Tuesday, January 23, 2024

In the midst of death, we are in life

    There is a Gregorian chant for the Office of the Dead that starts out "media vita, in morte sumus" (or, "in the midst of life, we are in death"). Very often, walking in the woods in Winter, the opposite line pops into my head. In the midst of death, we are in life

    The other day I was walking along, in a bit of a pissy mood, when I was struck by the sight of a dead tree trunk covered with multi-colored lichens, mushrooms, mosses, and no doubt hosting legions of bugs and microbes, and I thought, "there is so much life in decay!" 

    And at that, trees are very hard to kill! If you love the woods like I do, you will often have seen a tree broken in half, struck by lightning, or even cut down with a chainsaw -- and fiercely sprouting new branches, covered with fresh leaves, full of unquenchable life. And the healthy trees, the ones that appear at a glance to be dead in Winter when their leaves are gone, have twigs full of swelling buds, while out of sight their roots take advantage of the slow season to spread and deepen.

Beech stump, fully alive

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Existential Solitude

     The vows I took as a hermit are Solitude, Silence, and Simplicity. They are traditional; I didn't come up with them myself. I knew that my understanding of them was patchy and uneven, and trusted that I would grow into them over time. And so it has been, a little here and a little there. I've only been a hermit for 4½ years, and I know I still have a long, long way to go before I ever really understand what I've gotten myself into. 

    This past week, I think I have gained a new and deeper insight into the power of Solitude. I wonder how much it is relatable to people who are not hermits, the rest of you out in the world? I'd guess there is value in it for many of you as well, in a world where we are told there is now an "epidemic of loneliness." I would be glad to hear from any readers who want to share your perspective, either in a comment on this post or by using the contact form on the right sidebar.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Sacred Heart

     Today is the feast day of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, who had visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, symbol of the great love of God for humanity.

    And I just wanted to echo her message, and the message of Dame Julian (in this blog header) and of so many other mystics, and of St. John the Evangelist: GOD IS LOVE. 

    That's all. God is Love, infinite, unbounded, deep, penetrating, indescribable, inalienable, unconditional Love. God IS Love. God could not stop loving you, or me or any of [His] creatures, even if [He] wanted to, because God IS Love, Love is God's nature. There is nothing that can separate us from God's love. 

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Queer Theology

    I've just finished reading Queer Theology: Beyond Apologetics, by Linn Marie Tonstad. It's very highly rated, with lots of rave reviews, so you may take my opinion with a grain of salt against the rest. But I found it very unsatisfying! It is a dense, academic book with depth and breadth on queer theory, defining "queer" very broadly (beyond personal sexual and gender diversity). It has some interesting things to say from philosophical, anthropological, sociological, political-economic, human perspectives. Where I find it wanting is in the theo part of theology. Where is God in all this, for her? The whole text, to me, is passionately and complexly theoretical, with only few and vague glances to the theological. It's all very intellectual, with passion around "queering" (challenging heteronormativity) but no evident passion around God.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Turning Stone

     My new local monastery is called the Abbaye Sainte-Marie de la Pierre qui Vire. The "Pierre" in the name has nothing to do with St. Peter, it's a literal stone at the site of the monastery. It's a boulder balanced on top of another boulder in such a way that it can be turned around by hand ("pierre qui vire" means "turning stone"). That's the old story, anyway. Such instability made the first monks there so uncomfortable that the turning stone was cemented to the boulder beneath, and a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary fixed firmly on top. They kept the name, though, even when the stone no longer turned. 

    There is something in common with St. Peter after all. Jesus gave him the name, which means "rock," as related in Matthew's gospel: 

Saturday, September 2, 2023


     Now that I am living in this new place, in relationship with this new monastery, I am beginning to see myself and my own solitary monastic vocation in a new light. I am in a country that values hermits. It is a striking change from my native U.S., where "loners" are generally viewed with suspicion, as sick, maladjusted, and probably dangerous misfits. Here, I am welcomed, appreciated. My imposter syndrome is fading away. The old ladies in the village are pleased to have me here. And the monks, whose community life I admire so deeply, seem to feel the same about me and my solitary life. 

    I think I could not live in community as they do, as much as I admire the way they care for and support each other. I'm very tempted by the green, green grass on that side of the fence (or rather, the cloister wall)! But I am a wild-sister, I bloom in a hidden hollow, I think the careful tending in a garden would suffocate me. I need quiet, and lots of it. I need privacy, to live unmasked, free to talk to myself out loud, sing and dance if I feel like it, go braless, cuss out my computer. I think the constant presence of others sharing my home space would wear me out very quickly. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

On Solitude and Loneliness

Note: Since I'm living in France now, I've added a "translate" option for those who want to read the blog in French or any other language. This particular blog post, however, is going to be confusing in translation. English distinguishes between "solitude," as the outward condition of being physically alone, and "loneliness," which is the painful emotion of being isolated or disconnected from human companionship. French, Spanish, and probably lots of other languages use the same word for both. So if you find this post confusing in places, you might want to switch back and forth to the original English. If the word translated as "solitude" starts with an "L" in English, it is the painful emotion. If it starts with "S" or "A", it's the emotionally-neutral state of being alone.


    It's been almost 5 months now since I moved into my new village hermitage in Burgundy, France, near my new Benedictine monastery, the Abbey of La Pierre Qui Vire. I'm starting to settle in, and take stock of how different my eremitic life is shaping up to be here, as opposed to the way I lived back in Maryland. I'm beginning to make friends at the monastery, and the people in the village are friendly but reserved, the perfect balance for a new hermit in town.

    I'll tell you what, though: the first few months were tough. This is why it's been so long since I posted ... I've been struggling! I cried a lot. I'd never been so lonely in the first four years as a hermit! In all of last year, living in Spain, I never made any friends and I spent much more time alone, but I wasn't lonely like this. But I think it's like when you get absorbed in something and forget to eat, but you don't feel hungry until you smell dinner cooking, and all of a sudden you're ravenous. There were no monasteries near me in Spain, no obvious ready-made community that I wanted to connect with. The loneliness hit once I settled next to this monastery here in France, thinking "these are my people!", and then coming up against ... the cloister wall. I was just ravenous for connection, and could not find a way to connect. It was excruciating.