29 July 2016

More Questions on Developing the Heart of a Hermit

 [[ Dear Sister, have you broken off your reflections on developing the heart of a hermit or the inner work necessary for that? I was sorry and a little concerned to read your post on the suffering you are experiencing. At the same time one of the things I appreciated about it was that it didn't focus on the suffering itself. Instead it focused on the way God transforms the suffering into something more. Is that the same thing as "an experience of redemption" or of transcendence for you? ]]

Many thanks for your questions and concern. I am hoping to continue my reflections on the making of the heart of a hermit. Partly this is because of inner work I have been doing for spiritual direction (it is compelling and is directly on point), partly it is an important part of any theological reflection on the nature of the call to eremitical life --- especially in regard to the discernment and formation of canon 603 vocations --- and partly my desire to do so is in response to questions people have asked. Some of these have expressed hope that I will say more about my own experience of redemption and I am not yet certain how to handle those.

You see, when in the midst of the kind of work I have been writing about redemption is an ever-present context and promise but it is not always something one experiences in the moment. (And that is sometimes an enormous understatement!!) Still, it is really important that the hermit lives from the promise and not from the suffering alone. (The pain can give depth, poignancy, and gravitas to experiences of promise and redemption but it takes time to come through the suffering to that point. The experience of the Transcendent does not leave the suffering behind exactly; it becomes the dimension of depth I just mentioned, the reality which keeps joy real rather than some superficial bit of self-congratulation. Until this happens one is apt to be too full of self to post in a way which is genuinely edifying to anyone and I am keenly aware of that.) So, I will likely post further on the nature and need for inner work in order to actually live "the silence of solitude" in ways which can assist and even inspire others, but right at the moment I am finding my way with greater "muddle" (to use my director's description) than clarity. That, by the way, means we are doing good work together and I am proud of that, but we are (or at least I am) also in the midst of the trees when it would be more helpful for posting here to be able to see the forest instead!

One person, however, wondered if I knew Dan Schutte's song, Holy Darkness  and referred to the line about God planting his seed in the barren soil of one's loneliness. I do indeed know the song -- it has always been a favorite ---  I  loved most of the St Louis Jesuit's work but this one was special for me. In fact (as a kind of tangent) I was in graduate school at the same time the guys were there in Berkeley doing their MDiv's, etc., in the early or mid  80's; thus I heard a lot of their work at liturgies there where they performed with other students. But (back on topic!) Holy Darkness  has always been a special expression of my own life experience and (apophatic) spirituality.

Certainly it speaks profoundly about the very dynamic I was describing when I wrote of the experience of redemption that must exist at the heart of a hermit or when I wrote about emptiness and the experience of transcendence. In my own experience God does indeed plant the seed of his Word, his Love, his Presence in the barren soil of one's loneliness; for the hermit the result of that seed taking root and coming to fruition is a call to witness to the silence of solitude instead of to isolation. This transfiguration of emptiness and isolation into the fullness and communion of solitude is the very heart of the redemption a hermit experiences so yes there is transformation while suffering is given a context which makes an unimaginable sense of it. Similarly, this transfiguration is the brilliant gift God makes of her life and all of its moments and moods no matter how shadowed in darkness these might be. Thus too, at the risk of repeating myself one more time, it becomes the illuminating charism the hermit brings to the Church and World. I am gratified that some of that was evident to you in what I wrote earlier.

So here is a  version of Holy Darkness. I like John Michael Talbot's work and I very much like the illustrations used here,  but in this case I would have preferred the original version of the song. Still, as one person's questions and remarks captured, it is a profound summary of desert spirituality, especially as embodied in the life of a hermit.