REVIEWS Solitude

Heidi Haverkamp. Holy Solitude: Lenten Reflections with Saints, Hermits, Prophets, and Rebels. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.

Heidi Haverkamp is an Episcopal priest familiar with practical solitude via retreats, readings, and reflection -- with a knack for communicating practical wisdom, eminently displayed in Holy Solitude. Where traditionally Lent has been framed for Christians as the liturgical season of penitence and gloom, Haverkamp grasps a deeper theme of reform of self via solitary practices, and shows how small incremental efforts enhance spiritual life.

The book is constructed around spiritual exercises for each day of the six-week calendar of Lent. The readings and examples the author uses are eclectic enough that the average Christian reader will discover new inspiration and, hopefully, new reading to pursue. Not only familiar Old and New Testament sources but the desert hermits, saints ranging from Francis of Assisi to Catherine of Sienna to Teresa of Avila, and modern figures like Charles de Foucauld and Howard Thurman. Sometimes the prophets and rebels of the title overlap the saints and hermits, but all the historical examples have important contributions to an understanding of solitude.

Not all of the calendar days involve readings or biographies, and that is the book's attraction. The author recommends practical pursuits. Walking in wilderness, finding a quiet place in the home (one's "inner room"), how to decorate the house for Lent, finding solitude and silence in crowded areas, how to fast, how to give alms, and being conscious of those suffering involuntary solitude.

Here are the chapter headings reflecting the weeks of Lent:

Week One: Solitude and Silence
Week Two: Solitude and Struggle
Week Three: Solitude and Journeys
Week Four: Solitude and Hospitality
Week Five: Solitude and Resistance
Holy Week: Solitude and Confinement

Each chapter concludes with "Questions for Reflection" and "Choose a Practice for this Week," extending the pursuit of solitude with practical advice. The author lists "Ten Ways to be Silent," a bread recipe (as a staple for fasting), a recipe for dyeing Easter eggs using onion skins (derived from an Orthodox Easter tradition), and useful bibliographic notes and further readings. Holy Solitude is a fine manual for congregations to follow as a guide for a group project but also perfectly attuned to the needs and interests of the practical layperson.