09 December 2014

Eremitical Life as Prophetic: Risking being Fools for Christ

[[Hi Sister, in your post on the hermit life as prophetic you said that the picture of the Carthusian hermit would be absurd if either God did not exist or if God were not a "constitutive part" of our very being but I wasn't sure I got what you were saying. Could you explain some more? Also I wondered if part of being prophetic is being "countercultural"? Does it mean risking being thought of as "absurd" or a "fool for Christ"? Are people we think of as fools for Christ prophetic?]]

When I made that parenthetical comment in Hermit Life as Prophetic, what I was thinking was this was a terrific picture symbolizing the heart of the hermit life. The hermit is praying at a naked prayer desk. He is not reading, studying, relaxing (all ways of justifying solitude), ministering to the poor, preaching, teaching, nursing, nor is he otherwise engaged in active ministry. His life is given over not to the cultivation of self, nor to some vague notion of peace and quiet, nor to a recognizable commitment to individualism. He has come away, embraced eremitical anachoresis (withdrawal) in order to seek God and to come to fullness of life --- a fullness we call holiness. He has relinquished an ordinary life of ordinary commitment (or refusal thereof), turned from family and friends in a significant though not absolute way, set aside any number of personal gifts and talents to embrace the extraordinary commitment of the solitary life of prayer and penance in a Charterhouse structured according to medieval values and customs. Moreover, he has done this first and foremost for God's own sake.

Even for those who believe in God such a choice can seem absurd or a relative waste. (This might be especially true for those who are committed to apostolic life and active ministry.) For those who believe there is no such reality as God (for atheism is indeed a religious belief similar to theism) such a life would be completely absurd, empty of meaning, and, perhaps then, ludicrous. Similarly, for those who believe God is merely remote, external to ourselves, or something other than the very ground and source of being and meaning within and underlying the whole of creation (including our own hearts where we bear witness to that reality), a picture symbolizing not only praying regularly but committing to a life of becoming God's own prayer might be seen as futile, a waste, and absurd. In today's society we might tolerantly allow for this in the name of individual liberty, "So long as s/he doesn't hurt anyone, s/he can do whatever she pleases," but at the root of such an attitude is a view of humanity that suggests that a life, however lived, is of no ultimate worth; anything the person does is acceptable for precisely this reason. A hermit's life in such a case is no more absurd or futile than anyone else's, it is simply more evidently so.

So, the hermit serves in a prophetic way to affirm the foundational relationship between the human person and God. She does so vividly and lives with an incredible clarity the risk Paul spoke of when he said, "If Jesus has not been raised from the dead" --- if, that is, our God does not exist and is not the ground and source of being and meaning who, in the Christ Event, ultimately triumphs over death and senselessness --- "then we are the greatest fools of all." Yes, this is a counter cultural stance. We place our trust in the God who shows us who God is and who we are in the events of the cross. We risk wasting our lives in a fruitless fantasy existence rooted in a non-existent or remote and ultimately powerless or unloving God in the name of the Gospel of the God of Jesus Christ. We embrace the scandal and foolishness of the cross as our greatest hope and norm while we reject so much of what goes on in the name of "success" or "significance" or "wisdom" today. For us, as for Paul, the Cross is the foolishness of God which is wiser than human wisdom. In this sense hermits are very much "fools for Christ."

I think the category "fool for Christ" or "holy foolishness" (what Catherine De Hueck made well known in her book of the same name as "Urodivoi") absolutely refers to a prophetic stance. Such persons not only serve as gadflies to poke fun at our this-worldly pretensions and obsessions as well as taking the wrath and ridicule of this world onto themselves to unmask it, but when truly authentic (and not just run of the mill fools or masochistic nutcases), they proclaim the Word of God and/or Gospel of God in Christ into the present situation with a peculiarly arresting and troubling power. Quintessentially they are truth tellers. That is what prophets always are and do. In the OT it is the very definition of the word. Prophets speak the Word of God into the present situation and do so in a way where the wisdom and power (the Divine foolishness and weakness) of that Word can both 'judge' and transform reality by making it more true and whole.