A SOLITARY PLACE // May 17, 2015 // Sara Wolbrecht // Mark 1:35-39
We are 35 verses into Mark’s gospel and so far we have seen Jesus darting from one thing to the next. Last week where we left the story – the whole town was at Jesus’ door as he healed and cast out demons. We talked a bit about how so far we recognize that God is on our siiiiide and yet there are other forces at work in the world that are not on our side.
Today, as we continue with the text, it is the next morning. And this is what Jesus does… Let’s hear Erin read this, to get the scene in our heads. If you prefer you can close your eyes as you picture this.
Reader: Mark 1:35-39
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Now that we have heard it, I have a 1 minute video describing this text, including a brief sort of review of what Mark has been up to in his biography of Jesus so far – and helps us to begin to understand why this quiet moment Jesus takes to pray is so significant.
Video: A Solitary Place (Mark 1:35-39), the Work of the People.
It is so striking, isn’t it, that Jesus who has been darting from one thing to the next – that’s the thing about how Mark’s gospel goes, everything happens IMMEDIATELY after something else. I imagine everyone jogging from place to place. And little water stations along the road like it’s a marathon or something. So what we read here is so striking. Jesus now takes a breath, before the sun has come up, while all is quiet, he sneaks away, he goes to a solitary, desolate place to be alone, to pray. Yes, even Jesus, who is the son of God, needs time away to connect with God. Isn’t that striking.
All the text says is that Jesus prayed. Jesus…prayed. Mark 2:35. As I envision this, I don’t know about you but I wonder: So – what did that look like? Was he standing? Sitting? Walking? Did it just mean that he was quiet, listening? Or was he talking? What did he say? Was he praying silently in his head? Talking out loud? Was he asking God, ok, these are my questions… Or man, God, this Simon guy is nuts… …And what did he hear? Did he hear an audible voice? Or a voice in his head? Did he have clear answers, direction? Or just an impression? A deep sense of peace? …It is a solitary place. Jesus prayed. Alone. What was it like?
Obviously, we can’t know for sure. But aren’t you just a little bit curious? Obviously I am. We just know that Jesus prayed.
As we begin to enter into this passage of scripture, let’s take a minute if you would and think about two questions: what is prayer? (How would you define it?). And for you personally, what does prayer look like in your life right now? Honest response. Do you have a rhythm or time or place or things you say and do when you pray? Is there dedicated time, do you just kind of do the stream of consciousness throughout your day. Do you meditate?
Take a minute and turn to someone around you and discuss – what is prayer? What does that look like in your life if it is something you do? Introverts, you have permission to go second. And remember: honesty, we’re not trying to sound awesome, just check in with what your life is like right now. And an option is always to say: I’m not sure about that right now. And that’s enough. What is prayer? What does it look like in your life?
Hang on to those reflections as we go through this. For Jesus, the night before, there was a crowd that showed up at Simon and Andrew’s house where they were staying – the whole town was there because they had heard of Jesus healing, so they wanted to be healed, too. There were a lot of demands, needs, voices beginning to tell him what to do, to press in around him.
As Jesus then makes the time to get up early the next morning while the crowds are asleep, we begin here, to see in Jesus, a certain rhythm. Again, we are reading Mark’s gospel and looking at the life of Jesus as a pattern for us to notice, to ask questions about, to wonder together about how we integrate Jesus’ rhythms into our lives. And for Jesus there is something to this getting away from the people, the demands, the stuff that are telling him who to be and how to be.
So in addition to the questions I brought up of WHAT did Jesus do there as he prayed, there is perhaps the more compelling question – why did Jesus sneak off, leave in the middle of everything, to be alone in a solitary place?
I think – similar to what we heard in the video on this text, something happens in him in the stepping out of the grind. And as we might guess, something happens in us, too, when we make that time. That kind of space, that kind of quiet.
Do you ever wake up in the morning feeling like someone is saying to you, like those disciples when they finally found Jesus: “Everyone is looking for you!” Whether you have kids or a dog and they ARE actually looking for you, or you just have a lot going on, a lot of demands (from friends, from work, from school, from looking for work)? Does it ever feel that way? (That’s me most days).
It has been maybe two months since Jesus was baptized – and when we looked at his baptism together, we named a few weeks ago how this was a defining moment for Jesus. Before he had said, done, proven anything – God spoke from the sky these words: You are my beloved son. I am delighted in you.
Jesus heard it. Knew it. He lived form that place. And now that he is actually in the middle of everything, he needs a reminder. Again – we don’t know the specifics of this prayer time Jesus had in a solitary place, but I’m convinced that Jesus takes this time to connect with God, his loving Father, parent, and to hear again that word that defines him, that he is the beloved. So we see that hearing that word of identity at his baptism, for Jesus it wasn’t a, ok, thanks God, I got it but we see it becoming an on-going necessity for Jesus, to stay connected, tuned-in, attuned to the true voice that calls to him, that defines him. That’s why Jesus found a solitary place.
And I am convinced that there is something to this solitary place for us, too. A place where there is quiet. A space where the voices, demands, expectations are quieted down. Where my phone is not in my hands and I’m mindlessly scrolling. Yes, Jesus shows us a pattern here for our lives.
There’s an author, activist named Phileena Heuertz who founded the Gravity Center and I have a short video of her. She captures these dynamics that we’re beginning to notice in Jesus – naming how we are affected in beautiful ways when we make time for quiet, for contemplative prayer. That it has everything to do with hearing the voice of love.
Hearing the Voice of Love video, (first half) The Work of the People
And so it is true for us, too, yes? That there are these opportunities to step away, to find solace and solitude and to hear this voice of love. We’ve been naming this the past few weeks – that the internal voices we have can be rewritten to speak this truth. And in what Phileena says here and in what we see Jesus dealing with – there are also these demands and expectations outside of us. And we need a break from them, too.
I love how Phileena captures this in the Henri Nouwen quote that she mentions. That there are three great lies that we tell ourselves:
The Great Lies:
I am what I have.
I am what I do.
I am what others say about me.
Isn’t that what we are taught! Isn’t that what is spoken around us and into us. Which one trips you up most often?
So what is a solitary place? There is a quote in my office that I think helps us define what a solitary place is: I’ve always liked the time before dawn because there’s no one around to remind me who I’m supposed to be so it’s easier to remember who I am.
Maybe for you it is not the early morning, but where/when is the space where there’s no one around to remind you who you’re supposed to be? Where do you remember who you are and hear the voice of love? This is a personal, unique, intimate question.
For me, there are a few quiet moments in bed in the morning. Jason gets up for his cup of coffee, our kids are still asleep, and in that sleepy space, there is prayer and hearing God and remembering who I am – it is a sweet place to be. And I loooove having a reason to linger in bed. It doesn’t happen every day but there is a noticeable difference in me, when it does. Also, when I get out jogging on a sunny day. Where is there a space where this happens for you? In the shower? On a run? Listening to music? Journaling, painting? Reading, spending time with a particular friend? You may not actually, physically be in a “solitary” place, but what makes it solitary by our definition is that there is no one around to remind you of who you are supposed to be.
What does solitude look like for you? Take a succinct moment to wonder a bit about that and name that, what you’re coming up with with your neighbor and hear what they have to say…
Having these times and spaces is critical for us because, like Jesus, people keep coming at us, there is always more to do, we will never get it all done. And yet, we know how hard it can be to find a solitary place, how busy we are – especially with kids, fulltime jobs, life happening. But isn’t that all the more reason WHY we need to be intentional about making that space? And, as we together name this need to have this kind of space with some regularity in our lives, we never hear it as a judgmental, “you have been failing” kind of thing. But we hear it as invitation, as a beautiful opportunity and dream for our lives, as something to wonder about that helps us live into this full, abundant, good, life that Jesus demonstrates for us. It becomes this doorway standing open for us to walk through by making it a part of our lives if we choose.
Here again we have a two more minutes of Phileena Heuertz, speaking to what happens when we live from that place of knowing we are the beloved:
Hearing the Voice of Love video, The Work of the People (second half)
Love flows, life flows, grace flows from us when we first come to the place of knowing we are loved – tending to ourselves first. We see this message lived and named throughout the bible – love is from God, God is the source. Can we just say that in practice, this is so counter-intuitive! That when we feel lacking in love or relationship or service, that the place to start is not just muscling through it, working harder but actually coming back to that solitary place. Making space away from the demands to remember and hear who we are. But counter-intuitive. For example, are you feeling disconnected from friends, from feeling known and in a groove with your partner, friend, maybe even having trouble finding friends you really connect with? What about the relationship with your parents? Figuring out how to function with them when you are an adult – that is hard, on-going work when you’re no longer 8 years old. How do you deal with that? Are you in a season of difficulty with a friend or loved one, can’t communicate, things are frustrating. So how do you begin to address all these relational issues?
It actually begins in the solitary place. Hearing the voice of love. In the solitary place. THEN we can love others well.
It starts with God. Coming to that place in us where we remember who we are – and true self-love flows from that – the ability to care for our bodies and get the sleep and right kinds of food we need. Then from that place of belovedness flows the attentiveness to friends and family and engaging from a place of abundance and not scarcity. Friends/Family. And we are further strengthened in giving and receiving care and sharing in life with those friends and family. And then (Those in need ) we’re able to, together, engage in those relationships where we serve, engaging the hurt and suffering and needs we can meet in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and wider world.
Two weeks ago we observed how Jesus shows us a great pattern to follow in how he balances the three primary relationships in his life – we see him spend time with God (Add UP), spending time eating, sharing life with his disciples/friends (Add IN), and then healing, teaching, engaging with those in need (Add OUT). Holding in tension the need to balance those three primary relationships. And what a great example for us to follow, tending to those relationships, too. (In our sermon, “Patterns”).
But today our understanding of this is deepened. That there is a balancing, but there is also a flow of love and grace that happens. Again, that the ability to love others flows from knowing we are beloved. So you can see the clockwise flow of grace that carries from God to our close people, to those beyond us in the wider world.
Burn out comes, exhaustion and frustration comes when we try to do this backwards.
So where is the solitary place for you? Where do you remember who you really are? We’re going to take a few minutes to ask the two questions we always ask – God, what are you saying to me/us? What am I going to do about it? Maybe a place to start is putting something on your calendar for the week. Where is one time you can practice something that connects you with God? Hike. Read, journal, paint, review Mark’s gospel, step outside every morning, close your eyes and breathe for one minute.
As we have the time and space to do that, we’ll hear a song by David Crowder, All That I can Say – and it is sung from a rather broken place, from those moments when we don’t have the words. When we are desperate for a solitary place and connection with our belovedness.
After that, we’ll shift into a time of prayer, and we’ll learn a simple way to pray that may be helpful for you to practice this week in those solitary places, as well as throughout your day. Let me pray for us…