06 November 2016

Inner Work and the Silence of Solitude as Goal of the Hermit's Life

[[Hi Sister Laurel, thanks for writing more regularly again. I hope you will continue to do so on canon 603 and issues which are central to it. I was moved by your writing about the personal inner work you did this last Summer and early Fall.  You haven't always shared that kind of thing and personally I appreciated that a hermit might need to do this kind of work in a way which was both intense and prolonged. I was also happy to hear a little more about your own life. You said you felt it was necessary as part of your vocation. My question has to do with the link between that statement and canon 603. Does this inner work have to do with what you have written about "the silence of solitude"? It has intrigued me that you have written about "the silence of solitude" as the charism of your vocation but also that you have written about "the silence of solitude" as the goal of your life. I wondered if the inner work you were engaged in had to do with understanding "the silence of solitude" as the goal of your life?]]

WOW!! Now THAT is a wonderful and perceptive question!! So, the short answer is YES, that is exactly the case. Since the silence of solitude is not only the essential environment but also both the charism and goal of my life this inner work was absolutely essential. In fact, I found the work necessary for three reasons related to my vocation: 1) obedience (my commitment to listen deeply and to respond appropriately in faith to the voice of God) required it; 2) assiduous prayer and penance required it, and 3) the silence of solitude as charism and goal of this vocation required it. (Consecrated celibacy also required it but in a more indirect way than the others.)

When I have written about the silence of solitude I have emphasized that it is not simply about external silence or physical solitude; it is about the silence of living in communion with God. That includes the inner silence that results from communion with God, the stillness that comes from being loved with an everlasting and unconditional love, and the wholeness that allows one to stand with integrity no matter what or who this means standing without or against. Because I am committed to living this element of the canon and witnessing to the result of living the love of God in this very specific way (in and as the silence of solitude) the inner work was an integral and essential part of opening myself to that love.

 Imagine a hermit who claims the charism of her vocation is the silence of solitude but also that she need not do the inner work it takes to allow that to be realized as fully as possible in her own life. Imagine a hermit who claims that the love of God can transform the muteness of isolation into the silence of solitude but who resists the work such a transformation requires. I suspect that most hermits have to look at their motives for embracing such an unusual and apparently unnatural vocation. The question of whether one's withdrawal is unhealthy and motivated by woundedness or whether it is a healthy and valid anachoresis is not one we look at once at the beginning of our lives in eremitical solitude. Instead it is something that recurs every time our own woundedness becomes evident. At the same time a commitment to assiduous prayer and penance means that our woundedness (as well as our great potential) becomes evident again and again, day in and day out.

I wrote somewhat recently that there must be a redemptive experience at the heart of each hermit's life and that it must occur in external silence and physical solitude. Otherwise there is no way to discern that God is the source of this supposed "vocation," or that this is in fact a vocation.  The inner work I spoke of is a primary way in which God's redemption is mediated to us over time. It is made possible by time spent in silence and solitude, and for the hermit it leads back to even greater internal silence and solitude (a deeper relationship with God alone and greater wholeness and integrity as a person) lived in an even more profound commitment to God in the silent and solitary life of the hermitage. Moreover it will empower the hermit to reach out to others in love despite as well as because one is living a solitary life within the hermitage. In other words, the inner work I have written about opens one to God's redemption. The healing and energy of this experience of redemption leads to the strengthening and purifying of the hermit's silence of solitude, not only as the environment of her life, but as the charism or gift quality of her life as well as its goal. In fact it helps establish and even underscores the truth of the hermit's witness to the silence of solitude as both charism and goal.