01 July 2016

Renovation of Hermitage AND Hermit!

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I've noticed that it seems a little longer than usual since you've updated your blog. I'm hoping that's because you're away on retreat or vacation and not due to the recent harassing commentary you received about the 'inner work' post. I was quite shocked by that person's tone and I'm sorry that you had to endure that. I follow your blog regularly and find it to be one of the few serious resources available about the diocesan eremitic vocation. Your blog fills a real need and a real gap in the vocational literature. I hope you'll continue to share your experience.]]

Whew! Getting a breath! Many thanks for your comments on the place of this blog in the available vocational literature. It is precisely why I continue to write about c 603 and the nature of this vocation. I am sorry if I have been a bit less active here on this blog for the past month or so but I had been getting ready to have new carpeting put in the hermitage and now am slowly "recovering" from that. (The carpeting had not been new when I moved in here almost 18 years ago and in that time I have surely added to the mess it was!) But man, what a lot of work! The major problem was books and book cases. These had to be emptied, lower wall shelves also had to be emptied and removed (the upper ones stayed full and in place ---thank God!!!)--- but also a wardrobe, file cabinet drawers, etc. etc. (and there was a LOT of etcetera!) --- anything required to give access to the floor space!

On Monday a week ago I went up to the parish house and hung out while the carpet guys installed new carpeting and baseboards. It is all BEAUTIFUL and I am loving it!! (Not least I am enjoying my new vacuum cleaner, a $270 machine I got "as new" for $105! It's got everything including headlights (LOL!), transforms into a hand-held vacuum, has unstoppable suction, almost propels itself, etc, etc. Who knew vacuuming could be so much fun??) After reshelving about 35 boxes of books and files in the past week, I still have a number of boxes of books and other stuff to put back in place or dispose of completely. It is physically tiring and a bit embarrassing (how in the world did I ever acquire so much "stuff"?) but generally speaking  this part of this whole process is both satisfying and gratifying.

One especially cool thing so far is that I was able to rearrange the furniture some in my bedroom/ chapel and I am liking the space even better than before. For prayer I am using the Zafu both with and without a small table to hold whatever book is needed (if and when) and that now has a central place. It feels wonderful! At the same time I have been doing some inner work --- another kind of "emptying out and remodeling". Because I continue to get (sometimes extremely cynical) questions about it, its importance and validity in eremitical life especially, I wanted to try to say a bit more about it here. The inner work I am referring to can be called healing work or growth work (both are involved and reinforce one another) or just "the work of conversion"; as I have written in earlier pieces I believe it is an essential part of a hermit's spiritual life --- however it comes about.

The Human Heart and Inner Work:

One of the things I write about here a lot is the sacred space which is the human heart; the heart, as I have noted many times before, is the place where God bears witness to Godself. It is not so much that we have a heart and then God comes to dwell there as it is that where God dwells, where he speaks himself freely and we respond fully in obedience (openness, etc.) to that Word or Spirit, we have a truly human heart. Thus I also write a lot about the call we each experience to allow God to speak or sing Godself fully in and through our hearts. In fact, this is the essence of what it means to be human; we embody and become transparent to this call in responding in obedience. It is who we are meant to be.

The work I have been doing in this regard, and the work I consider essential is geared to our growth in Christ. It involves but is not limited to healing any woundedness that keeps parts of my heart bound by or to pain, fear, and grief, for instance. We all have such pockets of pain (sometimes very large or very deep pockets) which prevent God from moving and singing Godself freely in and through our hearts. While I always give God permission (and in fact, silently and trustingly implore God) to love and touch me as and wherever he will during quiet prayer, and while I know unquestionably that God does so, it still takes attention and work to deal with those realities within our hearts that, in one way and another, are obstacles to Love ---even the Absolute Love-in-Act we know as God.

It is critical to understand that these pockets of pain or grief prevent us from growing and from being (or "singing") ourselves as truly and as fully as we yearn and are meant and called to do. They make us reactive but incapable of the responsiveness we know as obedience. Our hearts must be both empty and full to welcome others there, to love them as they and we are meant and made to do. In eremitical life we speak of being more strictly separated from "the world" while in last Sunday's reading from Galatians Paul we heard about freedom from the things of the flesh. "The world" and "the (things of the) flesh" are synonyms and both are put in opposition to the Kingdom of God (the realm where God is truly sovereign) and the things of the spirit (in this case, the human under the sway of the Spirit). In part the purpose of the inner work done as a dimension of my prayer and penitential life --- which means as a dimension of my commitment to Christ --- is to create (or allow God to create) an appropriate separation from the "things of the world" in my life and heart and an expansion or greater realization of the Kingdom of God both within and around me --- a move from fleshliness in the Pauline and NT sense to living in the Spirit in that same sense. But, even and perhaps especially for the hermit, this will also always mean the creation of appropriate and concrete bonds of love with God's creation in the power of the Spirit.

Inner Work and the Work of Forgiveness:

For instance, forgiveness, the capacity for forgiveness, and otherwise fulfilling our call to the ministry of reconciliation are all critically dependent on this kind of inner work. We do not truly forgive another who has seriously harmed us (nor do we forgive ourselves when we have harmed another) merely by willing to do so; it takes healing, often profound healing, to create the personal capacity for a future which is lived with and for others --- potentially including those who hurt us or whom we have hurt. It takes healing to allow the kind of vulnerability forgiveness requires and healing to create the kind of strength, courage, and integrity necessary to live into the future with others and without the chains of anger, bitterness, and pain. To forgive is to be open to new life, to energies that are freed for love and for this kind of openness I think inner work is absolutely essential.

For the diocesan hermit who both chooses and is chosen to live the silence of solitude as an ecclesial vocation, it is, as I have said many times, terribly important that solitude not be a cramped and stunted form of isolated living where one is protected from or incapable of the demands of love and compelling witness. Especially it cannot be (or be allowed to remain) a way of isolating one from others or cocooning oneself away in one's woundedness and limited ability to love and reveal Christ to others. As I have quoted before, a hermit must be able to hear (and this means to receive in a responsive way with one's mind and heart!) the anguished cries of the world --- something that is simply not possible if and to the extent the cries of anguish which really dominate are the cries of the hermit's own still-wounded heart or Self. While it is true that life in eremitical solitude itself (meaning life lived alone in communion with God) is incredibly healing and strengthening for one genuinely called to it, as noted above, a significant part of this time alone with God is regularly given over to inner work (including the work of spiritual direction) precisely so that God might be as fully active and present in one's life as God wills.


Meanwhile, back at the conversion of the physical space, I am hoping to put up some pictures of the changes here at the hermitage when I have actually finished. If I can manage it financially (and I probably can!) I would like to get a couple of new living room chairs (matching with a small footprint), as well as to get rid of a couple of larger pieces of furniture, replace them with smaller pieces (or none at all) and essentially open up a greater sense of spaciousness. (This is the space where I meet with spiritual direction clients so I would like to make it as open and comfortable for them as possible.) There is still SO much to do and though I have been physically wiped out most of this month I have been and am also incredibly excited and energized by all that is happening. Surprisingly, that has also meant I have been able to keep up my commitments at the parish and even do several extra things there as needed --- something I am really pleased about.

While it is ironic and has been difficult that both the increased external, physical work and the inner work have taken place at the same time, despite the drain on physical and emotional energy which both involved, overall this simultaneity has also been mutually reinforcing and empowering. God has been "mightily" at work in all of this (including in and through others!) and I am very grateful! Despite the work remaining I am especially hopeful I can get back to writing here more regularly. When I get things a bit more under control I'll try and post those pictures I mentioned above which (until I can change the elements constituting the blog template itself) will contrast some with the ones in the columns to the right. If so it's as close to a before and after "reveal" as I will be able to come.


IMG0049_m.jpg As I noted in my email reply the "snarky" questions and comments (SUCH a good word for these kinds of things!) about inner work played no causal role in preventing my writing. Folks should know these kinds of comments come my way sometimes and usually do not find their way into this blog. However, as you noted, these comments went "over the top" --- especially in suggesting my director was foisting something off on me. That is rarely a good thing to say to someone about their spiritual director. In this case it could not have been more inappropriate or wrong. I was more than a little angry and for several reasons decided it was important to post both the "criticism" and my response publicly. That was especially true given the depth, intensity, and importance of the work being undertaken as well as the personal honesty, integrity, courage, and generosity it takes for both the director and the directee to engage together in it. When done well, when done faithfully and in obedience (openness and responsiveness) to God that is, it is an act of worship glorifying the One who constantly summons us to the Freedom of more abundant life.