11 March 2014

Naked Theology Blog and Modern Day Anchorites

[[Hi Sister, I read a piece from a blog called Naked Theology. It was about "modern day anchoresses" and featured you. The author's conclusion about you and your life was, "I find Sister Laurel interesting, but also interesting is the fact while she believes that she lives a life of a hermit, she is on the internet. I guess things have changed." The link is Naked Theology and Modern Day Anchoresses. I think the author doubts you are a hermit. Could you comment?]]

It's an interesting piece from several years ago. Thanks for sending it on to me.

As noted, anchorites ordinarily had a window on the world which allowed them to interact in significant ways with folks in their village, etc. They also often had a window on the altar of their church which allowed them to participate in Mas in the same way as the rest of their community. They were significant, often honored persons in their towns and served their neighbors in important ways -- whether as spiritual guides, counselors, and sometimes too, preachers of the Gospel. Because of this there were were guidelines on managing one's time and activities at the window and in the anchorhold and the same is true in my own life. Today our human village is a bit more global than was once the case while our lives in suburbia or in cities are actually more isolated from our neighbors than is healthy. My computer is a window on the church and world around me and the church and world I live my life in God for. Times have changed, but the hermit life is not really that different --- even with computers.  But of course real limits and care are required with this window --- as has always been the case.

Still, few hermits are actual recluses nor were they traditionally. Most of the Desert Fathers and Mothers seem not to have been. (It is a minority who went into the deep desert fleeing all contact. Most lived on the margins of inhabited areas and were sought out for various reasons.) Anchorites in the Middle ages were certainly not. Oftentimes religious figures (St Francis, St Peter Damian, et al) lived for a period in strict physical solitude and then spent time evangelizing (or in other ways of serving the church in a more active ministry), then returned again to strict solitude for a time, etc. We each find different ways to embody this basic spiritual rhythm of contemplation/ministry or prayer/fasting/almsgiving. This is part of the freedom and the flexibility of eremitical life so long as the essential element of "the silence of solitude" is lived with integrity.

Remember that physical solitude is only one dimension of eremitical life --- though it is certainly indispensable and a defining dimension. The same is true of physical silence.  The "silence of solitude" which is richer than mere physical silence and solitude (and a central element in canon 603), has more to do with communion with God and the heart which is formed by that than with isolation; it is a complex reality, and for that reason, as simple as a hermit's life is, it is also more complex than stereotypes allow. While I don't think this is true of the author of the blog mentioned above, too often folks hold stereotypes of anchorites and hermits when in fact, the picture was (and still is) more diverse or nuanced than they realize.