To go into the closet is a lonely activity. There is usually just enough space for one person. You are bound to hear your own breathing, feel the itchiness of your own skin, hear the sounds your stomach makes when all is quiet and still, face yourself, confront your demons and end up with nothing but the emptiness of the God-shaped gap inside your soul.
Most of the time we do our best to avoid situations like this.
Cause loneliness is never nice.
That’s why the radio is on the whole day; the TV entertains even when no one’s around and our lives are filled to the brim with appointments, meetings, tasks, images, ideas, sounds, voices and words.
But deep, honest, life changing prayer needs silence.
To pray is to be utterly quiet and to do that we need to move from our fear of being lonely towards a state of being where we can embrace our lonely selves.
The word is solitude.
The Old Monks understood this; the Ancient Desert Fathers lived it and the Old Prophets like John and Jesus perfected it into an art form.
In the stories told by the friends of Jesus, we encounter a man who’s not afraid of being lonely.
Before or after every big event or task, he retreats into the wilderness. One time he even stayed there for 40 days, confronted by his Shadow, challenged by his Temptations, weakened by his Humanness and in the end cared for by the Angels of the Living One.
In the closet you learn to reserve the God-shaped gap for God, even if it stays empty for a long time. It’s that place in your life where solitude takes the place of loneliness, a sacred space where
Fear can grow into Love.
According to a priest called Henry Nouwen, a storyteller called Matthew and a Prophet called Jesus, this is the first baby step towards a life of prayer:
Learning to love yourself.
So here is the challenge:
Find your closet. Go there often. Become utterly quite. Don’t talk. Don’t pray. Just listen.