Sitting Quietly in a Room Alone

The following is an article from Bishop Robert Barron (March 17, 2020)

Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” The great seventeenth-century philosopher thought that most of us, most of the time, distract ourselves from what truly matters through a series of divertissements (diversions). He was speaking from experience. Though one of the brightest men of his age and one of the pioneers of the modern physical sciences and of computer technology, Pascal frittered away a good deal of his time through gambling and other trivial pursuits. In a way, he knew, such diversions are understandable, since the great questions—Does God exist? Why am I here? Is there life after death?—are indeed overwhelming. But if we are to live in a serious and integrated way, they must be confronted—and this is why, if we want our most fundamental problems to be resolved, we must be willing to spend time in a room alone.

This Pascalian mot has come to my mind a good deal in recent days as our entire country goes into shutdown mode due to the coronavirus. Shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, school campuses, sports stadiums, airports, etc.—the very places where we typically seek out fellowship or divertissements—are all emptying out. This is obviously good from the standpoint of physical health, but I wonder whether we might see it as something very good for our psychological and spiritual health as well. Perhaps we could all think of this time of semi-quarantine as an invitation to some monastic introspection, some serious confrontation with the questions that matter—some purposeful sitting alone in a room.

Might I make a few suggestions? Get out your Bible and read one of the Gospels in its entirety—perhaps the Gospel of Matthew, which we are using for Sunday Mass this liturgical year. Read it slowly, prayerfully; use a good commentary if that helps. Or practice the ancient art that has been recommended warmly by the last several popes—namely, lectio divina. This “divine reading” of the Bible consists in four basic steps: lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. First, read the scriptural text carefully; second, pick out one word or one passage that specially struck you, and then mediate on it, like a ruminating animal chewing on its cud; third, speak to God, telling him how your heart was moved by what you read; fourth and finally, listen to the Lord, discerning what he speaks back to you. Trust me, the Bible will spring to life when you approach it through this method. The remainder of the article can be found here.


by Bishop Robert Barron
March 17, 2020

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