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Not only do prisoners live in prison. We often live in prison because of wars, pandemics, persecution, mourning and, most commonly, illnesses or precautions against them. Some people deliberately choose a life of seclusion. On the farm, we were isolated because a bridge fell; here in the city, we work from home office because of a virus. Philosophers argue that the soul’s vocation is to live attached to the body.
There is a downside to isolation. However, we need to realize its value. Resting oneself is often an experience of isolation, like sleeping, resting, sabbatical. Isolation is indispensable for the unfolding of life, as silence is for music. It is not surprising, therefore, that many initiation rituals include situations of isolation.
Prison situations are part of human history, since Adam, who hid from God, and Cain, who was expelled from family life. Jacob met God when he ran away from his brother; Joseph, before becoming the governor of Egypt, was or in a cistern, or in a jail; Moses spent 40 years in the desert to see the burning bush; Elijah was found by God in a cave; David lived on the run from his brothers or from Saul, before he became the king “a man according to my heart”; and so on. Jesus Christ, as a young child, had to learn to flee and, as an adult, regularly chose seclusion to pray. It was not different from the early Christians. John, for example, lived in exile on the island of Patmos, and wrote the Apocalypse.
The apostle Paul, once converted, had his life transformed, from someone who imprisoned people to someone who spent most of his life in prison, often literally. In addition to endless illnesses, he began his missionary journey, which in itself is a vocation for some seclusion. For the first three years, he stayed in Arabia (Galatians 1:17). He was arrested in Philip, in Ephesus, in Jerusalem and, finally, in Rome, where he ended his life under house arrest.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who died in jail for the Nazis because of his preaching, testified: “In addition, I read and write as much as possible, and I am glad that I have not felt in this period of more than 5 months a just a moment of boredom. Time is always full, despite the fact that, in the background, from morning to night, there is waiting “(Resistance and Submission, Synodal, p. 57). Bonhoeffer was scandalized by the idea of forgetting the lessons learned in isolation, and questioned whether this “lost memory” is the cause for the ruin of everyone, of love, marriage, friendship and loyalty (p. 106 ). For him, we only waste time “we don’t get experiences, we don’t learn, we don’t perform, we enjoy or suffer anything” (p. 15).
Isolation is precious to discover and develop our identity. Well used, it can help answer “who am I?”, and that is priceless. I can develop my character, receive training and embrace new challenges. Anyway, it is not a waste of time if I learn to live and serve better, if I leave the cave as a better person, more humble, more human and I grow in the art of knowing how to wait. Paul grew alone. He said: “I did not receive it from anyone, nor was it taught to me” (Galatians 1:12), that is, he received it in reading, reflection and prayer.
There is life in isolation, if I am carrying out my life mission. In addition to this vocation as an eternal worshiper, everyone is in this world with a purpose, usually related to service. I may be forced to make a thousand adjustments to the route, but I must persist in carrying out what I understand to be a divine order for me. In the case of Christians, the order is explicit: cooperate so that the Gospel is announced to everyone. The disciples feel that if they are obeying, all is well.
There is life in isolation if I keep congregational worship. The Devil’s struggle to isolate people is basically an attempt to prevent the proclamation of the Gospel and the worship of God. The disciples are challenged not to allow this to happen. If you cannot worship in the comfort of a temple, you will worship where you can gather two or three. Acts 16:25 records: “Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God; the other prisoners listened to them ”. Note that they had been severely flogged and their feet were stuck in a log.
Finally, there is life in isolation when we realize the preciousness of the friendship of someone who is or acts as if he were with us in our “prison”. The Lord of history valued, like no one else, this friendship developed in isolation, and made it the subject for his final speech, when this world of isolation comes to an end: “When imprisoned or sick, you were with me. Now, come and be with me in heaven”. Therefore, there is life in isolation if the good part is guaranteed after it.
Juracy Carlos Bahia