[[Dear Sister, if you define solitude in terms of communion with God I can understand that but I am not sure how you move from there to communion with others. I am having a hard time seeing the difference between life in solitude then and life in community. If both are communal then what is the difference? Why don't you just say that the eremitical vocation is about being alone with God?]]
Good questions, thanks for these. Remember that I (and most of the theologians I know) define God not as A Being but as the ground and source of all being and meaning, and therefore too, the ground and source of all that is truly personal and all relatedness. In God, with and through God, we are related to everything and everyone else. If we live in communion with God then to some extent we are in communion with the rest of reality. And of course this works the other way around -- though not in the same way. If we love others, honor creation, are stewards of reality, we also love and honor God.
Thus, when I think about eremitical solitude and especially when I think about the difference between eremitical life and isolated, alienated, or estranged life the difference is in relatedness in and through God. To describe this I talk about the communal dimension of life in the silence of solitude. Still, this does not make my life one of cenobitical or community life since from 85-95% of my life is spent in solitude. Moreover, the time I spend with others is either in direct service to them (spiritual direction) or in order that I might live a richer and completely healthy solitude (occasional time with good friends). For a Trappistine Sister living, working, eating, praying, and recreating with others --- though often silently --- there are also periods of solitude: silent prayer, lectio, study, etc, but the context for everything is life in (and for) community and the search for God that community makes possible.
I don't speak about eremitical solitude ONLY as being alone with God for a couple of reasons. First my experience is that even (and perhaps especially) in the most profound prayer experiences I have had --- those where there was an undoubted union with God and even ecstasy where I was "taken up into" an experience of God in a way which led to physical effects, either others were present supporting me (in one case simply praying and watching out for me) and/or there were reminders in my prayer itself of the fact that in God I was related to all others and all else. (I have noted before that in one prayer period I experienced having the entire attention of God and the moment I noted that --- with a kind of awed "This is so but how can this be so?" --- I was reassured that everyone ALSO had God's entire attention; no one was being shortchanged here.) It was another of those great paradoxes that underscored the truth of the experience. While I was not really aware of others per se, I was aware of them in a general sense through their relationship with God. In other words, at those times I was most completely taken up in God I was also clearly concerned with and reassured about others. I was aware of them more than at other times, in part because God, who never ceased being wholly or exhaustively concerned with each and all of us, directed my attention there as a consequence of his immeasurable love.
In either solitude or community the aim of religious life (or of the lay eremitical life) is the same, namely, to seek and give ourselves over to God for God's own sake (for this is God deepest desire) and that of God's entire creation. But the contexts are different. In my hermitage I mainly do this while physically alone and linked to others through my relationship with God. In community Sisters or nuns mainly do this while physically together and more directly dependent on the environment created by others to facilitate every Sister's quest for God. There is a communal dimension to my solitude (or that of any authentic hermit) but physical solitude is primary. For cenobites there is naturally a strong solitary dimension to their life in community but the context of community is still primary or definitive of the life they live.