17 September 2009

Followup Question on Non-Hermits Writing Eremitical Rules

[[Dear Sister, Thank you for your response to my question on writing a Rule of Life. What about a person who proposes to live as a hermit and needs a Rule to do that? Can't a person who has not lived as a hermit write such a Rule? By the way, wasn't the charge of fraud and hypocrisy in your response pretty harsh?]]

Let's consider the person who has determined s/he wants to be a hermit and is beginning to live the life in some conscious way. Wouldn't it help to write a plan of life to get one started? Could it be just a working-paper kind of thing? Yes, and so long as we are clear that these are NOT the Rules of Life called for by Canon 603, but merely ideas to get the new hermit-candidate started, such a practice would be fine. (I don't entirely see the need for a formal plan of life to begin living a solitary eremitical life. Some guidelines are important though (especially regarding TV or other distractions and entertainments) and over time, and with some judicious experimentation, writing one would be advantageous.)

In such a case, as I have noted in other posts, a person would be well served to write about what practices in particular keep them healthy and centered in their spiritual life in the present. But note well, they will not be writing about being a hermit at this point --- merely what unofficial Rule of Life they have already been keeping in terms of personal prayer, liturgy, work, study, lectio, ministry, spiritual direction, journaling, etc.

As the person begins to live in solitude this "Rule" will change. The hermit candidate (for, assuming she has made the transition from isolated person, she is now a hermit living in solitude, though still very much a novice!) will begin to reflect on the life God is calling her to live, what values or elements in particular that life reflects, how these are best embodied in her daily routine and circumstances and the like. The hermit will begin to read more and study about eremitism, the vows, the history of monasticism, various rules written by hermits through the ages, forms of prayer, spirituality, and a lot else as well.

She will begin to think about her relationship to the local church and parish, how her life does and can serve them as an eremite, and how they do and will support her in her vocation. She will deal with problems in prayer, difficulties with silence, solitude (and the silence OF solitude), finances, work, maintaining one's balance (or centeredness), contact with others, hospitality, ministry besides prayer, the ingrained habits and thought which constitute "the world" in her own life etc, and with the help of God and her director she will find ways to resolve all these things. As she does her Rule will become clearer in her own mind and heart and over a period of months or more she will approach the time when she really needs to work out a cogent and coherent vision of her life. It will be time to write a draft of a Rule of Life which might one day serve as part of the basis of her vow of obedience for Canon 603.

What I have tried to make clear is that there is a difference between a non-hermit writing a Rule she THINKS a hermit should live by, and a hermit writing one a hermit can and will live by (and perhaps even will publicly VOW to live by). The first one is an exercise in fantasy and is simply not rooted in reality. No good spirituality is based in fantasy rather than reality! The second is a matter of attentiveness to what is real. It takes cognizance of ideals, etc, but does so with an eye to real life. It cares deeply for eremitical life per se, but it does so not only with an eye to the tradition she wishes to represent officially but with an eye to the needs of the contemporary church and world as well. Obviously such a thing can only come in time from WITHIN the eremitical tradition/life.

So yes, begin with a draft "rule" of what is essential to your prayer and spirituality outside the eremitical life, and when you have begun to live in solitude, allow that to shape your sense of what is NOW essential, what no longer works, etc. In time you will be able to write an EREMITICAL rule which serves both your own eremitical life, and the contemporary church as well. It will be capable of speaking to individuals in situations of isolation --- unnatural solitudes, as Merton put the matter --- who are looking for a way to redeem their aloneness and isolation. It will also be able to speak to other hermits who recognize the lived-wisdom of it. And it will be able to assist the Church in evaluating Rules of Life submitted to them by candidates for profession under Canon 603 as well.

As you can tell, I don't believe a person who has not lived as a hermit can write a Rule which can effectively inspire, guide, or govern their own or anyone else's eremitical life. For that reason, except in the sense I defined above --- a tentative working-draft kind of Rule --- (or perhaps in the case of some Saint or spiritual genius!) no, a non hermit cannot write a Rule which is deeply wise in the lived experience of eremitical life. As for my conclusion that a Rule based on imagination and complete fiction is both fraudulent and hypocritical being a bit harsh, perhaps it is, but I would say it is also justifiably so. That is so because I believe the notion of writing a Rule AS THOUGH one is a hermit when one is not can be both essentially dishonest, and seriously lacking in humility. This is especially true if one were to submit such a Rule to one's diocese as though it were the basis of lived experience for approval and discernment of the vocation in front of them! So yes, the description (which was of the practice in general, not of any one person's) was harsh, but I think it was reasonable too. My apologies if I offended.