Even hermits need love
In my Rule of Life, I addressed the boundaries of my vow of solitude, in part by citing my spiritual forebears, the Desert Fathers & Mothers. This is how I put it in my Rule:
As the ancient desert hermits gathered together on Sundays and major feasts for liturgy and fellowship, so will I come to the monastery or to a local parish community.
I really depend on my weekly Mass and fellowship with the monks and my fellow oblates and others who worship there. It's almost all the social life I have. I am very happy living as a hermit, but I don't want my solitary life to become sterile and self-referential. Without love, there is nothing. The religious life is barren without love. God is Love, and I love God, and God loves me ... but in total isolation from other human beings, that's kind of like "loving" a rock star or movie idol, back when we were kids. Contemplative solitude immerses the hermit in the heart of God, but the heart of God also loves you, and her, and them.... Just like in human-to-human relationships, being too exclusive -- too possessive -- chokes love off.
But now we can't "gather together for liturgy and fellowship," and we're coming right up on the liturgical intensity of Holy Week and the Triduum, culminating in the greatest feast of the Christian year: Easter, the triumph of life over death, of hope over tragedy, of joy over pain and misery.
My little community has a group e-mail list, but I guess we've all been in some shock so far, and it's been pretty silent. But we're starting to pick ourselves up and think creatively about how to connect in a focused, reverent way, via social media. Some of our members are using an app called Zoom, which we are going to try out this coming Sunday for a kind of group lectio divina. I hope the monks may also live-stream the Mass, but that hasn't been worked out yet. It's all in a state of creative ferment, and I hope that some of what we try will serve us even later, after life returns to normal.
And that's what I want to offer in this blog post: pick yourself up, identify your essential community, and reach out. Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author of The Happiness Project (and several more books) and podcaster, often says that "when it comes to visiting, frequency is more important than duration." She points to a phenomenon I recognize from my own experience, which is that when you see someone frequently, there's always a lot to talk about, whereas with someone you talk to only rarely, it can be hard to think of anything to say. So reach out. Don't rely on Facebook or texting, use the phone, listen to each other's voices. Video call, even better (Honey, their beauty salon is closed, too, just flash that beautiful smile and forget about your hair). Call your mom, or your kids, or your old auntie. Call your most extraverted friend, who must be going nuts by now. And e-mail, where you can write in whole paragraphs, to catch up with the people you love. Reach out! Love is everything.