31 January 2016

Followup Question on Being a Hermit in an Essential Sense

[[Sister Laurel, are you saying that although you wrote about being a hermit in some essential sense you didn't really know what that meant? What is the difference between being a hermit in an essential sense and being one in a proper sense? Thanks.]]

Good question. I guess it could sound kind of like that was what I was saying, but no, that is not quite it. What I was trying to say is that I have had a sense of the possibility and necessity of someone being a hermit in some essential sense but not yet actually being either that or a hermit in the proper sense for some time now --- at least 20 years. It was something I had experienced and something others I have spoken to have also experienced, but at the same time it was not an experience that was easy to define specifically. As I have had more experience of those who are counterfeit hermits and also as I have struggled from time to time with temptations to betray my own vocation, I have come to see more clearly what this somewhat indefinable reality is, namely, the experience of God's redemption of our lives in the desert silence of solitude. It is this redemption received in the context c 603 describes, and the increasing fullness of this redemptive experience the hermit comes to live out which is also both the goal and the gift or charism of her life.

If one is living a life marked by significant silence and solitude and in this silence and solitude one comes to know the redemptive power of God in a way which utterly transforms one's life to one of profound compassion, wholeness, meaningfulness, joy, etc; if one is compelled to continue to seek God in this same context and in even more radical expressions of this context --- something we find in forms of desert spirituality --- then I would argue that this person may well be a hermit in an essential sense.  If, on the other hand, silence and solitude are merely a way one recharges one's batteries, so to speak, or the way one gains a respite from the everyday world of active ministry, then I would argue they are not hermits in this or any sense.

When I was asked by my Bishop (then Allen H Vigneron) why I was seeking admission to profession as a canonical hermit rather than consecration as a virgin or some other vocation, my answer was rather cryptic. I started by saying, "Well, it is who I am." I also noted that years earlier when I first read canon 603 I had the sense that this might be a way of making sense of my entire life, strengths and weaknesses., education, contemplative life, vows, etc --- and indeed, that had been what happened --- and much more than I might ever have imagined as well.

Were I to elaborate on that first piece of my answer now I would say, "You see, it is in the silence of solitude and life as a hermit that God has transformed my life from one where chronic illness made my life meaningless, empty, relatively fruitless, etc, into one which makes a profound sense, is full and fruitful, and which can be, and in fact is, a gift of that same God to  both the Church and world." I might also have explained, "It is in the silence of solitude that God redeemed my life from one of irrelevant marginality and made it into one of prophetic liminality --- a significant and paradoxical way of standing at the very center of things. Because of this I am seeking canonical standing in order to live these realities in the heart of the Church as one ministering the Gospel in my weakness and not merely as one ministered to because I am ill."  In all of this I would have been describing the fact that apart from canonical standing God had made me into a hermit in an essential sense and that I further believed that it was God's will that this vocation be celebrated within the Church to which it truly belongs so that my life could be eremitical in the proper and public sense."

In this response the distinction between being a hermit in an essential sense and being one in the proper or even the public sense begins to be clearer I think. To be a hermit in the essential sense means to be a person whose life has been redeemed in the silence of solitude so central to eremitical life. It means to continue living in that context because one needs to do so in order to be as responsive as one can to the God who comes to one most powerfully in this way. It means to do so not merely because one is an introvert or has fulfilling hobbies, or avocations associated with time in solitude, nor because one needs to recharge one's spiritual or emotional batteries in solitude, and emphatically not because one cannot cope in society or has failed at life, but because one has experienced a meaningful and in fact, a salvific union with God precisely in this way of living. (One does not need to be chronically ill in order to experience God's redemption in a clear and convincing way, of course, but one still needs this to happen in the silence of solitude.)

To then adopt this way of living in a conscious and deliberate way, to structure one's life according to canon 603 for instance, whether or not one is ever professed and consecrated accordingly, is to then become a hermit in a "proper" sense. Here one begins to see one's abode as a hermitage, begins to think of oneself as a hermit in a conscious way, and may even begin to feel responsible for being a living part of the eremitical tradition which belongs so integrally to the Church --- whether one is a lay hermit living the life by virtue of one's baptism or is consecrated by God through the mediation of God's Church. A number of persons who have written me over the years seem to be at this point in their eremitical lives --- though they may not yet have experienced the radical redemption that is also necessary if one is to really be a hermit --- especially one called to a public vocation under canon 603.

In any case, this is why I say that one must be a hermit in some essential sense before one contacts their diocese to petition for admission to profession and (then) to consecration as a diocesan or solitary canonical hermit. Not only will there be little for the diocese to discern, but there is nothing the diocese or anyone overseeing the hermit's formation in solitude can do for the person if the "redemptive experience" piece of things is not present. One's eremitical life is meant to be a reflection of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ and unless it really is this, unless this saving Gospel has especially transfigured one's life --- and done so in solitude, one simply cannot live or represent the real gift of eremitical life effectively nor witness to those who are marginalized or isolated regarding the gift their lives are and can become to others in similar situations. This is also why I say the silence of solitude is not only the context of the hermit's life, but the goal and charism as well.

The silence of solitude is a description of the life transfigured by God in silence and solitude where one moves from being a noisy (estranged, restless, driven), and perhaps even an anguished scream of suffering and longing to being a joyful canticle of the grace of God at rest (and thus, thriving!) in external silence and physical solitude. It is the gift or charism the hermit especially is meant to bring to the Church and witness to others in effective ways so that those others may know the possibility and (we hope) the eventual realization of God's saving love --- even, and perhaps especially, when their life circumstances cause them to have nothing to offer otherwise but their emptiness and the apparent absurdity of their lives. In the solitary eremitical life this is precisely what God transfigures into a precious gift of infinite value; it is especially such radical marginalization and devaluation that God redeems to make the most radical witness to the truth of the Gospel of the Crucified One in the silence of solitude --- whether one does so as an "essential hermit" or eventually as a "proper hermit" of some sort!