16 January 2017

Karim Sulayman - I Trust You

Karim Sulayman - I trust you from Meredith Kaufman Younger on Vimeo.

In the midst of our country's and our world's insanity this was a wonderfully touching and important lesson. It only takes one person to break through the barriers  of embarrassment, suspicion, and fear. Each of us is called to be that person wherever we are and go! Don't forget to enlarge to full screen!

15 January 2017

In the Wilderness and Called to Life: The Creation of the Hermit Heart

I wanted to post this for this day (it was the processional hymn at our parish Mass) but will be unable to put up the post that goes with it for a couple of days. I will add it as soon as I can. In the meantime enjoy the video.

12 January 2017

On Communities as Formative Contexts for c 603 Hermits

Dear Sister, I was reading about diocesan hermits and came across an online discussion on the difficulty of becoming a diocesan or Catholic Hermit. One person spoke about her diocese not allowing diocesan hermits or consecrated virgins because of the rarity of the vocation and the fact that it is supervised by the bishop. I guess it was thought that discernment and supervision would be too much of a problem. One person then responded: [[I think it makes sense that it's a rare vocation, and not one to be taken on lightly. Without the direction of a community and superior, those living in solitude can easily stray from the path or become quite eccentric. It's important, even in the solitary vocations, to have a good SD. It might be even better to live with a community for a while, to receive good formation in the religious life, and only then to step out on one's own (with God, of course!). There are quite a few communities of hermits in the US where you could inquire about being formed with the intent of eventually becoming a diocesan hermit.]] Is this a good idea? Do you know anyone who would take me on if I wanted to do this?]]

Thanks for your questions. Some parts of this response are very fine I think. In fact I would say everything up to the last sentence is right on. However, the last sentence and the idea of going to a community with the idea of being formed by them and one day leaving to become a diocesan hermit seems unworkable and potentially seriously problematical to me. I do believe that a solitary hermit who seeks to be canonically professed and consecrated as a diocesan hermit should have some background in religious life (or its equivalent) and access to a monastery where she may spend time -- including extended periods occasionally if that is possible. However, no community will take on a person in order to form them if the person does not intend to stay in the community. Nor should they.

Formation is done in the particular charism and mission of the institute in question. The purpose is not simply to make a religious, monastic, or hermit but to form someone into a Benedictine, Carthusian,  Camaldolese, Franciscan or Carmelite hermit, etc. One enters a community with the explicit sense of discerning and being formed in a vocation with this particular community for the rest of one's life. One learns to live with and love one's Sisters in this community, to be a Sister to them and to throw one's lot in with this group of people come what may. In such a community there is shared solitude which is every bit as communal as any other dimension of the life here. I think that some very rare communities might be willing to allow a person to undertake formation with them while knowing the person desires to become a diocesan hermit down the line but I suspect the successful candidate would be a rare and exceptional person as well.  If it were the case that one could become a hermit in six months to a year, perhaps one could arrange to be a guest somewhere for that period of time, but one cannot be formed as a hermit in such a short period -- much less be prepared for vows and consecration.

Absolutely one could learn to pray the Office, develop some sound habits of work, prayer, recreation, and rest which would serve one when one began one's formation as a solitary diocesan hermit; similarly, one could get a good sense of the nature of monastic and eremitic silence and solitude and see how one does in such a context, but formation as a hermit? No, not in such a time frame. Besides, one is to be formed as a solitary hermit and this takes time on one's own; it also requires that one (learn to) take care of everything one needs to live on one's own without the benefits of community life. This includes writing one's own Rule and this in itself requires experience as a solitary hermit and attention to what actually works for oneself during different seasons and during wellness and illness as well.

Finally, I have to say that the discernment and formation process of a diocesan hermit must be diocesan and involve diocesan personnel, the person's home parish, and so forth. This, I think, must be primary even if it is supplemented by periods at a monastery or hermitage one knows and even if it is preceded by a time as a religious in community. Only when this is the case will one know whether one can truly live an eremitical life outside a community of hermits; only in such a case will one be able to discern properly or provide appropriately for both initial and ongoing formation. Moreover, only in such a case can one know whether one's diocese is truly open to admitting hermits to profession and consecration under c 603. A diocese cannot promise to profess one IF one spends an extended time in a monastery or hermitage, nor can one expect a diocese to profess one simply because one HAS spent such time in such a context. Again, while such formation is apt to be beneficial, the solitary eremitical vocation is not the same as eremitical life in community; it must be lived and reflected  upon on its own terms.

What I would suggest to you if you are interested in becoming a diocesan hermit (or really to anyone who is so interested) and you (or they) have no background in religious life is the following: 1) find yourself a good spiritual director, preferably a religious with experience in formation and one who lives contemplatively (even if an apostolic religious); 2) establish a relationship with them over some time, 3) begin living as a solitary hermit if that is your decision (use c 603 as the guide for your life), 4) read everything you can about it as you meet regularly with your director. If you can live this way for two or three years, and if you really thrive in the silence of solitude, then try your hand at writing a Rule. Once you have managed this task (something which is likely to take you several months) you are probably ready to contact your diocese with a request that they consider admitting you to profession under c 603. If they are open to admitting ANY suitable person then at this point you will likely begin a discernment process with the diocese itself.

I do think that candidates for consecration under c 603 and those already professed and consecrated can benefit from regular time away in a disciplined, regular monastic context so I suggest looking into options for that. I believe this is ordinarily necessary in order to understand what a Rule and the life itself should include and also to have an experience which challenges one to faithfulness even when one is far from the monastic community. In this way I think I am in essential agreement with the perceptions of the person you cited in your question even I am not in agreement with her specific suggestion re joining a religious or monastic community. I believe that all dioceses that demonstrate caution in approaching the eremitical vocation lived in the name of the Church, who recognize the relative and even the absolute rarity of this vocation, and who understand the absolute need for sufficient formation --- both initial and ongoing --- serve this vocation even when they mainly refuse to profess individuals. Especially dioceses who recognize that a lone individual is not necessarily a hermit, that isolation (physical, emotional or psychological, etc) does not constitute eremitical solitude and who insist on communal or ecclesial sensibilities in their candidates serve this vocation. Whatever assists an individual candidate to live a life embodying authentic eremitical solitude needs to be considered and honored and extended or regular times with a community certainly aids in this.

11 January 2017

On the Blessing of Canonical Hermitages

[[Dear Sister, can a diocesan hermit's "prayer space", to use your term, be blessed legally (is that canonically)? What is necessary for this to happen?]]

Yes, legally and canonically mean the same thing in your question. As I understand the case at least three canons apply in such a circumstance, cc. 1226, 1228, and 1229. (Other canons may apply and I'll speak to that in a moment. First of all, a matter of terminology: The term chapel is now used to refer to a private place used for worship and Mass by one or more physical persons; it is not open to the public. A religious community's prayer place where the space may be used for public worship occasionally with permission of the superior is now called an oratory.)

For a diocesan hermit's prayer space to be established as a canonical chapel the local ordinary must approve. If Mass is to be celebrated there either because the hermit is a priest or because the hermit has a priest come occasionally to say Mass, the bishop must approve this as well. (It is recommended that when a hermit is permitted to reserve the Eucharist in her hermitage she also has Mass said there occasionally.)  Finally, under canon 1229 in order for the space to be blessed (consecrated) according to the usual liturgical books as a private chapel the space may not be used for any domestic purpose. Moreover the fixtures within the chapel (or, within the space which does not qualify to be blessed as a chapel under c 1229) --- things like tabernacles, monstrance, ciboria, and so forth are separately consecrated. (This is where other canons may apply.)

In my admittedly limited experience diocesan hermits do not ordinarily have the finances or, therefore, the space to dedicate an entire room to prayer without also using some of the space for other domestic purposes (e.g., sleeping). That means that those I know do not have their spaces blessed (or consecrated) as canonical chapels. (Tabernacles can be separated from the rest of the room by free-standing panels or a relatively fixed partition if one is forced by circumstances to also use the room for domestic purposes. Remember, only the hermit will use this space; it is not open to the public.) I don't think this would create a space which qualifies as a private chapel but it does honor conditions accompanying the right to reserve Eucharist in this space.

However, there is an alternative --- though neither does this constitute the space as a chapel, canonically speaking; namely, to have the hermitage blessed as a home is blessed and then have the sacred fixtures or appointments like tabernacles, etc. specially blessed. This means that the space and appointments would be blessed by the bishop or a priest designated to do so. From my experience this would tend to be one's pastor. (Sometimes the bishop will come to the hermitage on the day of perpetual profession and in a post "profession-liturgy" consecration, bless it then; but often this cannot be arranged because of the distance between parish church and hermitage or others complications.) I think most diocesan hermits have their hermitages blessed in a simple home-blessing rite.

I hope this is helpful.

09 January 2017

Feast of the Baptism of Jesus (Reprised)

Of all the feasts we celebrate, [today's] feast of the baptism of Jesus is one of the most difficult for us to understand. We are used to thinking of baptism as a solution to original sin instead of the means of our initiation into the death and resurrection of Jesus, or our adoption as daughters and sons of God and heirs to his Kingdom, or again, as a consecration to God's very life and service. When viewed this way, and especially when we recall that John's baptism was one of repentance for sin, how do we make sense of a sinless Jesus submitting to it?

I think two points need to be made here. First, Jesus grew into his vocation. His Sonship was real and completely unique but not completely developed or historically embodied from the moment of his conception; rather it was something he embraced more and more fully over his lifetime. Secondly, his Sonship was the expression of solidarity with us and his fulfillment of the will of his Father to be God-with-us. Jesus will incarnate the Logos of God definitively in space and time, but this event we call the incarnation encompasses and is only realized fully in his life, death, and resurrection -- not in his nativity. Only in allowing himself to be completely transparent to this Word, only in "dying to self," and definitively setting aside all other possible destinies does Jesus come to fully embody and express the Logos of God in a way which expresses his solidarity with us as well.

It is probably the image of Baptism-as-consecration and commissioning then which is most helpful to us in understanding Jesus' submission to John's baptism. Here the man Jesus is set apart as the one in whom God will truly "hallow his name." (That is, in Jesus' weakness and self-emptying God's powerful presence (Name) will make all things Holy and a sacrament of God's presence.) Here, in an act of manifest commitment, Jesus' humanity is placed completely at the service of the living God and of those to whom God is committed. Here his experience as one set apart or consecrated by and for God establishes God as completely united with us and our human condition. This solidarity is reflected in his statement to John that together they must fulfill the will of God. And here too Jesus anticipates the death and resurrection he will suffer for the sake of both human and Divine destinies which, in him, will be reconciled and inextricably wed to one another. His baptism establishes the pattern not only of HIS humanity, but that of all authentic humanity. So too does it reveal the nature of true Divinity, for our's is a God who becomes completely subject to our sinful reality in order to free us for his own entirely holy one.

I suspect that even at the end of the Christmas season we are still scandalized by the incarnation. (Recent conversations on CV's and secularity make me even surer of this!) We still stumble over the intelligibility of this baptism, and the propriety of it especially. Our inability to fathom Jesus' own baptism, and our tendency to be shocked by it  because of Jesus' identity,  just as JohnBp was probably shocked, says we are not comfortable, even now, with a God who enters exhaustively into our reality. We remain uncomfortable with a Jesus who is tempted like us in ALL THINGS, and matures into his identity as God's only begotten Son.

We are puzzled by one who is holy as God is holy and, as the creed affirms, "true God from true God" and who, evenso, is consecrated to and by the one he calls Abba --- and commissioned to the service of this Abba's Kingdom and people. A God who wholly identifies with us, takes on our sinfulness, and comes to us in smallness, weakness, submission and self-emptying is really not a God we are comfortable with --- despite three weeks of Christmas celebrations and reflections, and a prior four weeks of preparation -- is it? In fact, none of this was comfortable for Jews or early Christians either. The Jewish leadership was upset by JnBp's baptisms generally because they took place outside the Temple precincts and structures (that is, in the realm we literally call profane). Early Christians (Jewish and otherwise) were embarrassed by Jesus' baptism by John --- as Matt's added explanation of the reasons for it in vv 14-15 indicate. They were concerned that perhaps it indicated Jesus' inferiority to John the Baptist and they wondered if maybe it meant that Jesus had sinned prior to his baptism. And perhaps this embarrassment is as it should be. Perhaps the scandal attached to this baptism signals to us we are beginning to get things right theologically.

After all, today's feast tells us that Jesus' public ministry begins with a ritual washing, consecration, and commissioning by God which is similar to our own baptismal consecration. The difference is that Jesus' freely accepts life under the sway of sin in his baptism just as he wholeheartedly embraces a public (and one could cogently argue, a thoroughly secular) vocation to proclaim God's sovereignty. The story of the desert temptation or testing that follows this underscores this acceptance. His public life begins with an event that prefigures his end as well. There is a real dying to self involved here, not because Jesus has a false self which must die -- as each of us has --- but because in these events his life is placed completely at the disposal of his God, his Abba, in solidarity with us. Loving another, affirming the being of another in a way which subordinates one's own being to theirs --- putting one's own life at their disposal and surrendering all other life-possibilities always entails a death of sorts -- and a kind of rising to new life as well. The dynamics present on the cross are present here too; here we see only somewhat less clearly a complete and obedient (that is open and responsive) submission to the will of God, and an unfathomable subjection to that which human sinfulness makes necessary precisely in order that God's love may be exhaustively present and conquer here as well.

The Question of Food and Life in the Hermitage

[[Dear Sister,  I pray that you are well and that your 2017 is shaping up well.

This past week (maybe because it's New Year's resolution time) I've noticed that almost all monastic writings include some word on food and diet. Whether it's the Rule of St. Benedict or the Eastern Orthodox Philokalia, almost all monastic rules and writings make a connection between food and prayer.

For example, I recently read "To Love Fasting: The Monastic Experience" by the highly respected Benedictine monk and hermit Fr. Adalbert de Vogue (he died in 2011). In this book de Vogue adopted the strict diet prescribed in the Rule of St. Benedict. This hermit monk found that doing so transformed his prayer and work life in a very positive manner. It was de Vogue's opinion that the traditional monastic disciplines surrounding food had been ignored in modern times, and that has been a negative development.

As such, I was wondering how a hermit should eat and whether s/he should include some consideration of food in their personal Rule (aside from traditional fast periods in the Church like Lent). I could imagine that food might even be a temptation in the hermitage. For example, I've noticed that when I'm on a monastic retreat meal times becomes a big part of the day for me; more so than they would be in my regular life. I could imagine that snacking could be an easy habit to get into in the solitude of the  hermitage. Any thoughts or insights would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!]]

Always nice to hear from you! Good questions! Few contemporary writers that I am aware of have dealt with the issue of food per se. (The one that comes to mind is incredibly idiosyncratic with a too-narrow and joyless notion of contemplative life and prayer so I wouldn't recommend it --- and won't name it here.) Most speak of fasting and of eating vegetarian or mainly vegetarian as well as in other ways which provide healthy diets without snacking, overindulgence in sweets, and so forth. The comments on the influence on one's prayer is something I am ambivalent about --- not least because it may depend too much on certain experiences in prayer. But de Vogue is someone whose experience and wisdom I would trust so I would like to read what he says about this; I don't remember similar content being contained in his " The Rule of Saint Benedict: A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary --- which is one place I think he would have spoken of it. (As you say, de Vogue believes monks should all go back to Benedict's prescriptions and make of the whole of the year a kind of Lent in abstinence and fasting in all kinds of ways.)

A Reminder About St Benedicts Instructions on Food and Drink:

Let's remember that St Benedict's treatment of  the issue of food is quite generous for the time. He allowed at the main meal for two dishes of cooked food in case a person could not partake of one of them. He allowed for a third dish if one of those provided was fresh vegetables or fruits. He allowed for a pound of bread per day (and remember these are hearty breads) and in cases of weakness or illness allowed  meat for the monk in need. Finally (also in chapter 39 RB) in times of extra or more strenuous work Benedict allowed for more food. In everything Benedict was concerned that people had the food they needed to fuel their lives, to be well and strong. Depending on the season (meaning liturgical season) Benedict allowed for either one meal or for both dinner and supper. He required that the evening meal always be finished before darkness and wrote that monks would (in this he was reluctant it seemed) be allowed a "hemina" of wine per day (that is, about half a pint of wine or a quarter of a liter or more per day) with the ability to adjust this when necessary due to the heat of the Summer, etc. In all things however, Benedict was concerned that monks avoid overindulgence.

 It is instructive that Adalbert de Vogue moved to the diet outlined in the Rule of Benedict. Since Benedict allows for mitigations and accommodations in certain circumstances it may be a bit of an overstatement to refer to "strict diet" but perhaps not. It depends on what de Vogue was moving away from. In monasteries where I go on retreat there are three meals a day, breakfast, dinner, supper. The meals are vegetarian (while for Sunday's dinner there is a festal approach to the main meal and sometimes includes broiled salmon!) and beyond that, generally follow the Benedictine instructions. At the same time they are some of the best meals I have ever had because the recipes are creative, incredibly tasty, and healthy. My sense is they were easily digestible as well. What seems to me to be most important is the regularity of the meals and the way they are geared either to breaking one's fast (usually after one has been up and at prayer for several hours), supplying the food one needs for the main work of the day, or providing a relatively light but filling meal which allows for the work and prayer one does once the work day is over and is finished long before one retires for sleep. At times (again, Sunday dinner for instance!) they are also quite festive with talking, laughing, story-telling, questions**, etc.--- a break from several different kinds of "fasting".

** At Sunday dinner after my first week retreat at Redwoods Abbey (then Monastery) the Sisters waited until we had prayed, filled our plates, sat down and settled in. Then all eyes turned to me (it was a little creepy and I had just begun to wonder if I had done something wrong!) and one Sister said, "Okay, we've been waiting all week to ask you this! How and why did you become a hermit??" It was an amazing indication of the importance of silence  and respect for the individual retreatants, but also of the way this "fast" too was broken and a chance to really get to know one another was extended. I answered more frankly and fully than I would ordinarily do (especially I spoke of chronic illness and of reading Merton's Contemplation in a World of Action); my response was listened to carefully and my answer led to more questions, comments by those who knew Thomas Merton personally and had also been influenced by him (there were a couple of Trappist monks present at the Abbey and at this particular meal), the value of solitude and the question of the importance  of community, etc etc. It was a wonderful experience in many ways.

The importance of Meals While on Retreat:

Your comment on looking forward to meals or to them becoming a bigger part of your day is interesting and I suspect that what that has to do with for most people for whom it occurs (and I think it does do that) has less to do with food per se and more to do with expectations, comfort, and gratification. By this I don't mean that most folks are hedonists; rather, I mean that most folks are not used to the silence or the time for prayer which monasteries provide. They are more used to doing stuff than to being, and especially they are not used to giving time over to something that is vague and seems unproductive (like quiet prayer, lectio divina, outright leisure, etc.). But meals are something everyone understands; they are involved with doing (eating) and may also bring one into contact with others in ways time alone simply disallows. What I am saying, badly I think, is that for many retreatants meal times are comfortable, well-understood times of relative normality during a day full of non-activity, "empty time", leisure which is not oriented towards TV etc. and that this is one of the reasons they assume greater importance during times of retreat. More positively I think the retreat prepares folks to truly ENJOY their meals because one eats slowly without distractions. One attends to the food and tends to be in a space where appreciation and gratitude are uppermost. Likewise, to some extent they prepare persons to depend upon God and not turn to food at times when they feel some want but are not in real need of food (like after supper and through the night when the kitchen is closed!!).

Food at Hermitages: Not Really a problem:

In most hermitages I don't think food is a big problem for several reasons, 1) hermits live regular lives unless illness intervenes, 2) poverty does not allow food to become a major expenditure, 3) most days are full and satisfying; snacking is just not an issue, and 4) every hermit attends to fasting as their Rule covers that. (Assiduous prayer and penance is the element in canon 603 that would call for attention to food, sleep, exercise, use of media and other things requiring various forms of fasting and calling for dependence upon God in one's needs and weakness.)  Moreover if a hermit finds herself routinely overindulging it is going to come up with her director or delegate in some way just as would unhealthy habits of sleep, problems related to poverty and access to healthy food, and so forth. How should a hermit eat? The same way anyone else eats --- at least in terms of health and nutrition. Beyond eating a balanced diet with sufficient attention to nutritional needs and matters of health my own sense is hermits (like most religious) will eat pretty simply --- and in this they might eat quite differently than most folks around them.

For the most part they will not eat before prayer periods (though some will have coffee or tea in the morning before or along with some of their prayer and any lectio. For the most part some feeling of hunger and some small measure of actual hunger is an assistance in praying); hermits will ordinarily follow mealtimes with work or exercise (walking, etc.). There will be sufficient time for some noticeable digestion before prayer (early suppers and no midnight or late night snacking is the general rule for those who pray at night and early morning!!) But other than this I don't have any strong feelings on how a hermit should eat. Simplicity, health, nutrition, and eating in a way empowering or allowing (not getting in the way of) prayer and work are keys for me. Avoiding overindulgence in anything (sweets, meals, drink, etc) is also fundamental. In most of these things and others St Benedict's general approach works very well today as it did in the sixth Century --- if only we take seriously the fact that we folks in the first world generally have more than we actually need. This (as de Vogue recognizes I think) is true in many more areas than food and we need to be aware of it. I believe that hermits tend to be aware in the ways they need to be here because they are generally much more comfortable with being dependent upon God in all things in their need and fragility.

Regarding your question on dealing with food in one's Rule, I anticipated that a little in the paragraph above. Still, to be clear, yes, a hermit should deal with food in her Rule --- though probably not extensively (relatively briefly is probably sufficient unless there are special concerns). That is especially true if she has ever had problems with food, if financial poverty means she must eat less well with less access to fresh foods, or if there are health problems that modify the way she approaches meals, between-meal supplements, etc. Otherwise it might be enough to refer to St Benedict's prescriptions in RB39-41 and affirm one will follow this or aspects of it. In the section on fasting one will treat what this means in terms of food (if it applies apart from the Church's own rules for fasting and abstinence). Some hermits are asked to submit financial statements to their bishops showing what they spend on various things during a year. Food would be included so extravagance would show up here as well. One's horarium would also show (indirectly) any tendencies to over value mealtimes and again, the hermit's spiritual director and delegate are apt to have a sense of how well the hermit is actually eating --- and whether, for instance, food is being used in compensation for a reluctance to depend sufficiently radically upon God alone.

I hope this is helpful.

02 January 2017

The Incoherence of Vowing "Canonical Obedience" in a Private Vow

Dear Sister Laurel, What does it mean to say one is vowed to "canonical obedience"? Something I read recently confused me. It was the vows of a privately professed Catholic hermit in which the hermit vowed "canonical obedience" despite her vows being private. From what you have written in the past I can't see how the term can be used but maybe I am just missing something. Here is the vow I didn't understand: [["I, [full name including Confirmation name], offer and present myself to the goodness of God to serve in the order of a hermit [anchorite is the technical term used from Medieval Ancrene Riwle]; and according to the rule of that order I promise to remain henceforward in the service of God through the grace of God and the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church and to render canonical obedience to my spiritual fathers.]]

Important question. Thanks for asking it. Canonical obedience refers to obedience owed under canon law to legitimate superiors. It is part of the obligations assumed in the making of canonical (public) vows. The problem with the vow you cited is that it is a private vow and does not obligate or bind to legitimate superiors. This is because the hermit involved is making a private act of dedication to God, not a public one which involves the whole Church through the mediation of those who assume the role of legitimate superior. No one assumes the role of legitimate superior in private vows. Assumption of this role occurs in PUBLIC professions where admittance to vows is carefully discerned and the assumption of public rights and obligations are similarly accomplished in relationships that are mutually established and governed in canon law. (The legitimate superior is bound both morally and in law to serve the hermit as the hermit is bound both morally in law to obey the legitimate superior; the parameters of the relationship are spelled out in canon law and the hermit's Rule of Life.) One makes a public vow of obedience which is canonical or one does not. In private vows there is no "canonical obedience."  Moreover, as a matter of terminology, "spiritual fathers" is a phrase which tends to be used of spiritual directors and not of other roles; in the contemporary church spiritual directors do not represent a role in which they bind in obedience.

There is another set of problems with this vow, namely the reference to an order of hermits or anchorites and to their Rule. When this hermit vows to serve "according to the Rule of that order" what Rule is she speaking of? What order? You see, there is today no "order of hermits" in the same sense that there is, for instance, an order of consecrated virgins. Canon 603, for instance, does not refer to an order of hermits and did not intend one. And Orders like the Carthusians or the Camaldolese are different matters (and a different usage) yet again. Likewise the ancient "Ancrene Riwle" exists today --- one can certainly find and read it if one wants to --- though the accepted title is Ancrene Wisse or "Guide for Anchorites". The problem here? Ancrene Wisse is more "antirule" than rule --- written to guide anchorites who were asking for a Rule rather like that of St Benedict with matters of prayer, rest, work, etc. all spelled out, but whose spiritual guide resisted providing one! Ancrene Wisse is not and never was the Rule of an order of anchorites or hermits.

Linda Georgianna, in her book The Solitary Self, Individuality in the Ancrene Wisse, writes: [[The kind [of Rule the author of Wisse] chooses to emphasize bears little resemblance to anything we would recognize as a religious rule and is in fact best understood as an antirule. It is descriptive rather than prescriptive . . . and if its message could be summarized in one sentence it would have to be that the religious life is much more unruly than the young anchoresses might have first have supposed. The term "inner rule" is finally less a generic reference than a polemical term, a metaphor for an inner life that cannot be controlled by external precepts or religious rules.]] Finally, anchorite is not a technical term for hermit. It represents a particular kind of eremitical life which is marked by much greater physical stability than ordinarily obtains for the hermit. In this stability the anchorite is bound in some way (sometimes literally through being walled in!) to a particular residence or cell which she does not leave!
To summarize regarding your question on the phrase "canonical obedience" your sense here is exactly right: it is quite literally incoherent in the text and context provided. This is because it is only meaningful in the case of public vows (i.e., profession) where (1) one binds oneself in obedience to God, (2) through legitimate superiors who supervise or "govern" this vocation on behalf of the Church, (3) according to the canon laws which pertain to such public and ecclesial commitments. All  of this makes a vow "canonical." Accordingly, there is something missing in what you cited but it is not your deficiency; instead the phrase simply lacks coherence in a private vow. Once again let me say that private vows are significant forms of private dedication to God and should be esteemed. However, the persons making them should not conflate them with public vows and must take care not to make claims or pretend to obligations which do not really exist or even make sense. Language is important here and must not be thrown around to give the sense that what one purports to be doing is other than what one actually does.

No one is served by such confusions, not eremitical life which, whether publicly or privately undertaken, is already too often misunderstood, not individual hermits who must know what they are committing themselves to if they are not to make the vocation unbelievable in the process of trying to live it, not the Church who esteems and mediates public vocations in the name of God, and certainly not the God of truth who gifts these vocations charismatically to the whole Church in the life of the solitary canonical hermit. This is why the vow formulas of solitary canonical hermits, for instance, are carefully checked by canonists prior to profession to ensure they say precisely what they must say in responding to such a call and making such an ecclesial commitment. It is also why the term Catholic hermit is restricted to those making public profession. Words have meaning and their misuse, whether willful or inadvertent, brings confusion which can destroy credibility and trust.

Again, thanks for your question. It is an important one.

Follow-up question:

[[Dear Sister, Are you saying that private profession should not include a vow of obedience? I thought you were implying that.  Also do canonical religious use the phrase "canonical obedience"?]]

Excellent follow-up! I am torn on the issue of private vows of obedience. I think every Catholic is bound to be obedient in the NT sense of the word. It is part of the baptismal commitments we each make, part of what it means to believe in God, his Christ, his Spirit and Church. For this reason I think every Christian is committed to obedience in the sense of being attentive and responsive to God in Christ in Scripture, Sacraments, relationships, and the ordinary events of every day. No vow is necessary because we don't make vows for things we are already obligated to. However if one feels a need to specify the contents of this baptismal commitment more clearly that has seemed to me to be a good thing. Unfortunately, the fact that some are misrepresenting specific private vows with the qualifier "canonical" as the person who was cited above seems to do, leads me to  reconsider what I thought could be a good thing; consequently I am coming to agree with canonists who say private vows of obedience make no sense.

But if individuals choose to make such private vows they must understand that these vows are specifications of one's lay commitment -- no more nor less. They are not a profession ---an act which initiates one into a new state of life (hence we do not "profess" private vows). One may dedicate oneself to God in an act which makes one's baptismal consecration, one's baptismal vows and commitments more explicit and contemporary --- but such an act is not the same thing as making public profession of vows that are somehow "canonical",  include being consecrated by God, or result in religious obedience being owed a legitimate superior.

The fact that in profession one comes to live ones life  under new canon laws (canon laws which do not apply to everyone in the church and which require a public commitment beyond baptism) and in this way embrace new canonically defined and moderated relationships, and a Rule and constitutions (proper law) which binds canonically is something we sometimes believe everyone in the Church understands --- but in this I think we have been naïve. The post which was cited earlier demonstrates a significant ignorance or perhaps an outright disregard of Church usage so perhaps there is a need for greater clarity in speaking of canonical vows of obedience, for instance. Many Religious have also been careless in speaking of consecrating ourselves in making our vows. We dedicate ourselves to God in public vows and this is followed by a prayer of solemn consecration. These two movements are part of a single act of profession AND consecration but human beings dedicate themselves; God consecrates. In an act of synecdoche we can refer popularly to the WHOLE ACT as either profession or consecration but again, we do not consecrate ourselves. Only God may consecrate --- a distinction Vatican II maintained throughout any documents pertaining to these matters.

Regarding your second question, ordinarily since private vows do not include obedience except in the NT sense (which is already included in one's baptismal commitments), there is usually no reason for religious who make public or canonical vows of religious obedience to specify "canonical obedience." Religious are more apt to say "religious obedience" which includes the idea of  public commitments and the concepts of legitimate superiors as well as canonical rights and responsibilities beyond those assumed with baptism alone.. Usually though we simply say "obedience" because it is typical of religious life and not of lay life.
I hope this helps!

Do Hermits Have Hobbies?

 [[Dear Sister,
     Do you have hobbies? Do hermits have hobbies? Are they allowed to do this or is your life all about work and prayer? Thanks.]]

What a good question! I don't think anyone has ever asked this before and I know they have never asked it in this way --- with the reference to the work and prayer that structures Benedictine life. I don't know if any hermits refer to some of the things they do as "hobbies" (they certainly might and could) but I would say that every hermit I know engages in activities they consider literally recreational. Some may call such activities "hobbies" but I prefer to identify them in terms of their capacity to help "recreate" me by opening me to the Spirit. What I mean is that the activities I undertake here have some power to assist my prayer, to keep me open and responsive to the Spirit of God. I enjoy them, have fun with them, relax with these activities, explore new and different parts of myself, have the freedom to fail, to try again, and to grow with these activities.

So, what things do I do that fall into these categories? The first (but not the most important) activity is violin; I play violin both in the Oakland Civic Orchestra and with chamber groups composed of friends from the orchestra. I also sometimes play Celtic fiddle --- though less frequently than I once did. Violin used to be my primary recreational activity. These days it is secondary or even tertiary. I don't play every set with OCO or even every year these days --- though I have written violin into my Rule to be sure the time and things music empowers are protected. Secondly, I spend significant time each week writing. That may be blogging, writing poetry, journaling, or working on more substantial projects (articles, etc on prayer, eremitical life, or theology more generally). Sometimes it involves music composition. Some of this falls under the rubrics of work and even penance but the line between recreational writing and these others blurs considerably. That is especially true when writing becomes a form of ministry or part of the writing I consider "work." A third form of recreation is reading. This can sometimes mean fiction (Science fiction, fantasy, poetry, mysteries) but it also means theology; unfortunately, I don't always have time for the really "hard-core" theology I would like to be doing --- the kind that excites, energizes, challenges and renews me.

A fourth form of recreation I am coming to use more and more (because I am learning as I go) is drawing. Ordinarily what I draw illustrates liturgical seasons, Scriptural themes, important dimensions of spiritual direction, etc, but even then I am able to play a lot -- with different mediums, colors, and so forth --- and at the same time spend time reflecting and praying in ways I would be less able to do otherwise. Drawing has helped me a lot in journaling and in some of the inner work I am doing with my director. There are times when what we deal with is difficult to articulate; at such times drawing a picture may assist me more than pages and pages of writing. It may also invite my director or delegate into the reality I am seeking to share more profoundly than words are able. Moreover, drawing taps into parts of myself writing alone does not do (the same is true of music!) so it is important to pay attention to those parts of myself and find ways to allow them to speak. All of this is part of being a contemplative and hermit. Finally, recreation includes physical exercise --- mainly walking and some exercise on gym equipment (total gym, time works, treadmill).

You asked if all I do is work and pray. The answer to that is sometimes not so straightforward. Clearly there is room for recreation; in fact, recreation is necessary --- not only for my own physical and intellectual well-being but also spiritually so that I can actually live a life of ora et labora (prayer and work). At bottom everything is meant to serve prayer and thus empower the dignity and integrity of my Self in God. Lines blur because my life is not compartmentalized in the way some people's lives are. Spirituality is not a separate activity I undertake. Neither, in some ways, is prayer. Moreover they each have different dimensions and forms. Work is part of my spirituality; recreation is part of my spirituality; rest and prayer are dimensions of my spirituality. Work (especially reading and writing serious Theology) is profoundly recreational. Work, recreation, and rest all contribute to and segue into prayer. Prayer is both my work and a profound form of rest and recreation (though not in the common sense of that word). Recreation (more usually music, drawing, reading and writing) involves both work (intellectual, spiritual) and prayer. And so it goes!! As you can see, things don't "divvy up" or fall very easily into neat categories! They tend instead to flow into or contribute to one another.

By the way, what I am "allowed" to do is what serves prayer and my capacity for wholeness and love as a solitary hermit. I discern what I need to be doing and include those things in my Rule. The Rule is approved by my bishop. It is first read by my director and delegate --- and sometimes by other religious or monastics who can assist in this way; discernment of what is included is undertaken with the assistance of these folks. I cannot simply do whatever I like, but at the same time my own discernment (provided I have really undertaken this!) is something which tends to be trusted by all involved. The larger questions are not so much what I choose to do but rather, (1) how does this genuinely contribute to my life as a contemplative and solitary canonical hermit along with (2) how is this joined in a balanced or healthy way to the rest of my life?

I hope this answer has been helpful to you! Thanks again for your own question.

01 January 2017

On Journals and Journaling: New Year's Wishes and Prayers

 Yesterday I finished filling a journal and prepared to begin a new one. It was strange finishing one book at the end of the year just a day away from the beginning of a new year. These two things don't usually coincide so neatly. Meanwhile, I don't know how others feel about this kind of thing but for me opening a fresh journal is always a bit difficult as I prepare to write the first entry on the first page of a virgin notebook. Moreover, leaving the older journal behind usually feels like leaving a trusted companion behind; my journals are the place where I write, reflect, do the growth work and spiritual direction work needed for appointments with my director and delegate, make notes on significant prayer experiences, keep copies of drawings and cards from friends which mark my journey, etc. Figuratively speaking they can be kind of blood-stained: my latest one sports repairs to the spine, is cobbled together with laminating plastic, clamshell clips, and silicon bands ---and is three times as thick as it was before I started writing in it. To close a journal for the last time (except for those times needed to review bits of it) and pick up a new book is always poignant and just a tiny bit resistance-producing for me. And it is exciting as well.
Every day really is a new beginning and some events as well as some holidays help us realize this. At every moment God calls us by name to begin a life of newness (kainete) with "him". At every moment God offers us a fresh chance to grow and heal and fulfill the potentialities we carry deep within us. As Catholic Christians we celebrate the truth of this reality by spending Advent and Christmas times in a more especially focused way. According to our civic calendars we celebrate this with attention to the New Year and to resolutions and intentions for more focused and responsible living. The pattern each of these sets for us is the pattern of openness to the new, responsiveness to the creative Spirit of God --- obedience, once again, to our deepest selves, our deepest truth and potentials, a pattern of listening and responding deeply to the presence of God within us.
In this way we work with God to compose yet another "journal" record, another chapter in a long journey spent seeking God and the fulfillment of God's will in the realization of our identities as Daughters and Sons of God in Christ. So too do we thus close the cover on an older chapter of our lives and at the same time bring all that we have become into the present moment. In this way we become people who rest in the dynamism of a future which belongs entirely to God --- we come, that is, to rest in the future which IS God.
My prayer on this first day of 2017 is that we each have the courage and feel the excitement of moving into the future even though it may mean letting go of some well-loved "companions" on our journey. May we not hesitate to commit ourselves to filling page after fresh page of our journey with God --- for how ever long we are privileged to do so. And may we each come to see and celebrate the awesome beauty of a "life-journal" whose ink-stained pages are marked, occasionally marred, but, incredibly, are "cobbled together" and most profoundly inspired by the grace of God in ways which are entirely unique and unrepeatable.
My very best wishes to you each and all for a wonderfully grace-filled and fruitful New Year.
Sister Laurel M O'Neal, Er Dio
Stillsong Hermitage
Diocese of Oakland
(St. Perpetua's Catholic Community)

25 December 2016

A Contemplative Moment: Here it Begins

Here it begins in the dark before dawning.
Here, in a barn full of animal smells
The warm breath of cattle, the sounds of the morning.
Here without tinsel or tolling bells.

This is the Word Who was there at the making?
This is the pure and unbearable light?
Tiny and wrinkle-faced, squalling and shaking
Small fists at the vast implacable night?

Who can believe this impossible fable?
But He whose Love proves stronger than all our sins.
A light in the darkness, a child in the stable
Stronger than death itself, here it begins.
 For all those who read here -- whether regularly or occasionally, for those who have written with questions or comments, for all of those who help me to reflect here at Stillsong on the eremitical vocation and the Good News of a God whose eternal love makes its home in the everyday moments and moods of our lives, my sincerest thanks and best wishes for a wonderful Christmas! May you and your families have a joyful day and season!
Sister Laurel, Er Dio
Stillsong Hermitage
Diocese of Oakland

20 December 2016

The Word Made Flesh, Chanticleer and Biebl's Ave Maria

This Saturday evening a friend and I attended a Chanticleer Christmas concert in San Francisco at St Ignatius Church. The program included Biebl's Ave Maria --- something which has become expected, and would be seriously missed were Chanticleer to omit it from the program. The first year I heard this I was surprised by it and even a little disappointed; I was expecting Schubert or Bach-Gounod. We are resistant to the new sometimes. But now, I, like my friend, am ordinarily brought to tears by Chanticleer's rendition of this version of the Angelus/Ave Maria.

Some will remember my having quoted Dom Robert Hale, OSB Cam, when I wrote about God shaping and sustaining us "like a singer sustains a note." I have spoken of our vocations to become true counterparts of God, language events which are expressions of the eternal and loving Word and breath of God, responses to God which bring creation to articulateness, and in the past I have spoken of human being summoned out of muteness to become canticles of joy and hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. In all of these ways and others I have tried to provide Scriptural and theological images of the ways we become our truest selves in the power and powerful presence of God, images part of what is celebrated at Christmas and especially in the stories we hear throughout this last week of Advent.

In today's Gospel we hear the story of  the angel greeting Mary and describing her as "full of grace;" it is also an account of Jesus' conception by the power of that same Spirit. In other words Mary is a woman of prayer in whom the breath of God moves freely and who, because of that, will speak her "fiat" to become pregnant with the One who will become God's counterpart in an exhaustive and definitive sense. Mary is indeed the canticle created when God is allowed to shape and sustain her as a singer does a note --- an image of Mary we celebrate especially in tomorrow's Gospel. The dialogue between Mary and God as well as our own subsequent reflection on and praise of this great mystery is captured in Biebl's marvelous rendition of the Angelus. I hope you enjoy it.

14 December 2016

On Prayer and Glorifying God

[[Dear Sister I was taught that prayer involves a number of forms including adoration, contemplation, thanksgiving and supplication. My pastor taught me the acronym ACTS to help me remember this. But I read a Catholic hermit saying the following [[ . . . Praising God is different from praying, as praising asks for nothing from God but rather gives God sole glory.]] I have no way of asking her about this statement since she has no contact information on her blog but I wondered if Catholic hermits have a different way of understanding prayer than my pastor so I am asking you.]]

Thanks for your question. Wow. To be frank, I would be surprised to hear any Catholic say such a thing, no matter their state of life or vocation. That's because the acronym you cited is often taught to elementary school kids as a way of remembering the main forms of prayer and to help them understand the way they are to give their whole selves to God in prayer. We all have heard homilies using this acronym from time to time when the readings reference the nature or the importance of prayer. I think I may have been taught this in the late sixties when I was taking instruction to become a Catholic. (By the way, I have heard it presented with "c= confession" rather than contemplation and I will speak of it that way here. I think contemplation would then fit under "Adoration".)

In either case it is important to remember that all prayer or worship is always the work of God within us. The corollary is that we are made and yearn for this to be more and more real in our lives so that we may become our truest selves! Our hearts are theological realities first of all; "heart" is defined in the TDNT,** for instance, as the place within us where God bears witness to Godself. Once we are aware that as we come to God and allow God to work in us in our minds and hearts and as we allow God to transform us in times of need,  joy,  reflectiveness, and love, we also come to be our truest selves, we begin to understand the deepest truth of prayer, namely that prayer is less something we do than it is something we are called to become by allowing God to witness to Godself in the whole of our lives.

The term we use for allowing God to dwell in us and witness to Godself is "glorifying" God. We glorify God when we reveal him to the world. And here it is critical to remember that reveal means not only to make known, but also to make real in space and time. We glorify God when we allow God to become incarnate in us, when we let him transform us into the imago Christi (image of Christ) we are made to become, when, in other words we pray and allow ourselves to become prayer. We are grateful in this way and it is an act of adoration and confession as well. To put this in theological terms we could say that when we allow God to be God in this way we become speech ACTS, language events whose essential nature is divinely motivated and shaped.

Hermits are contemplatives not only because it is a primary form of prayer for us, but because it reflects the way of life we have embraced and cultivated.  In truth hermits have embraced a way of life which involves a number of types of prayer every day precisely because it is contemplative; thus, it is a life of gratitude and praise, a life where we try to be essentially attentive and open ourselves so that the God who dwells deep within, may "come to us", "dwell within us" more fully (more extensively and effectively) to complete us as the covenant persons we are meant to be. As this happens we become instances of praise --- instances of profound prayer. In my eremitical life I don't ask God for much in the sense of plying him with lists of things I need or desire. That is not to say I do not have such things, I definitely do. But in the main my single prayer is ordinarily a prayer that is an opening of self to the One who would be with and dwell more fully within me to empower, encourage, and celebrate with me. When I am feeling particularly needy the form that prayer takes is, "O God come to my assistance, O Lord make haste to help me." But at other times the form that prayer takes is simply, "Thanks be to God." In my best moments then, prayer is a single act of praise which involves all of the things referred to in the acronym A.C.T.S. but above all it is an act of praise, an act in which God is most truly glorified.

Should I not call this prayer --- as the source you cited seems to imply? Of course I should. Again, at bottom prayer is the work of God attended to and embraced in the various modes and moods of human existence: adoration (the times we simply love God and all that is precious to God); confession (the times and ways we, empowered by the God of truth, say who we really are and what values we embody whether this is verbal or non-verbal and whether it represents us in our strength and integrity or our weakness, brokenness, and falseness); thanksgiving (all the times and ways we act by the grace of God with wonder, attentiveness and gratitude for the gifts of life and the Source and Ground of Life); and supplication (all of those times we especially turn to God in need, in our poverty, in our incompleteness and our desire for union). In each of these we turn to the God who is already present and active within us seeking him to become even more present and active and we do so only by the grace (or powerful presence) of God. In each of these ways and moments we PRAY and become prayer. In each of these ways and moments we glorify God.

** TDNT = Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, The TDNT is a ten volume work including the significant words of the New Testament; it provides detailed presentations of the different linguistic, theological, and cultural contexts of each word by looking at OT, intertestamental, and extratestmental literature as well as at the Greek and other important literature bearing on the meaning of these words. The definition of heart provided above is from the article on καρδια (kardia).

10 December 2016

Wait For the Lord

09 December 2016

Advent Reflection: Trusting the Process

Over the past six months a phrase which was invitation, challenge, conundrum (unfortunately, it was all-too-frequently that), solace, and promise was something I heard often, namely, "Trust the Process".  Over time I wrote a lot (of course), began to draw some (an old joy I had long ago left behind), and watched as numerous meetings with my director (who lives her integrity in Christ by "trusting the process") produced piece after piece of a tapestry of healing and growth whose overall  design I could never have imagined. In the picture above I see a child completely committed to and absorbed in her work. Like any born-contemplative she focuses on a small area of a very much larger picture, colors it in a way which allows what she is working on to blend with the next section over. She invests each moment with as much attention, love, and creativity as she can. She makes each piece of each drawing an instance of intense care and beauty. Bit by bit she discovers that she is creating an entire universe in this way, a universe marked by a massive rainbow of refracted light --- symbol of her covenant existence with a God she knows intimately but whose face she has not seen and whose name she has not yet learned.

At some point perhaps, after she has drawn and drawn, colored and colored some more, imagined, thought about, and poured herself into these pictures moment by moment day in and day out, she may assemble the pieces and be awed by what she and God together have brought to be. This is the nature of "trusting the process". It is also the nature of contemplative living and contemplative prayer. It is a matter of saying yes to the moment and the piece of work or life which stands right in front of us, even when we do not see a larger picture emerging or even imagine its possibility. It is a matter of saying yes to the one accompanying each and both of us and the God who dwells within us both -- seeking fullness of life for us and to be fully revealed (him)self. It reminds me of the sacred space and time Advent provides for allowing the work of bringing God-in-us to birth; so too, it gives me a glimpse of what Advent both gives to and asks of us.

Without any clear sense of what would come Mary said yes to being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. I have no doubt she was awed, hopeful, and excited but also, that she was terrified by the potential consequences of that yes and troubled by an inability to see what it would entail. When she pondered things in her heart I can see her considering the emerging picture piece by tiny piece, focusing her heart there and adding whatever yesses needed to be for the larger reality to gradually emerge and be realized in space and time. It is not hard for me to imagine Mary in the place of the child in the drawing above, drawing and drawing, coloring and coloring some more, pondering and pouring herself into these pictures, these moments of life and prayer, "trusting the process" until one day the pieces are stitched together and she is able to behold the child, and perhaps in time, will begin to glimpse the entirely new universe she will help God bring to birth in and through this child.

So I trust the process. One day Christ will be brought to full stature --- as Ephesians puts the matter -- as I too am being brought to full stature. One day God will not only be more truly incarnate in me but ultimately will be all in all. I have no idea what that new heaven and new earth will look like; nor do I need to. For now there remain all the smaller and larger yesses that still need to be said, the small and large investments of self that can only be made moment by moment, day by day, year by year, the focused commitment to draw and pour out my life in covenant with God, stroke by graced stroke until the living light standing at the heart of my being shines forth, fully illuminated, visibly ablaze with all the colors of love -- and in my own small but hardly insignificant way, I contribute to Christ's coming to full stature. This is Advent's contemplative challenge and call.

Trusting the Process Now

Chosen to Clap and Cheer: Embracing the Future With Advent Gratitude (Reprise)

Last week in Advent: Shaping our Lives in Light of the Future I wrote that Advent is about embracing and preparing to embrace the future, and especially the future revelation of God rather than hanging onto the past as an adequate model of what will one day be. I reminded readers that our cosmos is an unfinished reality and that we are on the way to the day when Christ will "come to full stature" and God will be all in all. I also noted that theologians and exegetes today read the Genesis creation and fall narratives very differently than they once did --- not as pointing to a completed and perfected universe which then, through human disobedience or sin, fell from perfection, but instead to a perfected universe still coming to be.

Such a new reading does not leave human sinfulness out of the picture nor does it even change our definition of it much. It is still very much about an ungratefulness we link with disobedience and "falling short" of the reality God calls us to be and embrace in our loving, our stewardship of life in all of its forms and stages, and our worship of the One Creator God. Sin is still about substituting our own versions of God for the real One based on partial and fragmentary revelations and being "satisfied" with a religion whose focus is too much on the now-dead past while we resist (fail to entrust everything in faith to) the ever-surprising God who wills to make everything definitively new. Sin is about enmeshment in this passing world and its fragmentary vision; it shows itself in resistance to the coming Kingdom (the sovereignty and realm) of God which is already in our midst in a proleptic way and seeks to pervade and transfigure all we are and know. Sin is about a resistance or lack of openness to the qualitatively new and surprising (kainotes), the reality we know as eternal or absolute future; when we embrace or otherwise become enmeshed in that lack of openness we are left only with the world of transience and death. After all, sin and death, in all of their forms and degrees are precisely about a lack of future.

Today's readings from Isaiah and Matthew fit very well in underscoring these dynamics, both those of Advent and the futurity it inaugurates and celebrates, as well as of sin and its resistance to newness and future. Isaiah's language is classic for us. He reminds us that so long as we are disobedient to the Commandments of God we have no future; we will not prosper. I think today we need to hear the term "Commandments" as referring to those imperatives of gratefully loving, stewarding life, and worshiping God which are the keys to any futurity. Obedience is a matter of hearkening to these, that is, being open and attentive to them in all of the ways and places they come to us as we embrace whatever they call us to. Obedience is the responsive behavior of those who are grateful.

The Gospel lection tells a wonderful story of prophetic and messianic gifts of God (symbolized most fully by John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth) given freely to God's People --- only to be met with narrow minded criticism and hardhearted ingratitude. God is trying to do something new, trying to bring creation to fulfillment in a "New Creation" of freedom, holiness, and eternal life and human beings representing God's chosen people are resistant. Now John the Baptist himself had come to wonder if Jesus was really the Messiah John had prepared people for; things were looking bad for both John and Jesus and Jesus did seem to be pretty different than the One John had been proclaiming.

Jesus responded to John's questions by pointing to the things God was doing through him to give the blind and crippled a new and full future --- just as Isaiah had promised. Then Jesus uses the image of children engaged in petty bickering as they play games mimicking weddings and funerals. It is important to note that these are ordinarily the most joyful and poignant celebrations of life, love and the hope of a future grounded in God we know. Similarly funerals are those moments marking the terrible sadness and grief of sin and death in separation from God --- though they too may be transformed into celebrations of an eternal hope and future. Jesus reminds the adults listening to him that --- in something that was deadly serious --- God played them a dirge (called them to serious repentance and conversion) culminating in the prophet John and a wedding hymn in Jesus his Anointed One, but they resisted and rejected both. Instead, they criticized John as a crazy person, and called Jesus a drunkard and glutton. Theological arrogance, religious complacency (lukewarmness) or superiority, outright cynicism or hardheartedness --- whatever the roots of this ingratitude it gave no room at all to a faith (trust) that allowed God to do something new in and with our world.

Because Christmas and the exhaustive incarnation of God is, in some ways, not yet complete; because we look forward to the day when Christ will finally come to full stature (Paul to the Ephesians), both Isaiah and Matthew are urging us to adopt an attitude of gratitude and joyful openness to the God of Newness and the future we know as life in God. It is an attitude that contrasts radically with that of the children playing their games in today's gospel or of those rejecting Jesus and John and the Kingdom they inaugurate. Harold Buetow tells the following story which captures the childlike humility, excitement, gratitude, and openness we are to have in relation to the awesome Christmas drama of New Creation God is authoring right now in our lives and world.

[[Little Jimmie was trying out for a part in the school [Christmas] play. He'd set his heart on being in it though his mother feared he wouldn't be chosen. On the day when the parts were awarded, with some trepidation his mother went to collect him after school. Jimmie rushed up to her, eyes shining with pride and excitement: "Guess what, Mom," he shouted, and said, "I've been chosen to clap and cheer!"]]

I am especially struck by how really involved and aware, how truly attentive to and appreciative of the work occurring right in front of one one must be to "clap and cheer" (or to be raptly silent!) in ways which support and move the drama of God's will forward. Isn't this the attitude of praise and gratitude evident in God's followers all throughout the centuries? Isn't this the attitude merited by an unfinished universe moving mysteriously but inexorably toward the day when its Creator God will be all in all?  And isn't this the attitude of obedient anticipation Advent asks each of us to cultivate?

Story of Jimmie's call is from Harold Buetow's, Walk in the Light of the Lord, A Thought a Day for Advent and Christmastide, Alba House, 2004. (Friday, 2nd Week of Advent, p 40.)

06 December 2016

On the Hiddenness of Eremitical Life

 [[Hi Sister, I wondered if you find the idea of the hiddenness of your vocation difficult. I was especially wondering if there is some part of "remaining hidden" that is particularly challenging to you? Have you chosen to blog in response to this or maybe in spite of this?]]

Really terrific questions! Yes, there is a dimension of eremitical hiddenness that has been difficult for me, namely, it has been challenging to come to a really adequate or more complete understanding of what I am being asked to witness to or how my life proclaims the Gospel if it is hidden in the sense most folks understand the term. When I considered eremitical life originally I thought it was supremely selfish and in one way and another I have been dealing with residual bits of that conviction throughout my own struggle with the vocation's hiddenness. After all, we have texts like Jesus' clear teaching that one ought not put one's light under a bushel basket but instead place it on a lampstand so that all may see (by) it, and of course there is the clear commandment that we love one another as God loves us. Eremitical solitude and hiddenness seem to fly in the face of these and similar central bits of the Gospel Tradition.

Trusting the Light Mediated by Hiddenness:

If you notice the way I amended the text above regarding putting one's light on a lampstand you will see one of the ways I have come to deal with the apparent conflict between the importance of eremitical hiddenness and also the imperative to share with others. You see, I came to see more clearly the basic truth that it is not so much that we see light itself but rather that we see by virtue of the light. In thinking about eremitical hiddenness I came to see there is a difference between putting one's light on a lampstand so that others might see it and putting the light there so that others may see by virtue of it. The second "translation" allowed me to see that a hermit's hiddenness might prevent folks from looking directly at "the light" (to whatever degree this particular life really is a source of light) but that the light of the hermit's life could still (and in fact MUST still) illuminate the world around her and be a source of light to those within in. In many ways eremitical life is the most radical expression of the truth that we must grow less so that God's glory lives more fully in and shines more fully through us or that it must be Christ in us that is the most critical reality we witness to.

What I must trust is that, in ways I am mainly unaware of, the light of Christ DOES shine through me --- especially through the fact that life in eremitical solitude is something which completes and makes me genuinely happy --- and that it is the real purpose or calling of my life, in the main it is the way I truly DO love others. When I write about the redemptive reality which MUST exist in the life of any hermit and the fact that this must come to the hermit in the silence of solitude I am writing about the same thing Merton wrote about when he said that "the first duty of the hermit is to be happy without affectation in (her) solitude".  The whole quote says, [[The . . .hermit has as his first duty, to live happily without affectation in his solitude. He owes this not only to himself but to his community [by extension diocesan hermits would say parish, diocese, or Church] that has gone so far as to give him a chance to live it out. . . . this is the chief obligation of the . . .hermit because, as I said above, it can restore to others their faith in certain latent possibilities of nature and of grace.]] (Emphasis added,  Contemplation in a World of Action, p. 242)

In a world where there is such an emphasis on active ministry (and rightly so) and such a need for concrete acts of love it is simply hard to see that it is the very hiddenness of the hermit that is actually a very significant act of love which witnesses to the grace of God that has redeemed the hermit's life. So often activism is not a reflection of a contemplative or prayerful core; so often it is an expression of insecurity, the need to achieve for one's own sake more than for the sake of the other. So often active ministry is undertaken in an approach that is more symptomatic than systemic --- it deals with symptoms more than the underlying disease (though the best priests, religious, and laity I know manage an active ministry aimed at the core problem as well and even primarily.) The hermit serves to remind us all that before we reach out to others we must be able to point to God's love and redemption with the wholeness and capacity to remain in solitude, secure even in our hiddenness.

Inner Work and the Witness of the Hermit:

Recently I wrote about inner work I was undertaking with my director. At one point we had a discussion of why this work was personally imperative for me and how it was that it was consonant with my vocation --- especially because the work meant extensive contact with my director and some significant temporary changes in my Rule. I explained that my own sense was that since the Church had consecrated and commissioned me to live this vocation in her name she had also commissioned me to undertake anything essential to living an abundant life in union with God more and more fully. That meant, I explained, that not only had the Church given me permission to do this work but that insofar as it was essential to my own healing and growth it was something that was an essential part of this vocation the Church had publicly called me to.

Also, despite the intense interaction with my director --- an interaction in which the Grace of God was constantly mediated --- it was done mainly in solitude and would enhance my solitude --- especially since solitude differs so radically from isolation and the brokenness associated with isolation. All of this was done so that I could truly be a hermit living out the primary obligation of the eremitical life as Merton had defined it and as I had come to know it to be. All of it witnessed to what the hermit knows most acutely in solitude, namely that there are incredible, awesome latent possibilities or potentialities marking the place within us where nature and grace meet --- where, in fact, God bears and is allowed to bear witness within us. It can be essential for the health of every minister to be reminded of these deep potentialities and the terrible hunger every person may know to have them realized in relation to God. Thus, hermits serve the Church --- sometimes by remaining completely hidden and sometimes by maintaining an essential hiddenness despite a very limited active ministry --- as I do in my parish and with this blog.

On Blogging:

Thus, the answer to your second question is that blogging is not something I have chosen to do in spite of a call to eremitical hiddenness but rather, something I have chosen to do because of it. I am convinced there needs to be a way of sharing the incredibly positive reasons hermits choose the silence of solitude, why their hiddenness is an antidote to the epidemic need for notoriety so prevalent today, and why solitude is not necessarily a selfish choice but can be one which is made for the sake of others. My own choice to blog also has to do with the need for reflection on hermits' lived experience of canon 603 and the way it is implemented and needs to be implemented for the good of the Church and solitary hermits. Eremitical life per se is so little understood in chanceries throughout the world and so often understood in terms of "being a lone person" or isolation rather than eremitical solitude by so many others. We have to allow the love which drives this vocation to illumine the world --- both in its hiddenness and in the limited access we give others to that hiddenness.

What I have come to understand over the past decade especially is that the vocation is not selfish and that, paradoxically, hiddenness in the eremitical life is a dimension of one's love for God, for oneself, and for others because it reveals the God who loves us simply for ourselves; similarly it reminds us that allowing this to really be the foundation of our lives is the one thing necessary and the deepest potential of our humanity.

04 December 2016

Canon 603: Lauras vs Communities of Hermits

[[Sister, could individuals who wish to be religious be professed under Canon 603 and then come together in a laura? What is the difference between a community or religious institute and a laura? I ask because of a post I read recently here on using Canon 603 as a stopgap means to profession. (I don't mean it was a recent post, just that I read it recently.)]]

That's a good question. Canon 603 allows for lauras but of it does not do so explicitly; instead it does so implicitly within the context of support for the solitary eremitical vocation and CICLSAL has approved the idea of lauras. Commentators too have opined on the appropriateness of lauras so long as they do not rise to the level of a community. This means that a laura exists to support solitary hermits in their solitude, and that it does not change the thrust or the requirements of the Canon in other specifications. (The name, laura, is instructive here because as I noted before, it comes from the Latin word for paths which link individual hermitages with one another, and with the chapel and common areas. The emphasis remains on the solitary hermitages and the life within them.) So, how does this differ from a religious institute?

First, community is secondary rather than primary; it is meant to support solitary eremitical life not create communities of cenobites with significant solitude. While Mass may be celebrated daily, and while some of the Divine offices may be chanted or prayed in common, and while during a week a few meals may be taken in common, recreation shared, etc, the emphasis and primary reason for the laura is the solitary vocation. This means too that a hermit continues to be responsible for writing her own Rule (more about this below) --- even though some adaptations may be made so the Laura functions well and responsibility to one another is honored. (This is important not only for the formation of the individual hermit, but also should the laura cease to be sustainable at some point. More about this in a moment.)

Secondly, formation and profession would need in large part to be done apart from the laura itself. That is, one is formed as a hermit in a process which is largely independent and individual. Ongoing formation is provided for in the hermit's Rule. The laura would not responsible for determining what is necessary or for providing for this. Of course, members of the laura might serve other hermits as mentors or elders in the mode of the desert Fathers and Mothers, but such service will not rise to the level of formation director, etc as one would find in a community. Individual hermits might require some degree of socialization to the Laura life specifically, but generally their formation has a different purpose. They are to be formed as solitary diocesan hermits, that is as diocesan hermits whose vocations may take them outside the Laura for any number of reasons and at any time. Formation of new hermits or candidates is not the responsibility of laura members. Instead the laura is open to already professed diocesan hermits. Meanwhile, profession is made in the hands of the diocesan Bishop, not in the hands of community superiors.

Thus, if the laura should be disbanded at some point in the future or a hermit decide to leave (for instance because hermits leave, die, require full time care, decide to live a more completely solitary life with their parish as main community, etc) a remaining hermit (who is not a cenobite) cannot transfer to an eremitical community (like the Camaldolese or Carthusians); instead she remains professed as a diocesan hermit and responsible for her own vocation within the diocese. She must therefore be prepared to live as a solitary hermit like most others --- without the advantages afforded by a Laura and with a sensitivity to her place within the parish community and larger (diocesan and universal) church community.

Thirdly, a solitary hermit must be or have been able to write her own rule of life based on her lived experience and wisdom. I have read an argument that allows for a diocese to write guidelines and the Laura (meaning one person who serves as superior here) to write the Rule. While this might be canonically acceptable (I believe the canon indicates writing the Rule is the hermit's responsibility) it lacks real wisdom and prudence, I think, and it confuses the laura with a religious community. This arrangement cuts away one of the most significant elements assisting the hermit and the diocese in discerning the soundness of the eremitical vocation in front of them; more, it robs the hermit of one of the most integrative and growthful experiences she will have during her first years living this vocation in a truly conscious way. (Please see articles on writing the Rule for more on this topic).

Fourthly, just as the hermit writes her own Rule she must be able to keep her own accounts, determine her own work or limited ministry, and, for the most part (except for common prayer and meals), establish her own horarium (schedule) and choose her own delegate. Again, this is part of recognizing her vocation as a solitary hermit who remains a solitary hermit even should a laura dissolve be suppressed, or otherwise fail. Lauras can accommodate all of these requirements but life in community cannot. Poverty in community requires a common purse and a common interpretation and praxis of poverty; this is not true of solitary eremitical life. Similarly, life in a community requires common leadership --- a single superior; a delegate from outside the community is not workable. In a laura, while one person may serve as leader of the laura, each hermit's vocation is best served by their own delegate.

Fifthly, in a laura, except for worship where each hermit may wear a similar prayer garment, individual hermits wear the garb they have chosen and their bishop has approved according to their Rule of life. Something similar holds regarding access to internet, use of media and computers and other tools a hermit may need. Each of these and other individual needs will be worked out in the hermit's own Rule with the assistance of her delegate and/or spiritual director.