Halfway into my third year in the hermitage, I've decided to move to Europe. I'm applying for a long-term visa for Spain, since I already speak the language. No, I don't know what I'm doing! But I feel peaceful about it. I was really burned out, for years and years, and the 2.5 years in the hermitage have been necessary and healing. I have gotten to know myself much more clearly, to accept and support my weaknesses, and to start thinking about how I might better use my strengths. Now I feel as though, if I stay where I am, it will go from healing to atrophy.
Don't get me wrong: one of the things I still know about myself is that I thrive in solitude, silence, and simplicity. I am not renouncing the solitary way of life. But I need to find a new center of balance between retreat and engagement, between burnout and boredom. I won't be bored in Spain, no matter what I do. Here in Maryland, I can sit on my porch in the summer and list 20 or 30 different species of birds in a day, whether by sight or, mostly, just by sound. It seems that only the osprey will be familiar in Spain. I'll be starting from scratch learning the birds. And the plants, I've gotten to the point where I can distinguish many of the local trees without leaves, by their bark, the way the twigs curve, the shape of end buds or the seed cases that cling through winter. Spain has cork oaks! Olive groves, oranges and almonds and pomegranates, wild thyme and rosemary and lavender. Sweet!
And then there are so many languages to learn. I love languages! In 12th grade I took Spanish, French, German, and modern Greek, all at the same time. I'm pretty fluent (though rusty) in Spanish, and I have a good basis in Portuguese and French, and I'm making progress in Catalán with Duolingo. Galician shouldn't be hard, it seems to be more or less halfway between Spanish and Portuguese. Basque, on the other hand, is entirely unrelated to anything else in Europe, so it will be a while before I'm ready to tackle it.
It's confusing, trying to reconcile this radical move with the vows I am still under. But my spiritual director tells me very definitely not to worry about that. He knows me very, very well, and I trust his judgment. I guess it's kind of like monks who take a vow of stability, and then leave their motherhouse to start a new foundation in another part of the world. I am not abandoning my monastic, eremitic vocation, only this first phase of it. After all, the root of "vocation" is vox, voice -- vocation is a calling, and the One who's calling is still there, still engaged, still calling me onward. God doesn't just fit us into a slot, the "right" slot, and then leave us there and move on to something else.
The truth is, I am feeling amazingly sure and peaceful about this move, even though I made the decision pretty impulsively, and felt pretty intensely anxious at first. There is some cognitive dissonance there between the peace and the crazy, which is a good sign that I'm growing, and just need to adjust to the new peace. This is why I have a long-term spiritual director: he knows me well enough, and yet with enough personal detachment, to discern the deep clarity and sureness beneath the surface disorientation. The stress has also had an excellent effect of motivating me to a more consistent and focused practice of prayer and meditation, and generally more progress on mindfulness and balance.
My appointment at the Consulate to submit the visa application is next Thursday. They've already reviewed my paperwork by e-mail. So I expect to be moving by the end of January. Meanwhile, I am plugging away at the task of sorting through all my belongings and finding new homes for everything that won't fit in a couple of suitcases. I don't have that much, by cultural standards, but it's still a big job. Tedious work, too, but it feels very liberating to end up able to live so much more lightly.
I've only been to Europe twice, in 1988 and 2000. That helps, actually. I know so little that it's obvious it would make no sense to try to figure it out from here. I visited a few places in Spain in 2000, but absolutely nothing to base a plan on for 2022. I'll start on the south coast, because it will be Winter and I'll be ready for some sunshine. I'll take my time exploring northwards in Spring, and visit back and forth with my very dear brother and brother-in-law in Germany as soon as possible. I will probably walk the famous Camino de Santiago, if not in 2022 then maybe 2023. There's still COVID, with another scary new variant just emerging in the last week, so even though I'm vaccinated and boosted it's another reason for prudence and moderation.
My oblate community intends to keep up the Zoom link even as they begin to meet again in person, so that those of us who live far away can still participate in a kind of hybrid format. And I have been meeting with the abbot for spiritual direction by Zoom since the pandemic began. But I'll also be looking for "my people" in Spain. There are lots of Benedictines there, and Cistercians and Trappists, who also follow the Rule of St. Benedict. All will be well. I'm going to try to start keeping up this blog again, as I'm going through this transition.
Peace Love Joy