There is no question that our transformation is God’s goal.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29 ESV)
God has already determined and put together a plan to make us like Jesus. Since I’m clearly not that way, that will require much work. Where is this work done. Nouwen argues that solitude is where transformation takes place.
The story of St. Anthony, as told by St. Athanasius, shows that we must be made aware of the call to let our false, compulsive self be transformed into the new self of Jesus Christ. It also shows that solitude is the furnace in which this transformation takes place. The Way of the Heart by Henri J.M. Nouwen (Page 8)
The argument is that in solitude I am confronted with me. In my mind, this certainly doesn’t guarantee transformation. I still have a choice. I can choose to indulge my sinful nature or I can listen to the Holy Spirit and fight it. This is why I prefer solitude. Solitude leaves me in control. I can choose to pursue God, but I don’t have to. I can just enjoy being by myself. Community, intense Christian community, doesn’t give me this choice. When I am in relationship with people who love God and love me they will continually challenge me to listen to the Holy Spirit and place my trust in God. The kind of solitude that the desert fathers experienced certainly challenged them to depend on God by separating them from physical resources. Personally, I find the challenges of relationship drive me to my knees faster than anything else.
One of the additional challenges in working through both Nouwen’s and Bonhoeffer’s books is thinking about how their ideas work for the father or mother with a family to provide for. I’m retired now and there are only two of us in the house. Finding time for either solitude or intimate conversation is relatively easy. I still think these things are important, so I’ll keep asking others how this works for them.