Ce que dit la Bible sur la solitude [What the Bible says about solitude], by Sandrine Caneri, Nouvelle cité , 2019, 121 pages, 14 euros.
As is customary in this collection, this little book offers a biblical journey in twelve chapters, this time on the theme of solitude.
Starting from the negative contemporary perception of solitude, Sandrine Caneri, a Bible scholar specializing on the comparison between the patristic and rabbinical approaches, recalls that in the Bible, solitude can actually become the place of an encounter with God.
Analyzing first the story of creation, the author shows that solitude is in fact a call to a relationship, with God and with others. Solitude, however, becomes a test of our distance from God, a test in which we are being stripped of everything and can only cling to faith. This moment may then paradoxically become the time of the visitation, as in Jacob’s fight with the angel, which is “the image of the spiritual struggle… that all Christians silently experience in their secret selves” (p.34). This struggle is amply illustrated by Job’s trial, who goes through the greatest isolation and could have the feeling of being struck by God himself. “Shall we understand that God does not want evil, but expects us to go through it and transform it into good, as He did during His Passion? (pages 42-43).
The Bible also shows us the danger of solitude in government and power, favoring dialogue in the image of the eternal Trinitarian council.
Another solitude is that of sin. Biblical examples are numerous, from Eve to the fraud of Ananias and Sapphira. The fault always occurs when we listen only to our lust and cut ourselves off from others.
The author then analyzes God’s solitude itself. It is actually only apparent, as the one God is also Trinitarian, a communion of the three divine persons. “The God whom Christ has revealed to us is triune, because each of the divine persons is turned towards the other two, and has no recourse to introspection” (p.69).
Created in God’s image, we are called to the common life that culminates in the Church as a place of mutual listening and communion in the one Body of Christ, as illustrated also in the many biblical stories.
The struggle of solitude takes on a cosmic dimension, when Jesus himself experiences it in his Passion, as a “solitary struggle for the salvation of the world” (p.88).
Solitude is also a freely consented state, as a place of possible revelation of God, as it was for many prophets. Besides, it is a way of escaping from negative influences, from the “counsel of the wicked” (see Psalm 1).
At the end of this biblical journey, solitude is thus “an awareness of our uniqueness and of our being created in the image and likeness of God” (p.119). It is an essential step towards an authentic life in communion.
In this brief book accessible to all, written in a simple and clear language, the author implements an Orthodox approach of the Scriptures, while offering the reader the benefit of her knowledge of the rabbinic tradition, especially the midrash that could enrich the interpretation of a biblical passage. The transversal thematic reading of the Bible used here, constantly connecting various passages of Scripture, forms a rich canvas where the texts clarify each other. The author also often gives illustrations taken from concrete situations we all know about, thus showing how current the Word of God is in our present lives.
The review was originally written in French by Olga Laham