23 April 2013

Followup on Hermits and Home Visits (Critical questions)

[[Dear Sr,  How can it be edifying to your family if they are not Catholic if you are unfaithful to your Rule during home visits?? Its not that I think you shouldn't see your  family sometimes but I don't think the Carthusians get to go home for visits. They are the real deal. Can't your family visit you where you are?. . . I guess I wonder why do hermits need to go away to visit family and friends anyway?. . . You are vowed to a life of constant prayer and penance like the Carthusians.. . . And what about stricter separation from the world??]]

Wow, where to begin? I am not going to answer every specific question but I will give you enough to draw sound conclusions about where I stand on these things. Thus, I guess the place to start is with a post I put up about hermits and "vacations." That can be found here: Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Hermits and Vacations but what is most important about it is probably a text taken from Cassian's Conferences which demonstrates both that there is nothing new in your own objections nor anything novel in my own need for (or practice of) time away from the hermitage and its stricter rhythms. As I cited there:

[[IT is said that the blessed John, while he was gently stroking a partridge with his hands suddenly saw a philosopher approaching him in the garb of a hunter, who was astonished that a man of so great fame and reputation should demean himself to such paltry and trivial amusements, and said: "Can you be that John, whose great and famous reputation attracted me also with the greatest desire for your acquaintance? Why then do you occupy yourself with such poor amusements?" To whom the blessed John replied: "What is it," said he, "that you are carrying in your hand?" The other replied: "a bow. "And why," said he, "do you not always carry it everywhere bent?" To whom the other replied: "It would not do, for the force of its stiffness would be relaxed by its being continually bent, and it would be lessened and destroyed, and when the time came for it to send stouter arrows after some beast, its stiffness would be lost by the excessive and continuous strain. and it would be impossible for the more powerful bolts to be shot." "And, my lad," said the blessed John, "do not let this slight and short relaxation of my mind disturb you, as unless it sometimes relieved and relaxed the rigour of its purpose by some recreation, the spirit would lose its spring owing to the unbroken strain, and would be unable when need required, implicitly to follow what was right."]] John Cassian, Conferences. Conference of Abbot Abraham, chapter XXI, but cf. chapter XX of the same book which is also very helpful in this matter.

While it is true that John was speaking of a very brief time away from his eremitical discipline (if, indeed, this was even considered time away; he seems simply to have been taking a quiet moment like I might with my cat) he raises the question of a hermit determining what is necessary for her to remain in good shape in terms of this very discipline. (The story would be equally effective if used to illustrate the principle of judging from exterior appearances.) Remember that eremitical life is intense and focused on growing in authentic holiness. Much of a day is spent in prayer and penance and that often means in doing battle with the demons of one's own heart. In other words personal growth work is demanding and tiring. One cannot keep focused on it without these kinds of breaks or changes in one's focus. Beyond this, eremitical life demands hospitality and often this ministry to others takes a form in which they are loved as they need to be loved. In my own life this ordinarily takes the form of spiritual direction. This too is intense --- though it is usually as nourishing as it is challenging. Still, every truly spiritual life demands what is often called "holy leisure"  or it really will cease to be capable of perceiving or responding adequately to its source.

After all, we are each called to discern what the Holy Spirit calls us to in changing circumstances and fresh situations. A Rule is immensely helpful in this,  but in my opinion, it really cannot spell everything out. Instead it often serves a person more like a banister on a stairway ---  helpful when the climb gets tiring or too steep, protecting us and keeping us from stepping off the treads or falling, and giving us something to hold onto as we move forward in the darkness of night, but it is not the stairway itself.  I do continue to live my Rule, or more accurately maybe, the eremitical life it defines on home visits or on visits with friends but the usual horarium is suspended.

What is Edifying to my Family and Friends?

To be very blunt, I don't think it would be at all "edifying" or upbuilding for members of my family to see me as a self-righteous prig who was incapable of loving, taking delight in them and time with them, or who is prevented from being able to be truly being present to them on a home visit. (Better one forego any visits than play the hermit during one.) For that matter I don't think my delegate, my pastor, other parishioners, the Vicar for Religious or my Bishop would find that particularly edifying either. I'm pretty sure God wouldn't care much for that arrangement! In a word, I find it offensive and pretentious. What you seem to me to be missing is that a home visit doesn't mean simply blowing off one's vocation or one's commitment to it. It means living it in different ways so the usual framework (banister or trellis) doesn't get in the way of those who want some significant share in the person WITH the vocation. In some ways I see my more usual schedule and eremitical praxis as preparing me for and being tested for its soundness by these moments, not preventing them.

Also, it is here the distinction between playing a role as a hermit and living an eremitical life becomes sharpest and most important. It is in these moments that I (and others) see most clearly the hermit I have become --- not because I do a lot of stereotypically "hermit things" or keep a detailed hermit schedule, but because at these times when the banister is removed  I live these days with the heart of a hermit for whom communion with God is an everyday reality and the silence of solitude brings something new and unexpected to my family and friends as well -- someone joyful, more whole and more loving, someone they could not have experienced in this way so clearly apart from her life as a hermit. To use another image, when a plant is given a trellis to help it grow straight and strong, removing the trellis --- at least temporarily --- can show us how strong the plant is becoming. More, it can subject the plant to new and necessary stresses and pressures which allow it to grow even stronger and more independent. Plants need this time just as they need the trellis. But most importantly these times can show us who the hermit really is and allow us each and all to take delight in one another and who God has made us.

I think it is THIS that will be edifying and even inspiring to my family (and friends) and this which will speak powerfully to them about the God I want them to know as I know him. (I accept that they know him in their own ways as well, by the way). I hope this makes some sense to you. You see, I am not trying to sell my family on eremitical life or even on the Catholic faith (though I would love for them to discover it as a way to Christ and abundant life for themselves); I want them to know the God who makes all things new and heals us of all brokenness and inhumanity. The only way that happens is by knowing the person I become in light of that God. THAT is what will be really edifying to them or to anyone.

On Carthusians, Camaldolese, and Stricter Separation from the World:

Carthusians are not the only species of the genus "hermit" to exist and I am not a Carthusian. I am Camaldolese in my spirituality and for that reason my life reflects (and I hope will do so more and more) the threefold good of Camaldolese life: solitude, community, and evangelization or martyrdom (witness). Each of these is a dimension of what is sometimes called "The Privilege of Love." All hermits who live the silence of solitude on a daily basis are the "real deal" and I would suggest that is something you need to get your mind and heart around despite your preferences for the form of eremitical life lived by the Carthusians.

Still, let me remind you, Carthusians, who are bound by cloister in ways diocesan hermits are not, have guest houses as part of their monastery and families may come there to stay to see their son/daughter or brother/sister (etc) 2 days per year. I don't have that kind of  accommodations available. Neither, unfortunately, do I see my family that often (though it would be entirely permitted). The real point however is that home visits or visits by one's family are allowed and universally seen as an important part of healthy eremitical life; they are important for the family as well. As noted above, hermitage life is not one of  "peace and quiet"  if by that one means a life where one simply kicks back and does nothing or is completely taken up with rest and recreational activities (again in the common sense of those terms).

Finally, regarding stricter separation from the world I would ask that you check the labels both below and to the right. I have written a good bit about this in the past and I am not going to repeat it here. The posts you are asking about also touched on this. I will point out that when I suggest a hermit (or anyone else) can structure home visits in a way which is best and most lifegiving for everyone that can be considered a form of "stricter separation" --- especially when "world" is seen in terms of that which is destructive, resistant to life and truth, etc. It is not its usual meaning but it comports with this nonetheless.