Saturday, September 10, 2022

Becoming a "mature hermit"

     Being a hermit can be a very vague kind of a thing. I have a Rule of Life, but it's only a 2-page outline of the principles by which I intend to live, some notion of parameters for the life. I pray the monastic Office, I read and meditate on spiritual literature, I live alone and celibate. But then, less than a year ago, I abandoned my nice forest hermitage and moved across the ocean, where (for now) I live in a city apartment. And now I'm preparing myself to work with people, as a life-coach or mentor of some kind, and with a focus much more on neurodiversity than religion (although, stay tuned for something on healing religious trauma in upcoming weeks). So what do I mean by calling myself a "hermit"? What is a hermit, anyway? 

    I have no answer to that. Imposter syndrome comes knocking on my door from time to time, and all I can do is to point along to my Abbot's door and tell it to go "ask him." The Abbot tells me "of course you are a 'real' hermit!" And I was grateful for some validation a few months ago from another blogging hermitess, Sr. Laurel O'Neal, who is an "official" consecrated hermit with all the recognition of the institutional Church and her bishop behind her. 

    And this week, I was consoled by something I read from Thomas Merton, probably the most famous Catholic monk of my lifetime, who always wanted to be a hermit but never really managed it (outwardly) until almost the end of his life. He had just been named Master of the Scholastics -- that is, he was teacher and spiritual director for a cohort of new young monks. Merton had, at this time, been a monk for 10 years, and he did not get permission to live as a hermit for another 14 years, less than 3 years before his death. His words are so beautiful, I'm just going to shut up now and let him speak the mystery.  

    From The Sign of Jonas, personal journal of Thomas Merton, OCSO:

The kind of work I once feared because I thought it would interfere with “solitude” is, in fact, the only true path to solitude. One must be in some sense a hermit before the care of souls can serve to lead one further into the desert. But once God has called you to solitude, everything you touch leads you further into solitude. Everything that affects you builds you into a hermit, as long as you do not insist on doing the work yourself and building your own kind of hermitage. What is my new desert? The name of it is compassion. There is no wilderness so terrible, so beautiful, so arid and so fruitful as the wilderness of compassion. It is the only desert that shall truly nourish like the lily. It shall become a pool, it shall bud forth and blossom and rejoice with joy. It is in the desert of compassion that the thirsty land turns into springs of water, that the poor possess all things. There are no bounds to contain the inhabitants of this solitude in which I live alone, as isolated as the Host on the altar, the food of all men, belonging to all and belonging to none, for God is with me, and He sits in the ruins of my heart, preaching His Gospel to the poor. Do you suppose I have a spiritual life? I have none, I am indigence, I am silence, I am poverty, I am solitude, for I have renounced spirituality to find God, and He it is Who preaches loud in the depths of my indigence, saying: “I will pour out my spirit upon thy children and they shall spring up among the herbs as willows beside the running waters” (Isaias, 44:3–4). “The children of thy barrenness shall say in thy ears: The place is too strait for me, make me room to dwell in” (Isaias, 49:20). I die of love for you, Compassion: I take you for my Lady, as Francis married poverty I marry you, the Queen of hermits and the Mother of the poor.

and a few pages later: 

I am more of a family man than I ever was in my life—and for that precise reason I have now become, as I think, a mature hermit.

and again, 

The more I get to know my scholastics the more reverence I have for their individuality and the more I meet them in my own solitude. The best of them, and the ones to whom I feel closest, are also the most solitary and at the same time the most charitable. All this experience replaces my theories of solitude. I do not need a hermitage, because I have found one where I least expected it. It was when I knew my brothers less well that my thoughts were more involved in them. Now that I know them better, I can see something of the depths of solitude which are in every human person, but which most men do not know how to lay open either to themselves or to others or to God.

It is a mystery. The working of God, and the living out of a vocation from God, cannot be reduced to rational, reasonable sentences. This is consolation for me as I continue to find my way forward in my life as a faithful hermit, who also feels called now, in compassion, to share the fruits of my life in solitude with others.

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