[[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.
Inner Work and the Work of Forgiveness:
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.
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.
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.