and guidance. But wise choices in this journey will eventually help us to find the solitude and silence where our hearts can grow in love toward God and everyone in our lives.