26 July 2010

Whence the Name, Stillsong Hermitage??

Dear Sister O'Neal, the name of your hermitage sounds kind of new age or something. Why didn't your diocese pick something more religious and Catholic sounding?

Hi there!
Just to be clear, the name of my hermitage is something I decided on, not a decision of my diocese, so it is a personally significant name and one I (through the grace of God, I think) am wholly responsible for. Hermits generally name their hermitages. Perhaps it will help if I explain its origin and you can decide then if you think it is "new age" rather than profoundly Christian. I would ask you also read the heading at the top of this blog because it also helps explain the name.

In theology there is the notion that human beings are "word events" or "language events". This is a piece of understanding the communal nature of every human being, and especially of seeing the dialogical nature of our existence. We are not isolated monads, but instead are created and shaped by our interactions with every person we meet, with the larger world, and of course, with God. But most fundamentally we are shaped by the words addressed to us and by the ways in which the words we ourselves are are heard and received by others. In our earliest moment or before, we are given a Name which allows us to be called or addressed personally, and which gives us a place to stand in human society. We grow or fail to grow depending upon the ways we are addressed, and we grow in our capacity to respond to others' words (and to our own name) similarly. On the most profound level we are constituted by our dialogue with God. More, we are constituted AS a dialogue, not only with others, but with God whose very address constitutes an ongoing living reality within us. In other words, more and more as we mature, we become incarnate words, greater and greater articulations of that unique name God calls in the depths of our souls.

But of course, things do not always go as they should and sometimes life shapes us into something less articulate than this, something distorted and even defined by pain and woundedness --- something far less than the full expression of abundant life we are called to be. And in my own life there was a period where, when I reflected on who I was in terms of my identity as a language or word event I came to describe myself more as a cry or scream of anguish than anything really articulate. (Note that a scream neither communicates much nor is capable of responding to another's word of address; it is relatively inarticulate and unresponsive and, while effective in signalling great pain in the short term, in time it merely pushes people --- and genuine assistance --- away.) And then, through a lot of personal work, spiritual direction, and the grace of God --- part of which is a call to eremitical life --- I achieved a degree of healing which changed all that. In time I became (or came to see myself) not simply as an articulate language event (a word), but a song, a contemporary Magnificat or Te Deum --- if you will allow the metaphors.

When it became time to name the hermitage I chose to combine a word which signified peace, silence, solitude (and especially as these all come together in the hesychastic "silence of solitude") along with a word which reflected the joy, healing, and growth as language event this hermitage helped occasion and represented. I considered adding things like "of the cross" or "of the Incarnation," but in the end I chose simply Stillsong. It seems profoundly incarnational (and therefore also Marian) to me.

This last week on retreat I had an experience (or series of experiences) which reaffirmed the wisdom and deep appropriateness of this choice, an experience where it seemed my whole being was singing and which also may have represented the recovery of a part of myself which had, through trauma, been silenced. So, new age? No. Profoundly Christian? Absolutely.