An excellent post from the Yahoo! group orthodoxdynamis on solitude:
*Solitude:* */St. Matthew 14:1-13, especially vs. 13:/* /"When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself."/ These Gospel verses tell again the grisly story of the macabre execution of St. John the Forerunner, the devotion of St. John's disciples who buried him, and of how, afterwards, they reported to the Lord Jesus all that had happened. One part of our Lord's response to the tragic news was to go apart to a lonely place.
Throughout the four Gospels, the Evangelists record that the Lord Jesus often left the crowds that followed Him to be by Himself. In solitude He sought to be with His Father. Note: if the Lord as both Man and God, needed to withdraw from the world to have times of intimacy with the Father, how much more do we, as mere human beings, need to follow His example!
St. Antony, the founder of monasticism, exemplifies one who discovered the blessings of solitude. When he was about 18 years of age, he heard these words from the Gospel: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Mt. 19:21). St. Antony understood these words to apply to him. Immediately, he began living as a poor laborer at the edge of his village. In time, he withdrew deep into the desert to live in complete solitude for twenty years. Note what happened to him.
During these years, the great desert hermit underwent painful spiritual and physical trials. His superficial self cracked, and God revealed to him the abyss of his sinfulness - all because St. Antony surrendered unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ. After surrender and the years of solitude, he emerged into contact with other people who immediately recognized in him a man whole in mind, body and soul; and they flocked to him for healing and direction.
Christ calls to every one: "Follow Me!" St. Anthony's experience reveals the meaning of "following": to take our sinful-self apart for times of solitude. Each one must deliberately cast himself into the furnace alone with God to be melted down in the Lord Jesus' transforming presence, to be recast according to His will and likeness, as He burns away our impurities.
Ah, but how can we practice solitude within the mad rush of this secular, godless society that offers no spiritual room for pursuing the disciplines of Holy Solitude? But, wait! A modern contemplative, Thomas Merton, reminds us that the Christians in St. Antony's day faced a similar situation: "Society...was regarded...as a shipwreck from which each single individual man had to swim for his life....These were men
who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster!"
Not all are called to monasticism. The majority of us are engaged with family and society. While more are turning to the monastic way in order to struggle for union with Christ, yet, whatever lifestyle is chosen, each one remains responsible for his salvation; and, the primary place for regaining the desire for a full, rich life in Christ remains to be found in solitude.
Hence, those in the world must develop "little deserts" for withdrawing each day into the firm, renewing, and healing presence of God. Without such times and places, the Christian will lose his soul. Two steps are obvious: 1) Our first duty is to find a Spiritual Father. We must search for one before whom we may bare our inmost thoughts. St. John of the Ladder says, " A shepherd is pre-eminently he that is able to seek out and set aright his lost, rational sheep by means of guilelessness, zeal,
and prayer." 2) We must deliberately set apart a time and a place each and every day to be with God and with Him alone. Without solitude, no renewal, no life!
/O Thou, Who in the desert gavest water to Thy People, guide us into solitude with Thee where we may come and drink so that streams of living water may flow from our inmost being./