06 October 2010

Validation vs Redemption of Isolation: Questions

[[Dear Sister O'Neal, in your own vocation did you move from the idea of "validation" of isolation to the redemption of that in solitude? Since you say that dioceses should be clear the transition should be negotiated before admittance to temporary profession, is it the case that this happens "neatly and cleanly"? What I mean by this is is one looking for validation of isolation one day and looking at its redemption the next? Is one dealing with isolation one day and solitude as you have defined it the next? ]]

Great questions! And important ones. The answer to the first question is yes, in part. I was looking for a way to validate my own isolation or aloneness and so in part my motives with regard to Canon 603 were unworthy. However (and thanks be to God!), in part there was something more at work than this for, as I have explained before, I was looking for a context in which all the parts of my life could make sense and be truly fruitful (an element of "making sense" in my mind). This need or yearning was deeper than the more egocentric motives. What I was seeking to contextualize was all of the gifts, but also all of the weaknesses, deficiencies, and even brokennesses of my life. This, I think, is a yearning for transcendence and meaning, a yearning for God though I would not have identified it so easily that way 27 years ago and more.

Thus, in my own journey to eremitical profession it took some time to even recognize, much less admit, the merely selfish motives and distinguish them from those which were of God and reflected his will. It took longer to tease them apart in order to see them clearly. Thus too, for many years elements of both co-existed within me and struggled for dominance. It was only through spiritual direction and the personal work associated with that that the truly unworthy motives were mainly dealt with and their roots healed, while the more authentic motives were strengthened and purified allowing it to become clear that I was pursuing this vocation because, unusual and paradoxical as it was, it was the way to living and loving fully for me as a whole human being. In other words, I was called by God to this.

But while there was significant ambiguity there was also a point when a clear shift took place. It didn't happen in a single day and instead was more like lots of small bits and pieces coming together over time (years) so that in the space of a few weeks (or maybe less) everything had changed for me. (This may be what some refer to as a "paradigm shift." I suppose this could have happened in a moment but really it took some time for me to realize not only that a remarkable shift had occurred but to understand what the shift was. In a way, I also had to let go of an habitual way of seeing as a piece of the transition; that letting go took time.) So, no, the transition is not neat and clean as you put it if by that you mean black and white, but it is clear and describable. I realized that I had somehow moved or been moved to a place where isolation no longer defined me and instead that I was right smack in the heart of things and being asked to live from this reality more and more every day. In Merton's language the door to solitude had been opened to me. In my own experience I knew I was a hermit in some essential way whether or not I would ever be professed according to Canon 603. Illness was still an ever-present reality but at the same time it was no longer the defining reality of my life. Hardly anything had changed and yet, nothing at all was the same.

Still, illness which has crippled and isolated in so many ways retains power and letting go of behaviors associated with its domination takes time (and usually assistance!). Learning what is truly possible in this new context where the values of "the world" ought to hold no sway, as well as coming to terms with the ways one's limitations still preclude some things is part of this as well. Even so, this struggle had for me the quality of a kind of "mopping up" after the main battle has been won or the firestorm been put out. It was really as though the outcome was no longer in question. As with the crucifixion, the power of death was definitively broken but death still had some power until God became all in all. The "mopping up" I experience(d) is a piece of moving to a new reality, to taking hold of it with both hands (or letting it take hold of me) and living from it with all one's heart.

As a kind of postscript to my answer, it is the growth of this last piece which I associate with the silence of solitude more than with simply external silence or physical solitude. One finds that God and oneself are a covenant reality (really one's very Self is such a relationship with God) and one grows to embody it more and more as a hermit. There are still bits of unworthy motives, things needing healing, etc, but essentially one KNOWS (in the intimate Biblical sense) that this covenant relationship lived out in the eremitical silence of solitude is not merely a vocational path but the essence of one's personhood. In other words, the silence of solitude is what is created by God and the hermit together in an eremitical environment of silence AND solitude. It is both present reality, environment, and goal of the eremitical life.

Thus, the growth never stops. One has had the door of solitude (union) opened to one and stepped through. What lies before one is an unexplored "country", a largely unexplored love really which is infinite in scope. Everything which once isolated now is capable of mediating meaning and God's love. It may in fact also marginalize, but it is the marginalization of the prophet, or of anyone who must stand back from a reality in order to speak God's Word to and into it. For this reason it is a marginalization which paradoxically also places one in the heart of reality --- especially the Church and the world which she penetrates.

I hope I have actually answered your questions. If not, or if my response raises more questions please get back to me --- as always.