Solitude, Stillness and Silence


The 40 days of Lent begin this Ash Wednesday (22nd February). Lent is wilderness time – desert time. Having spent a week in the Karoo in 40 degree January-heat, I can tell you that desert time is slow-time. No one is rushing about in 40 degrees °C! Lent is slow-time. A time to withdraw from the noise and distractions that keep us detached from ourselves, others and life as a whole. It is time to go inward … so we can re-enter the world more deeply. It is time to seek out the shade of Silence, Solitude and Stillness and to deepen our practices of each.

In preparation for Lent I remind you again of the pattern of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s daily life. A daily life punctuated with prayerful pause. Tall towers are dependent on deep foundations to keep standing. This was equally true for Tutu. His public life of prophetic action and courage was under-pinned by his private life of prayer and contemplation. His life was one of daily discipline. May his example inspire us to shape our own days with greater deliberateness to nurture our inner life so that our outer life may stretch to new heights of integrity, courage, wisdom, justice and mercy.

Here is a summary of Tutu’s daily practice:

04:00 – Personal prayers (weekdays)

05:00 – Fast 30 minute walk or slow jog

05:30 – Shower

06:00 – Devotional reading / reflection

07:30 – Recite formal Morning Prayer in chapel

08:00 – Daily Eucharist

08:30 – Breakfast (a glass of orange juice)

09:00 – Office work / appointments

11:00 – Tea break (again at 15:30)

11:00 – Office work / appointments

13:00 – Personal prayer

13:30 – Lunch and hour-long nap

15:00 – Office work / appointments

15:30 – Tea break

18:00 – Evening prayer in chapel

19:00 – A drink (usually a rum and coke) and supper at home

21:00 – In bed by 21:00 or 22:00

23:00 – Asleep (after Compline prayers)

“In addition to his daily prayers, Tutu fasted until supper on Fridays and observed a “quiet day” every month and a seven-day silent retreat once a year. During Lent he ate only in the evenings.”

It soon became apparent to the staff of Bishops-court that Tutu the ebullient extrovert and Tutu the meditative priest who needed six or seven hours a day in silence were two sides of the same coin. One could not exist without the other: in particular, his extraordinary capacity to communicate with warmth, compassion, and humour depended on the regeneration of personal resources, which in turn depended on the iron self-discipline of his prayers.”

[Summarised from: Rabble-Rouser for Peace – The Authorised Biography of Desmond Tutu. By: John Allen. Pages 174/5]


Ash Wednesday Service at 7 p.m. on 22 February.
Manna and Mercy: 3-5 March at Rosebank Methodist Church and 5-7 May at Table View Methodist Church.

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