29 September 2008

Eremitical Horarium : Followup Questions

[[Hi, Sister Laurel! I read your post on your daily schedule from about a month ago. One thing struck me as very funny, probably because I am not a hermit and not called to solitude. You said you were taking one week per month of strict solitude or reclusion, but isn't that what you are already about? Isn't there enough solitude in your life already, or aren't you already living a pretty strict solitude? It seems like it to me! I don't get it I guess.]] (Questions are culled from email and put together en bloc. Pardon my redaction!)

Good questions. First, yes eremitical life is already about solitude and a hermit is committed to living a life of prayer and penance in silence and "stricter separation" from the world. As I noted in my earlier post, yes I do that already. However, my life in the hermitage is punctuated by several different activities which move away from strict PHYSICAL solitude. The first is some spiritual direction. The second is orchestra and quartets (each occurs once a week and is written into my Rule). Further, I attend daily Mass most mornings, act as sacristan on many of those mornings, and am occasionally responsible for other things in the parish. Now all of these things are important in various ways for feeding me and supporting my life, and they flow FROM my solitude, but they also tend to draw me away from strict anachoresis (withdrawal). What I must be sure of is that they continue to flow FROM solitude and lead back to it.

I referred to physical solitude so let me first be clear that solitude can be either physical (involving actual physical withdrawal and time alone with God) or inner solitude, a matter of the heart. Ideally they go together and should physical solitude be compromised to any extent solitude of the heart should remain. (This explains why a hermit can be involved in a parish to a limited degree without negatively affecting their own inner solitude or being a breech of the eremitical life.) For the hermit who is not usually a recluse it is often solitude of the heart which predominates. Evenso, it cannot exist without significant degrees of physical solitude (usually much greater degrees than are needed by the non-hermit, and more than that required by the semi-eremite, I think).

A second element which is related to solitude per se is prayer, in particular liturgical and contem-plative prayer. Every hermit builds significant periods of both liturgical and contemplative prayer into their days, and must be faithful to these practices if they are to remain healthy. I have done that and will continue to do so; evenso, contemplative prayer per se is not quite the same as a contemplative life. Even what is sometimes called "contemplative living" which focuses on attention to the present moment and a life lived in this way is not necessarily the same thing as a contemplative life (or the life of a contemplative!). What I came away from retreat convinced of was not only my need for regular extended periods of strict solitude, but that I am essentially called to a contemplative life, not just contemplative prayer and not even simply to what is popularly called contemplative living. (I am not sure how to make clear the distinction between these two things, but there is no doubt in my mind they do differ.) At bottom it is a way of putting God first (not the only way, but A way), of loving him and letting him love me.

So, don't I already live a fairly strict solitude? Yes, in the sense that I live a far greater level or degree of physical solitude than most people this is true, however like all hermits, my own call to solitude falls along a continuum. In order to be faithful to the activities I am called upon to undertake whether in the parish, or in my own writing, direction, etc, I also need periods of MORE concentrated time alone with God. For this reason, at present, one week a month is a more strictly reclusive time for me. It will allow more contemplative prayer and I will allow some chores and activities to wait until later for the time being (I may ask parishioners to take care of one or two I can't put off); finally, except for once or twice, I will celebrate Communion in the hermitage rather than attending the daily parish Mass.

In doing this, I am seeking to respond to a deeply felt need and call I experienced at retreat especially, and have sensed other times as well. God has called me to love him and to let myself be loved by him in this way generally, and so more concentrated time alone with him is a natural thing --- not a corrective for something I am not already doing. I think it is important to understand this. For the present this means one week a month. It could well require two, so time will tell. One of the things a hermit has to be open to is being called to greater and greater degrees of reclusion. At the same time she may be called to various activities on behalf of others as contemplative prayer spills over and outward. Besides attending to the call I have heard my secondary goals are severalfold: 1) make sure that inner solitude of the heart is adequately supported by physical solitude, 2) strengthen the solitary context for the things I do in the parish; in the end I think that these activities will benefit from this time, not that I will end up cutting them out. They will, as they should do, clearly flow from my solitude, and this solitude should help me serve better. 3) translate into the life of a solitary contemplative, not simply a solitary life where there is contemplative prayer or even one as noted above of what is commonly referred to as "contemplative living"

I hope this helps answer your question. As always, if it does not, or if something more needs clarification, please get back to me.