05 July 2013

Personal Questions

[[Dear Sister Laurel, in your own eremitical life which piece of your spiritual practice is most important? Is it contemplative prayer, Office, Lectio Divina, writing, or something else? When you look back at the past years since solemn profession what has been most formative for you? How about before those years? Have you changed much as a hermit? (I know that last question might be a little bit too personal but I am interested. Feel free not to answer this of course.)]]

Thanks for the questions. There are three elements of my daily life which are difficult to tease apart completely and so, difficult to weight above or below the others. Those three are Scripture, quiet prayer, and writing. You see, although I spend discrete periods of time in lectio as well as journaling and other writing, of its very nature lectio segues into quiet prayer and writing and then back again into quiet prayer and back yet again to Scripture/lectio, etc. In other words, my lectio is incomplete or partial without the time I spend writing, my writing is incomplete without quiet prayer, and quiet prayer tends to need to spill over into writing and other things just as it drives me back into Scripture. (Note that all of these presuppose and call for the silence of solitude so I am not speaking of it as a discrete element --- though I well could.) Scripture is a living reality for me, a genuine ("Real") presence of God which touches and both calls for and nourishes many other things, but especially writing and quiet prayer.

Bearing that in mind I guess I would have to say it is my own silent grappling with Scripture (which means listening to it in silence, reflecting on it, praying it, writing about it and even working to proclaim it) that has been the most formative experience since perpetual profession (2007). There I hear the Word of God and it truly challenges, heals and transforms me. Quiet prayer is often wonderful (actually it is mostly wonderful --- not in terms of extraordinary experiences but in terms of simply sitting quietly with and in God) but I am also aware at those times how very much Scripture informs those periods. The same is true of writing; I learn a great deal while writing but I am also aware that I can do none of it without the constant impetus and support of Scripture. I am not sure what element I would name for the years prior to perpetual profession. The same three elements were present but there was a good deal less writing and less Scripture as well. There was more theology per se (academic theology) and quiet prayer was very important so perhaps I would name that.

Have I changed much as a hermit? My first impulse is to say, "I sure hope so!" but really my answer is yes. Quite literally I have grown into this vocation in a way I could not have imagined before experiencing it. Sometimes we go about doing all the things we are committed to doing, and in that way we are the persons we are meant to be. Someone who teaches is a teacher, but it is possible to say "I am a teacher" without that affirmation ever touching the core of who one is. Someone who lives the life of a hermit is a hermit but it is possible to do this without ever "achieving" the heart of a hermit. Someone who lives the life of a religious is a religious, but similarly, it is possible to do this without having one's heart shaped into that of a religious. If one is very fortunate one will find that through the grace of God one has had one's own heart shaped and molded into the heart of a hermit and/or the heart of a religious, and not merely that this is something one is moving towards or deeply desiring. I am not really sure how to better describe what I mean here.

Concretely it means I am happier than I have ever been, and freer as well. It means I love more and better, that I am better able to be silent and lay aside my own agendas or needs in order to truly listen. (It means I have fewer agendas for that matter!) It means that I am aware of the energy of grace moving through me, that even when I am ill or tired I am secure in who I am in Christ and especially in terms of canon 603 and religious life. It means I feel a responsibility for this vocation, not merely for my own call, and that, as a result, my writing reflects both greater depth, heart, and a proprietariness which is not defensive but is instead rooted in identity, intimate understanding, and personal security in that. Several years ago I put the matter of vocation to a friend for whom I was trying to describe the difference between a presentation on the eremitical life I had done pre-profession and one I had done post-profession this way, "I have come to "own" this vocation" --- not in the sense that it is a possession I can do with what I will, but in the sense that I am living it, not merely desiring to live it or hoping and trying to live it. Whatever I do I do as a hermit. Saying that would not have been possible in my earlier years of living as a hermit. It would not have even been possible on the day of perpetual profession.

While this of course means I must still live my Rule (one must be nourished to live this life and the daily structures, discipline, and elements of canon 603 are essential to that and to allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to and move us), it also means that they are a living reality and an extension of my truest self now much more than they are an externally imposed framework which I try to keep. This is true even though my Rule was originally written with a focus on a structure which truly fed me, not simply on filling it with things to do or not do. When I answered your question about which element was most important, that became even clearer to me. Once I would have not been able to describe these as being so integrally intertwined that they were difficult to tease apart. They would all have been more or less important, but they would not have nourished each other and called for each other as they do now. I think this reflects a greater wholeness and integrity within me and that is good to see. So, yes I have changed and grown as a hermit and in my eremitical life. I have grown in a way which makes these two things one.

I hope this is helpful and more or less what you were actually asking. If not get back to me and I will try again.