06 December 2016

On the Hiddenness of Eremitical Life

 [[Hi Sister, I wondered if you find the idea of the hiddenness of your vocation difficult. I was especially wondering if there is some part of "remaining hidden" that is particularly challenging to you? Have you chosen to blog in response to this or maybe in spite of this?]]

Really terrific questions! Yes, there is a dimension of eremitical hiddenness that has been difficult for me, namely, it has been challenging to come to a really adequate or more complete understanding of what I am being asked to witness to or how my life proclaims the Gospel if it is hidden in the sense most folks understand the term. When I considered eremitical life originally I thought it was supremely selfish and in one way and another I have been dealing with residual bits of that conviction throughout my own struggle with the vocation's hiddenness. After all, we have texts like Jesus' clear teaching that one ought not put one's light under a bushel basket but instead place it on a lampstand so that all may see (by) it, and of course there is the clear commandment that we love one another as God loves us. Eremitical solitude and hiddenness seem to fly in the face of these and similar central bits of the Gospel Tradition.

Trusting the Light Mediated by Hiddenness:

If you notice the way I amended the text above regarding putting one's light on a lampstand you will see one of the ways I have come to deal with the apparent conflict between the importance of eremitical hiddenness and also the imperative to share with others. You see, I came to see more clearly the basic truth that it is not so much that we see light itself but rather that we see by virtue of the light. In thinking about eremitical hiddenness I came to see there is a difference between putting one's light on a lampstand so that others might see it and putting the light there so that others may see by virtue of it. The second "translation" allowed me to see that a hermit's hiddenness might prevent folks from looking directly at "the light" (to whatever degree this particular life really is a source of light) but that the light of the hermit's life could still (and in fact MUST still) illuminate the world around her and be a source of light to those within in. In many ways eremitical life is the most radical expression of the truth that we must grow less so that God's glory lives more fully in and shines more fully through us or that it must be Christ in us that is the most critical reality we witness to.

What I must trust is that, in ways I am mainly unaware of, the light of Christ DOES shine through me --- especially through the fact that life in eremitical solitude is something which completes and makes me genuinely happy --- and that it is the real purpose or calling of my life, in the main it is the way I truly DO love others. When I write about the redemptive reality which MUST exist in the life of any hermit and the fact that this must come to the hermit in the silence of solitude I am writing about the same thing Merton wrote about when he said that "the first duty of the hermit is to be happy without affectation in (her) solitude".  The whole quote says, [[The . . .hermit has as his first duty, to live happily without affectation in his solitude. He owes this not only to himself but to his community [by extension diocesan hermits would say parish, diocese, or Church] that has gone so far as to give him a chance to live it out. . . . this is the chief obligation of the . . .hermit because, as I said above, it can restore to others their faith in certain latent possibilities of nature and of grace.]] (Emphasis added,  Contemplation in a World of Action, p. 242)

In a world where there is such an emphasis on active ministry (and rightly so) and such a need for concrete acts of love it is simply hard to see that it is the very hiddenness of the hermit that is actually a very significant act of love which witnesses to the grace of God that has redeemed the hermit's life. So often activism is not a reflection of a contemplative or prayerful core; so often it is an expression of insecurity, the need to achieve for one's own sake more than for the sake of the other. So often active ministry is undertaken in an approach that is more symptomatic than systemic --- it deals with symptoms more than the underlying disease (though the best priests, religious, and laity I know manage an active ministry aimed at the core problem as well and even primarily.) The hermit serves to remind us all that before we reach out to others we must be able to point to God's love and redemption with the wholeness and capacity to remain in solitude, secure even in our hiddenness.

Inner Work and the Witness of the Hermit:

Recently I wrote about inner work I was undertaking with my director. At one point we had a discussion of why this work was personally imperative for me and how it was that it was consonant with my vocation --- especially because the work meant extensive contact with my director and some significant temporary changes in my Rule. I explained that my own sense was that since the Church had consecrated and commissioned me to live this vocation in her name she had also commissioned me to undertake anything essential to living an abundant life in union with God more and more fully. That meant, I explained, that not only had the Church given me permission to do this work but that insofar as it was essential to my own healing and growth it was something that was an essential part of this vocation the Church had publicly called me to.

Also, despite the intense interaction with my director --- an interaction in which the Grace of God was constantly mediated --- it was done mainly in solitude and would enhance my solitude --- especially since solitude differs so radically from isolation and the brokenness associated with isolation. All of this was done so that I could truly be a hermit living out the primary obligation of the eremitical life as Merton had defined it and as I had come to know it to be. All of it witnessed to what the hermit knows most acutely in solitude, namely that there are incredible, awesome latent possibilities or potentialities marking the place within us where nature and grace meet --- where, in fact, God bears and is allowed to bear witness within us. It can be essential for the health of every minister to be reminded of these deep potentialities and the terrible hunger every person may know to have them realized in relation to God. Thus, hermits serve the Church --- sometimes by remaining completely hidden and sometimes by maintaining an essential hiddenness despite a very limited active ministry --- as I do in my parish and with this blog.

On Blogging:

Thus, the answer to your second question is that blogging is not something I have chosen to do in spite of a call to eremitical hiddenness but rather, something I have chosen to do because of it. I am convinced there needs to be a way of sharing the incredibly positive reasons hermits choose the silence of solitude, why their hiddenness is an antidote to the epidemic need for notoriety so prevalent today, and why solitude is not necessarily a selfish choice but can be one which is made for the sake of others. My own choice to blog also has to do with the need for reflection on hermits' lived experience of canon 603 and the way it is implemented and needs to be implemented for the good of the Church and solitary hermits. Eremitical life per se is so little understood in chanceries throughout the world and so often understood in terms of "being a lone person" or isolation rather than eremitical solitude by so many others. We have to allow the love which drives this vocation to illumine the world --- both in its hiddenness and in the limited access we give others to that hiddenness.

What I have come to understand over the past decade especially is that the vocation is not selfish and that, paradoxically, hiddenness in the eremitical life is a dimension of one's love for God, for oneself, and for others because it reveals the God who loves us simply for ourselves; similarly it reminds us that allowing this to really be the foundation of our lives is the one thing necessary and the deepest potential of our humanity.