29 January 2017

Some Thoughts on Receiving the Gift of Tears

[[Dear Sister,
     You wrote recently about some experiences of crying in ways you had not done before. Were you saying you had received what is sometimes called "the gift of tears"? Is this a real thing?]]

     Thanks for your questions. I was kind of hoping no one would ask these very questions because I had not answered for myself until very recently --- and then, only very provisionally. But here they are! So let me first give you an extended introduction to my answer:

This last Thursday I met for spiritual direction and/or accompaniment with my director and of course my experience over the previous two weeks was at the center of our work together. As a result we had one of the most profoundly holy conversations we have ever had --- and I say that recognizing that much of what we deal with regularly is profoundly sacred. We talked about things which were directly of and from God and at the same time, while perhaps rare, may simply be so deeply personal that folks do not speak of them outside the SD relationship. "The gift of tears" per se was a central piece and even the core of our conversation. Since Sister Marietta is much more experienced in all of this than I am and in so many ways (not least because of the breadth of her work in spiritual direction, her experience of doing deep inner work with others, or her academic specialization in applied spirituality) and because she was looking at the forest while I was still bumping my nose into various trees from within that forest, I asked her about her own knowledge and understanding of the gift of tears.

You see I wondered if what I had experienced (and in fact was still experiencing) was in some way or other what the early Church Fathers, especially the Syriac Fathers (e.g., Ephrem, Isaac of Nineveh (Isaac of Syria), John Klimakis (Climacus), et al) were speaking of when they wrote about penthos (πενθος) or the weeping associated with compunction (κατανυξις, katanuxis), that is, the tears associated with the piercing or puncture of one's heart by the grace or mercy of God.

These are the tears some have called "joy-bearing grief" (Hunt; 2001). They are the tears I see represented and celebrated almost every day of my life when I look at Bro Emmaus O'Herlihy's*** painting of St Romuald receiving the gift of tears --- Romuald seated in ecstatic prayer with tears streaming down his cheeks, his face upturned in a mixture of joy, awe, and perhaps grief, and his hands raised to God in praise and gratitude. It is from these tears that the Camaldolese charism and Institute (Order) was born and these are the tears central to Cistercian spirituality (Louf, The Cistercian Way, p.93).**** These are the tears associated with the active work of the desert we call "repentance." They are the tears of the second beatitude: [[blessed are those who weep]] while Hebrews refers to these same tears when it speaks of being pierced by the Word of God (Heb 4:12). And they are the tears of the sinful woman who, in a similar mixture of grief, regret, joy, love and gratitude washed Jesus' feet with her own tears according to the gospel stories. I have never known anyone given this gift in my own life, but I knew (or thought) my director had known someone and so we talked about what this gift is like when received in greater fullness. With that in mind let me answer you more directly.

First I have to say the crying I have been moved to was absolutely a gift of God and something inspired by the Holy Spirit in the sense of NT charisma. My tears were not merely about grief, or profound regret, or my own woundedness  --- though all of these and more were certainly involved. As I noted in my earlier post, it was much more about joy and gratitude to God for all God had done and continues to do in my life, especially in calling me to what canon 603 refers to as "the silence of solitude". It was a profoundly and pervasively healing reality, something which involved the whole of my Self, but especially, something which mobilized spirit, body, emotions, and intellect in a single encompassing act of grief, gratitude, love, and praise.

Moreover, my experience was that these periods of weeping involved and thus connected every period of my life from infancy onwards; as a result the kinds of divisions and compartmentalization or dissociation (used here in a non-pathological sense) occasioned by the woundedness incurred throughout my life were transformed into a more coherent and conscious whole. This penthos constituted these pieces as a greater and essential unity, a living history revitalized as (more) single and whole. As it effected this healing or reconciliation it freed and empowered me to love and praise God in ways I had been unable to do before this. In other words, these tears glorified God (made God real in space and time) and transformed my own life into something which does the same and serves as a promise of continuing transformation to the degree I commit to obedience in this.

That said, and realizing it is FAR too soon to say how else this gift has changed me for the present when I compare my recent experience of these tears to what else the Scriptures say about them and what else my director described having come to know about this gift, I have to underscore the fact that I have not in any sense received the gift of tears in fullness! Like other gifts or charisma of the Holy Spirit one must grow in one's reception of them. (As Friday's reading from Hebrews reminded us we [[need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.]]) We must also watch the growth of such a gift's reception in order to discern its authenticity: "By their fruits you shall know them!" And what are the real fruits of this gift? In Christ one incarnates the very life of God; one comes to see with God's eyes, to love with God's heart, to touch with God's own touch, and so forth. One is transformed in Christ into the compassionate enfleshment of Love-in-act. Nothing less.

When one thinks of this in  Scriptural terms it involves a true conversion of mind and heart which fulfills the profoundest nature and call of every human being: to be entirely transparent to the will and life of God. In Christ it is a conversion so radical that as with Jesus' own life, where one meets true human being one quite literally meets the merciful God who would live in and through us. When one receives this gift in greater fullness, one meets (sees and embraces) our world quite literally with the compassion of the suffering and risen Christ; when this is true one is moved to tears regularly and persistently in a way that is reminiscent of the Jesus who stood on the hill as he looked on the Jerusalem he loved --- would love if only he were allowed --- and wept! Bearing this in mind I have to say again that yes, this gift is real. What I have been experiencing is what the Church Fathers refer to as penthos or the gift of tears. But at the same time I cannot even begin to say what some are reported to say they know with indisputable clarity and undeniable humility, namely, that they truly see with the eyes of Jesus and feel a compassion for all they see or meet which, again, is literally the compassion of Jesus. This regularly moves them to tears as it defines their entire lives!

*** Brother Emmaus transferred from the Camaldolese Benedictines to the Benedictines of Glenstal and is now several-years solemnly professed there at Glenstal. His referenced painting will be familiar to readers here and is seen at the top of this article.

****Those wishing to read on the gift of tears can check out Hunt's Joy-bearing Grief --- a bit pricey but the best and most contemporary book out there on the topic I think. They can also check out the reprint of Hausherr's early 20th C. book simply called Penthos. The book is criticized today as being overly Scholastic and unclear in a number of ways but it is now out in paper, falls within the price range of most readers, and is one of few books available on the topic per se. A third option is Maggie Ross's, The Fountain and the Furnace, the Way of Tears and Fire  another hard to find book but one which is worth locating. I don't always agree with Ms Ross on the relation of the hermit to the institutional Church, but she is extremely knowledgeable and a very fine writer.

References to the gift of tears can be found throughout the literature of desert spirituality, especially in the literature of the Syriac Fathers, John Climacus, and as noted above in references to Cistercian and Camaldolese spiritualities. Meanwhile, Alan Jones has a chapter on it in Soul Making and a particularly interesting chapter on the gift of tears as it applies to a contemporary contemplative ecology is found in Douglas Christie's, The Blue Sapphire of the Mind, Notes for a Contemporary Ecology. Christie, who is knowledgeable about the desert Fathers and Mothers references to penthos, treats the gift of tears as the beginning of a profound and intersubjective way of knowing which relinquishes "illusions of detachment and control". His purpose is to suggest this as a way of coming to know the natural world, but also ourselves and God, which is more appropriate for contemplative living than ways which are more dualistic.

25 January 2017

The Conversion of Paul, Model for us All (partial reprise)

 Today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us of the conversion of Paul. There is no doubt this is one of the most important events in the history of the Church and certainly one of the most dramatic. Luke tells us of this event three times in this single work so it is hard to overestimate its importance. A couple of things in particular strike me about this reading this time around.

The first, and the one I will focus on in this blog post, is how radical the changes needed to be in Paul's life to really do justice to his experience of the risen Christ whom he had been persecuting, but also how conservative in the very best sense that experience also was. Tom Wright describes this dual dynamic or dialectic when he says, [[ But this seeing . . .confirmed everything Saul had been taught; it overturned everything he had been taught. The law and the prophets had come true; the law and the prophets had been torn to pieces and put back together in a totally new way. It was a new world; it was the old world made explicit. . . .it showed him that the God he had been right to serve, right to study, right to seek in prayer, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, had done what he always said he would, but done it in a shocking, scandalous, horrifying way. The God who had promised to come and rescue his people had done so in person. In the person of Jesus.]]

So often I am emailed by people who would like to be hermits or who, similarly, would like to put up a sign calling their home "____ hermitage" so people "realize this is not a normal home any more," but who have not made the necessary transition to an essentially eremitical life. As I have noted before, they may or may not live alone, but they add in a little prayer, a bit of silence, a little lectio, and then continue living essentially the same lives they have always lived --- just tweaked a bit. After a day's work outside the hermitage they refer to their time at home alone in the evenings as "their eremitical time" and wonder why I or others -- including their chancery personnel -- reject the idea that they are yet really hermits.

Many people live the same kind of "Christian" lives. Their spirituality is compartmentalized and in the main their lives are untouched by the reality of the risen Christ. They pray and worship on Sundays, they say grace before meals, and perhaps before bed or on arising, but on the whole, their lives are mainly unchanged and perhaps untouched by the completely world shaking reality of the risen Christ. Sometimes we have the sense that elements of the institutional church suffer in somewhat the same way. Parts of their lives, parts of their interpretation of the Tradition they rightly hold precious have not been touched by an experience of the risen Christ and the result is an unfortunate compartmentalization in their approach to reality and a narrowness of vision with all that entails. But given the example we have from St Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, this will not do --- not for anyone claiming the name "Christian".

Following his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul took the next few years, withdrew to a desert region, and began completely reframing the tradition he deeply loved in light of his experience of the risen Christ. He completed this reframing as he engaged each of the churches he founded or preached to in their own unique pastoral circumstances and with regard to their own unique problems. In other words, an experience of world-shattering revelation through prayer, reflection, and genuinely pastoral presence and ministry became an experience of radical conversion. It was, in some ways what happens when a vat of dough is affected by yeast. No part of the dough is or can be left untouched. Similarly it is rather like what happens when one puts a picture together from all the puzzle pieces one has at hand --- but finds some have been left out. Each time a new piece is discovered and added the picture must be reformed and the place of each and all the pieces must be adjusted and reconsidered. (This is especially true with puzzles whose pieces are all the same shape and can be combined in a myriad of ways --- each of these creating a different picture as a whole.)

In such a process none of the older pieces are rendered obsolete or superfluous, but neither can they be seen any longer in their old light or from an older perspective. When one meets the risen Christ, all of the old pieces of the Tradition must be regarded from this new perspective and for Paul that required a rethinking of issues like Law, the nature of resurrection specifically and salvation more generally, the relation of Israel and the Church, Creation and Covenant and what God is attempting to effect by these, the nature of election and who God has called to this and why, the relationship of evil and grace and how ministry is truly effected --- whether by separation and ritual purity or immersion and a holiness which is contagious, the nature of the Messiah, and so forth. In other words, the old doctrinal statements and understandings are not simply swept aside as unimportant, but neither are they left unaffected nor can they be treated adequately apart from the charismatic experience of the risen Christ. Neither are the changes called for merely cosmetic then; they are radical --- reaching right to the roots. We are not merely to be thrown from whatever hobby-horse we have been riding for so long --- no matter how worthwhile. Instead there must also be a soul-deep healing or reconciliation, a bone-deep re-envisioning of all the old certainties after an experience of dazzling illumination or revelation. We, our faith, and lives which reflect and incarnate that faith must be wholly remade from the roots. Nothing else will do.

Paul is the Apostle we must look to here, the one with the courage to change everything without losing anything essential, the one whose experience of the scandalously crucified and risen Christ shaped entirely the way he would honor and represent the Tradition handed onto him, the one who refused to compartmentalize his faith and experience but instead allowed everything to become a new creation in Christ. The simple fact is that should our church fail in this it will cease to truly be the Church Christ called into being. Like Paul's own conversion, the RADICAL integration of our EXPERIENCE of the risen Christ at this point in time with the Tradition and with the concrete needs and yearnings of our time --- or our failure to do so --- will be one of the most significant events in the history of the church. We will either return to largely being the religion/institution of the Pharisees or become the gospel reality, the Kingdom Jesus meant us and our world to be. Every group, every individual must play a part; none is unimportant or can be allowed to remain voiceless (much less be silenced!!) or the Gospel of Jesus Christ will fail to be proclaimed and the coming of the Kingdom which is the thoroughgoing interpenetration of heaven and earth will be hampered yet again.

16 January 2017

Karim Sulayman - I Trust You

Karim Sulayman - I trust you from Meredith Kaufman Younger on Vimeo.

In the midst of our country's and our world's insanity this was a wonderfully touching and important lesson. It only takes one person to break through the barriers  of embarrassment, suspicion, and fear. Each of us is called to be that person wherever we are and go! Don't forget to enlarge to full screen!

15 January 2017

The Wilderness Call to Life: Creating the Heart of a Hermit

Well, my apologies for not getting a post up for this video. It took me places I hadn't planned on and I am still processing it ("Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?" was certainly an apt line in this song!). That was especially true regarding my prayer over the past week and a half or so. I have been living with a "new" definition of prayer I came to because of a Communion service I did for our daily Mass community during a time when our pastor had to be away. That service included our sixth grade class from St Perpetua's school.  The Gospel was from Luke and the pericope involved both began and ended with Jesus' prayer; whether referring to Jesus coming from the synagogue or going off aone to pray at the end of a day of active ministry, both implicitly and explicitly Luke portrays Jesus as a man of prayer. Moreover, according to Luke Jesus' ministry, his active and effective love for others focused on in the middle portion of the text was empowered by prayer and leads to prayer. Allowing God (Love-in-act) to be God in us invariably gives birth to, empowers, and shapes an impulse to go out to others. Because of this I came to think of prayer as a matter of  "allowing ourselves to be loved from the inside out"!

Now of itself that experience was not new to me of course. It is the reason I (or most anyone I know) sit in quiet prayer and give myself to God. I know that God desires to love me, God desires to be God for and with me, and I desire to allow God to do that and to be and do whatever flows from that.. But this last week the description, "Letting God love us from the inside out" as a definition for prayer was new, a more succinct way of thinking about the dynamic of prayer and ministry together, especially as prayer empowers ministry. Then on Sunday we sang "The Summons" which touched me and pulled everything together. While using this song both for meditation and in my usual practice of quiet prayer I became far more vividly  aware of God loving me from the inside out throughout the whole of my life. We sometimes hear that when a person faces death their entire life flashes before them. Well, the combination of contemplative prayer, meditation on "The Summons", and personal work for direction led me to experience something similar. For the first time, in series of images drawn from my entire life during each prayer period, I saw clearly how God had worked through my WHOLE life to create the heart of a hermit. The experience was repeated at each prayer period over a number of days; it was an amazing time of healing and integration empowering a fresh sense of my vocation.

Ordinarily I sit in quiet prayer for about an hour or so at a time a couple of times a day  ---  once at 4:00 am and again in the early evening. But last week the work I had been doing with my director coupled with my response to the song at Mass triggered an urgent hunger for quiet prayer in the mid-afternoon.  I responded by sitting for about two hours and then,  after a brief stretch and cup of tea, etc.,  I sat again for meditation, sometimes using headphones and listening to lines from "The Summons" in a repeating loop for about another hour and a half. (In using the headphones I would really only "hear" and be moved by one or two lines at a time while the rest of the song either went mainly "unheard." or I stopped the playback). Each line that struck me with fresh application and emotion during these times reminded me of various events in my life from very young childhood onwards in the aforementioned series of images. In response I began to cry both long, freely, and deeply --- sometimes in some sadness and grief, but mainly in joy and profound gratitude for the way I saw that God had been working in my life. And so it continued over a period of several days through a number of  longer-than-usual prayer periods. It was far and away one of the most powerful and graced experiences I have ever had.

What I experienced  in all of this and eventually came to see clearly was indication after indication that throughout the whole of my life God not only has called me by name to be but that he called me to be a hermit (or maybe I should say that at each point God prepared me in very specific and clearly identifiable ways to receive and live this call). He has created possibilities for me to follow him in Christ even when I was unaware there were such possibilities --- and even when I was consciously unaware of the God who was their source and ground! He has called me to allow myself to be loved unceasingly and without limit so that I could serve him and his people as one who truly knew (solitary) love --- even, and perhaps especially when it came to me in profound physical solitude and emotional isolation. As God does with each of us, He loved me from the inside out and fitted me for discipleship and ministry --- though, of course, in my case he fitted me for the very unlikely and unusual discipleship and ministry of a diocesan hermit. From a tangle of many beautiful but also sometimes seemingly inapt threads, ugly snags, and tightly formed and apparently fruitless knots, God has constantly and lovingly woven a grace-filled tapestry celebrating the solitary vocation to life and love --- and God continues to do so, if only I will continue to consent and commit myself in faith.

The summons John Ball wrote about in his song comes to us each and all in many ways but primarily it is an inner reality, something that calls us from our deepest core and, as we make innumerable choices for life, forms us into God's very own "members" who will love, touch and serve others: Will we "come and follow him"? Will we "go where we do not know and never be the same"? Will we "let his love be shown and his name (i.e., his powerful presence) be known"? Will we "let his life be grown in us and we in him"? This summons and these questions are what concerned Jesus, a man (as Hebrews affirms so clearly) like us in all things, a man of prayer who (as the author of Luke-Acts affirmed) grew in grace and stature. It is what empowered him to respond so exhaustively to the One he called "Abba" in an entirely unique way; it is what allowed him to become the unique mediator and Minister of God's love so that when people looked at Jesus they saw not only the face of authentic humanity but the very face of God and when they were touched by Jesus' humanity they were touched by the very hands and breath of God.

This summons, these questions must be what concern and empower us as well. They must shake and console, challenge and transform us so that we are able to love beyond what we believed was even remotely possible. This is what we are called to; it is the long, joyful, tear-stained and life-forming process we must embrace and let embrace us. Whether we are thinking of Luke or of Hebrews, this is what it means to be people of prayer, people who are truly imago Christi as Christ is singularly imago Dei, people who are loved from the inside out.

12 January 2017

On Communities as Formative Contexts for c 603 Hermits

Dear Sister, I was reading about diocesan hermits and came across an online discussion on the difficulty of becoming a diocesan or Catholic Hermit. One person spoke about her diocese not allowing diocesan hermits or consecrated virgins because of the rarity of the vocation and the fact that it is supervised by the bishop. I guess it was thought that discernment and supervision would be too much of a problem. One person then responded: [[I think it makes sense that it's a rare vocation, and not one to be taken on lightly. Without the direction of a community and superior, those living in solitude can easily stray from the path or become quite eccentric. It's important, even in the solitary vocations, to have a good SD. It might be even better to live with a community for a while, to receive good formation in the religious life, and only then to step out on one's own (with God, of course!). There are quite a few communities of hermits in the US where you could inquire about being formed with the intent of eventually becoming a diocesan hermit.]] Is this a good idea? Do you know anyone who would take me on if I wanted to do this?]]

Thanks for your questions. Some parts of this response are very fine I think. In fact I would say everything up to the last sentence is right on. However, the last sentence and the idea of going to a community with the idea of being formed by them and one day leaving to become a diocesan hermit seems unworkable and potentially seriously problematical to me. I do believe that a solitary hermit who seeks to be canonically professed and consecrated as a diocesan hermit should have some background in religious life (or its equivalent) and access to a monastery where she may spend time -- including extended periods occasionally if that is possible. However, no community will take on a person in order to form them if the person does not intend to stay in the community. Nor should they.

Formation is done in the particular charism and mission of the institute in question. The purpose is not simply to make a religious, monastic, or hermit but to form someone into a Benedictine, Carthusian,  Camaldolese, Franciscan or Carmelite hermit, etc. One enters a community with the explicit sense of discerning and being formed in a vocation with this particular community for the rest of one's life. One learns to live with and love one's Sisters in this community, to be a Sister to them and to throw one's lot in with this group of people come what may. In such a community there is shared solitude which is every bit as communal as any other dimension of the life here. I think that some very rare communities might be willing to allow a person to undertake formation with them while knowing the person desires to become a diocesan hermit down the line but I suspect the successful candidate would be a rare and exceptional person as well.  If it were the case that one could become a hermit in six months to a year, perhaps one could arrange to be a guest somewhere for that period of time, but one cannot be formed as a hermit in such a short period -- much less be prepared for vows and consecration.

Absolutely one could learn to pray the Office, develop some sound habits of work, prayer, recreation, and rest which would serve one when one began one's formation as a solitary diocesan hermit; similarly, one could get a good sense of the nature of monastic and eremitic silence and solitude and see how one does in such a context, but formation as a hermit? No, not in such a time frame. Besides, one is to be formed as a solitary hermit and this takes time on one's own; it also requires that one (learn to) take care of everything one needs to live on one's own without the benefits of community life. This includes writing one's own Rule and this in itself requires experience as a solitary hermit and attention to what actually works for oneself during different seasons and during wellness and illness as well.

Finally, I have to say that the discernment and formation process of a diocesan hermit must be diocesan and involve diocesan personnel, the person's home parish, and so forth. This, I think, must be primary even if it is supplemented by periods at a monastery or hermitage one knows and even if it is preceded by a time as a religious in community. Only when this is the case will one know whether one can truly live an eremitical life outside a community of hermits; only in such a case will one be able to discern properly or provide appropriately for both initial and ongoing formation. Moreover, only in such a case can one know whether one's diocese is truly open to admitting hermits to profession and consecration under c 603. A diocese cannot promise to profess one IF one spends an extended time in a monastery or hermitage, nor can one expect a diocese to profess one simply because one HAS spent such time in such a context. Again, while such formation is apt to be beneficial, the solitary eremitical vocation is not the same as eremitical life in community; it must be lived and reflected  upon on its own terms.

What I would suggest to you if you are interested in becoming a diocesan hermit (or really to anyone who is so interested) and you (or they) have no background in religious life is the following: 1) find yourself a good spiritual director, preferably a religious with experience in formation and one who lives contemplatively (even if an apostolic religious); 2) establish a relationship with them over some time, 3) begin living as a solitary hermit if that is your decision (use c 603 as the guide for your life), 4) read everything you can about it as you meet regularly with your director. If you can live this way for two or three years, and if you really thrive in the silence of solitude, then try your hand at writing a Rule. Once you have managed this task (something which is likely to take you several months) you are probably ready to contact your diocese with a request that they consider admitting you to profession under c 603. If they are open to admitting ANY suitable person then at this point you will likely begin a discernment process with the diocese itself.

I do think that candidates for consecration under c 603 and those already professed and consecrated can benefit from regular time away in a disciplined, regular monastic context so I suggest looking into options for that. I believe this is ordinarily necessary in order to understand what a Rule and the life itself should include and also to have an experience which challenges one to faithfulness even when one is far from the monastic community. In this way I think I am in essential agreement with the perceptions of the person you cited in your question even I am not in agreement with her specific suggestion re joining a religious or monastic community. I believe that all dioceses that demonstrate caution in approaching the eremitical vocation lived in the name of the Church, who recognize the relative and even the absolute rarity of this vocation, and who understand the absolute need for sufficient formation --- both initial and ongoing --- serve this vocation even when they mainly refuse to profess individuals. Especially dioceses who recognize that a lone individual is not necessarily a hermit, that isolation (physical, emotional or psychological, etc) does not constitute eremitical solitude and who insist on communal or ecclesial sensibilities in their candidates serve this vocation. Whatever assists an individual candidate to live a life embodying authentic eremitical solitude needs to be considered and honored; extended or regular times with a community certainly aids in this.

11 January 2017

On the Blessing of Canonical Hermitages

[[Dear Sister, can a diocesan hermit's "prayer space", to use your term, be blessed legally (is that canonically)? What is necessary for this to happen?]]

Yes, legally and canonically mean the same thing in your question. As I understand the case at least three canons apply in such a circumstance, cc. 1226, 1228, and 1229. (Other canons may apply and I'll speak to that in a moment. First of all, a matter of terminology: The term chapel is now used to refer to a private place used for worship and Mass by one or more physical persons; it is not open to the public. A religious community's prayer place where the space may be used for public worship occasionally with permission of the superior is now called an oratory.)

For a diocesan hermit's prayer space to be established as a canonical chapel the local ordinary must approve. If Mass is to be celebrated there either because the hermit is a priest or because the hermit has a priest come occasionally to say Mass, the bishop must approve this as well. (It is recommended that when a hermit is permitted to reserve the Eucharist in her hermitage she also has Mass said there occasionally.)  Finally, under canon 1229 in order for the space to be blessed (consecrated) according to the usual liturgical books as a private chapel the space may not be used for any domestic purpose. Moreover the fixtures within the chapel (or, within the space which does not qualify to be blessed as a chapel under c 1229) --- things like tabernacles, monstrance, ciboria, and so forth are separately consecrated. (This is where other canons may apply.)

In my admittedly limited experience diocesan hermits do not ordinarily have the finances or, therefore, the space to dedicate an entire room to prayer without also using some of the space for other domestic purposes (e.g., sleeping). That means that those I know do not have their spaces blessed (or consecrated) as canonical chapels. (Tabernacles can be separated from the rest of the room by free-standing panels or a relatively fixed partition if one is forced by circumstances to also use the room for domestic purposes. Remember, only the hermit will use this space; it is not open to the public.) I don't think this would create a space which qualifies as a private chapel but it does honor conditions accompanying the right to reserve Eucharist in this space.

However, there is an alternative --- though canonically speaking neither does this constitute the space as a chapel; namely, to have the hermitage blessed as a home is blessed and then have the sacred fixtures or appointments like tabernacles, etc. specially blessed. This means that the space and appointments would be blessed by the bishop or a priest designated to do so. From my experience this would tend to be one's pastor. (Sometimes the bishop will come to the hermitage on the day of perpetual profession and in a post-liturgy consecration and bless it then; but often this cannot be arranged because of the distance between parish church and hermitage or other complications.) I think most diocesan hermits have their hermitages blessed in a simple home-blessing rite. Others will simply trust God to bless the hermitage in its use. By this I mean hermits will often trust that in the living of their lives, through their prayer, silence, solitude, and so forth, God will bless the hermitage with his presence.

I hope this is helpful.

09 January 2017

Feast of the Baptism of Jesus (Reprised)

Of all the feasts we celebrate, [today's] feast of the baptism of Jesus is one of the most difficult for us to understand. We are used to thinking of baptism as a solution to original sin instead of the means of our initiation into the death and resurrection of Jesus, or our adoption as daughters and sons of God and heirs to his Kingdom, or again, as a consecration to God's very life and service. When viewed this way, and especially when we recall that John's baptism was one of repentance for sin, how do we make sense of a sinless Jesus submitting to it?

I think two points need to be made here. First, Jesus grew into his vocation. His Sonship was real and completely unique but not completely developed or historically embodied from the moment of his conception; rather it was something he embraced more and more fully over his lifetime. Secondly, his Sonship was the expression of solidarity with us and his fulfillment of the will of his Father to be God-with-us. Jesus will incarnate the Logos of God definitively in space and time, but this event we call the incarnation encompasses and is only realized fully in his life, death, and resurrection -- not in his nativity. Only in allowing himself to be completely transparent to this Word, only in "dying to self," and definitively setting aside all other possible destinies does Jesus come to fully embody and express the Logos of God in a way which expresses his solidarity with us as well.

It is probably the image of Baptism-as-consecration and commissioning then which is most helpful to us in understanding Jesus' submission to John's baptism. Here the man Jesus is set apart as the one in whom God will truly "hallow his name." (That is, in Jesus' weakness and self-emptying God's powerful presence (Name) will make all things Holy and a sacrament of God's presence.) Here, in an act of manifest commitment, Jesus' humanity is placed completely at the service of the living God and of those to whom God is committed. Here his experience as one set apart or consecrated by and for God establishes God as completely united with us and our human condition. This solidarity is reflected in his statement to John that together they must fulfill the will of God. And here too Jesus anticipates the death and resurrection he will suffer for the sake of both human and Divine destinies which, in him, will be reconciled and inextricably wed to one another. His baptism establishes the pattern not only of HIS humanity, but that of all authentic humanity. So too does it reveal the nature of true Divinity, for our's is a God who becomes completely subject to our sinful reality in order to free us for his own entirely holy one.

I suspect that even at the end of the Christmas season we are still scandalized by the incarnation. (Recent conversations on CV's and secularity make me even surer of this!) We still stumble over the intelligibility of this baptism, and the propriety of it especially. Our inability to fathom Jesus' own baptism, and our tendency to be shocked by it  because of Jesus' identity,  just as JohnBp was probably shocked, says we are not comfortable, even now, with a God who enters exhaustively into our reality. We remain uncomfortable with a Jesus who is tempted like us in ALL THINGS, and matures into his identity as God's only begotten Son.

We are puzzled by one who is holy as God is holy and, as the creed affirms, "true God from true God" and who, evenso, is consecrated to and by the one he calls Abba --- and commissioned to the service of this Abba's Kingdom and people. A God who wholly identifies with us, takes on our sinfulness, and comes to us in smallness, weakness, submission and self-emptying is really not a God we are comfortable with --- despite three weeks of Christmas celebrations and reflections, and a prior four weeks of preparation -- is it? In fact, none of this was comfortable for Jews or early Christians either. The Jewish leadership was upset by JnBp's baptisms generally because they took place outside the Temple precincts and structures (that is, in the realm we literally call profane). Early Christians (Jewish and otherwise) were embarrassed by Jesus' baptism by John --- as Matt's added explanation of the reasons for it in vv 14-15 indicate. They were concerned that perhaps it indicated Jesus' inferiority to John the Baptist and they wondered if maybe it meant that Jesus had sinned prior to his baptism. And perhaps this embarrassment is as it should be. Perhaps the scandal attached to this baptism signals to us we are beginning to get things right theologically.

After all, today's feast tells us that Jesus' public ministry begins with a ritual washing, consecration, and commissioning by God which is similar to our own baptismal consecration. The difference is that Jesus' freely accepts life under the sway of sin in his baptism just as he wholeheartedly embraces a public (and one could cogently argue, a thoroughly secular) vocation to proclaim God's sovereignty. The story of the desert temptation or testing that follows this underscores this acceptance. His public life begins with an event that prefigures his end as well. There is a real dying to self involved here, not because Jesus has a false self which must die -- as each of us has --- but because in these events his life is placed completely at the disposal of his God, his Abba, in solidarity with us. Loving another, affirming the being of another in a way which subordinates one's own being to theirs --- putting one's own life at their disposal and surrendering all other life-possibilities always entails a death of sorts -- and a kind of rising to new life as well. The dynamics present on the cross are present here too; here we see only somewhat less clearly a complete and obedient (that is open and responsive) submission to the will of God, and an unfathomable subjection to that which human sinfulness makes necessary precisely in order that God's love may be exhaustively present and conquer here as well.

The Question of Food and Life in the Hermitage

[[Dear Sister,  I pray that you are well and that your 2017 is shaping up well.

This past week (maybe because it's New Year's resolution time) I've noticed that almost all monastic writings include some word on food and diet. Whether it's the Rule of St. Benedict or the Eastern Orthodox Philokalia, almost all monastic rules and writings make a connection between food and prayer.

For example, I recently read "To Love Fasting: The Monastic Experience" by the highly respected Benedictine monk and hermit Fr. Adalbert de Vogue (he died in 2011). In this book de Vogue adopted the strict diet prescribed in the Rule of St. Benedict. This hermit monk found that doing so transformed his prayer and work life in a very positive manner. It was de Vogue's opinion that the traditional monastic disciplines surrounding food had been ignored in modern times, and that has been a negative development.

As such, I was wondering how a hermit should eat and whether s/he should include some consideration of food in their personal Rule (aside from traditional fast periods in the Church like Lent). I could imagine that food might even be a temptation in the hermitage. For example, I've noticed that when I'm on a monastic retreat meal times becomes a big part of the day for me; more so than they would be in my regular life. I could imagine that snacking could be an easy habit to get into in the solitude of the  hermitage. Any thoughts or insights would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!]]

Always nice to hear from you! Good questions! Few contemporary writers that I am aware of have dealt with the issue of food per se. (The one that comes to mind is incredibly idiosyncratic with a too-narrow and joyless notion of contemplative life and prayer so I wouldn't recommend it --- and won't name it here.) Most speak of fasting and of eating vegetarian or mainly vegetarian as well as in other ways which provide healthy diets without snacking, overindulgence in sweets, and so forth. The comments on the influence on one's prayer is something I am ambivalent about --- not least because it may depend too much on certain experiences in prayer. But de Vogue is someone whose experience and wisdom I would trust so I would like to read what he says about this; I don't remember similar content being contained in his " The Rule of Saint Benedict: A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary --- which is one place I think he would have spoken of it. (As you say, de Vogue believes monks should all go back to Benedict's prescriptions and make of the whole of the year a kind of Lent in abstinence and fasting in all kinds of ways.)

A Reminder About St Benedicts Instructions on Food and Drink:

Let's remember that St Benedict's treatment of  the issue of food is quite generous for the time. He allowed at the main meal for two dishes of cooked food in case a person could not partake of one of them. He allowed for a third dish if one of those provided was fresh vegetables or fruits. He allowed for a pound of bread per day (and remember these are hearty breads) and in cases of weakness or illness allowed  meat for the monk in need. Finally (also in chapter 39 RB) in times of extra or more strenuous work Benedict allowed for more food. In everything Benedict was concerned that people had the food they needed to fuel their lives, to be well and strong. Depending on the season (meaning liturgical season) Benedict allowed for either one meal or for both dinner and supper. He required that the evening meal always be finished before darkness and wrote that monks would (in this he was reluctant it seemed) be allowed a "hemina" of wine per day (that is, about half a pint of wine or a quarter of a liter or more per day) with the ability to adjust this when necessary due to the heat of the Summer, etc. In all things however, Benedict was concerned that monks avoid overindulgence.

 It is instructive that Adalbert de Vogue moved to the diet outlined in the Rule of Benedict. Since Benedict allows for mitigations and accommodations in certain circumstances it may be a bit of an overstatement to refer to "strict diet" but perhaps not. It depends on what de Vogue was moving away from. In monasteries where I go on retreat there are three meals a day, breakfast, dinner, supper. The meals are vegetarian (while for Sunday's dinner there is a festal approach to the main meal and sometimes includes broiled salmon!) and beyond that, generally follow the Benedictine instructions. At the same time they are some of the best meals I have ever had because the recipes are creative, incredibly tasty, and healthy. My sense is they were easily digestible as well. What seems to me to be most important is the regularity of the meals and the way they are geared either to breaking one's fast (usually after one has been up and at prayer for several hours), supplying the food one needs for the main work of the day, or providing a relatively light but filling meal which allows for the work and prayer one does once the work day is over and is finished long before one retires for sleep. At times (again, Sunday dinner for instance!) they are also quite festive with talking, laughing, story-telling, questions**, etc.--- a break from several different kinds of "fasting".

** At Sunday dinner after my first week retreat at Redwoods Abbey (then Monastery) the Sisters waited until we had prayed, filled our plates, sat down and settled in. Then all eyes turned to me (it was a little creepy and I had just begun to wonder if I had done something wrong!) and one Sister said, "Okay, we've been waiting all week to ask you this! How and why did you become a hermit??" It was an amazing indication of the importance of silence  and respect for the individual retreatants, but also of the way this "fast" too was broken and a chance to really get to know one another was extended. I answered more frankly and fully than I would ordinarily do (especially I spoke of chronic illness and of reading Merton's Contemplation in a World of Action); my response was listened to carefully and my answer led to more questions, comments by those who knew Thomas Merton personally and had also been influenced by him (there were a couple of Trappist monks present at the Abbey and at this particular meal), the value of solitude and the question of the importance  of community, etc etc. It was a wonderful experience in many ways.

The importance of Meals While on Retreat:

Your comment on looking forward to meals or to them becoming a bigger part of your day is interesting and I suspect that what that has to do with for most people for whom it occurs (and I think it does do that) has less to do with food per se and more to do with expectations, comfort, and gratification. By this I don't mean that most folks are hedonists; rather, I mean that most folks are not used to the silence or the time for prayer which monasteries provide. They are more used to doing stuff than to being, and especially they are not used to giving time over to something that is vague and seems unproductive (like quiet prayer, lectio divina, outright leisure, etc.). But meals are something everyone understands; they are involved with doing (eating) and may also bring one into contact with others in ways time alone simply disallows. What I am saying, badly I think, is that for many retreatants meal times are comfortable, well-understood times of relative normality during a day full of non-activity, "empty time", leisure which is not oriented towards TV etc. and that this is one of the reasons they assume greater importance during times of retreat. More positively I think the retreat prepares folks to truly ENJOY their meals because one eats slowly without distractions. One attends to the food and tends to be in a space where appreciation and gratitude are uppermost. Likewise, to some extent they prepare persons to depend upon God and not turn to food at times when they feel some want but are not in real need of food (like after supper and through the night when the kitchen is closed!!).

Food at Hermitages: Not Really a problem:

In most hermitages I don't think food is a big problem for several reasons, 1) hermits live regular lives unless illness intervenes, 2) poverty does not allow food to become a major expenditure, 3) most days are full and satisfying; snacking is just not an issue, and 4) every hermit attends to fasting as their Rule covers that. (Assiduous prayer and penance is the element in canon 603 that would call for attention to food, sleep, exercise, use of media and other things requiring various forms of fasting and calling for dependence upon God in one's needs and weakness.)  Moreover if a hermit finds herself routinely overindulging it is going to come up with her director or delegate in some way just as would unhealthy habits of sleep, problems related to poverty and access to healthy food, and so forth. How should a hermit eat? The same way anyone else eats --- at least in terms of health and nutrition. Beyond eating a balanced diet with sufficient attention to nutritional needs and matters of health my own sense is hermits (like most religious) will eat pretty simply --- and in this they might eat quite differently than most folks around them.

For the most part they will not eat before prayer periods (though some will have coffee or tea in the morning before or along with some of their prayer and any lectio. For the most part some feeling of hunger and some small measure of actual hunger is an assistance in praying); hermits will ordinarily follow mealtimes with work or exercise (walking, etc.). There will be sufficient time for some noticeable digestion before prayer (early suppers and no midnight or late night snacking is the general rule for those who pray at night and early morning!!) But other than this I don't have any strong feelings on how a hermit should eat. Simplicity, health, nutrition, and eating in a way empowering or allowing (not getting in the way of) prayer and work are keys for me. Avoiding overindulgence in anything (sweets, meals, drink, etc) is also fundamental. In most of these things and others St Benedict's general approach works very well today as it did in the sixth Century --- if only we take seriously the fact that we folks in the first world generally have more than we actually need. This (as de Vogue recognizes I think) is true in many more areas than food and we need to be aware of it. I believe that hermits tend to be aware in the ways they need to be here because they are generally much more comfortable with being dependent upon God in all things in their need and fragility.

Regarding your question on dealing with food in one's Rule, I anticipated that a little in the paragraph above. Still, to be clear, yes, a hermit should deal with food in her Rule --- though probably not extensively (relatively briefly is probably sufficient unless there are special concerns). That is especially true if she has ever had problems with food, if financial poverty means she must eat less well with less access to fresh foods, or if there are health problems that modify the way she approaches meals, between-meal supplements, etc. Otherwise it might be enough to refer to St Benedict's prescriptions in RB39-41 and affirm one will follow this or aspects of it. In the section on fasting one will treat what this means in terms of food (if it applies apart from the Church's own rules for fasting and abstinence). Some hermits are asked to submit financial statements to their bishops showing what they spend on various things during a year. Food would be included so extravagance would show up here as well. One's horarium would also show (indirectly) any tendencies to over value mealtimes and again, the hermit's spiritual director and delegate are apt to have a sense of how well the hermit is actually eating --- and whether, for instance, food is being used in compensation for a reluctance to depend sufficiently radically upon God alone.

I hope this is helpful.

02 January 2017

The Incoherence of Vowing "Canonical Obedience" in a Private Vow

Dear Sister Laurel, What does it mean to say one is vowed to "canonical obedience"? Something I read recently confused me. It was the vows of a privately professed Catholic hermit in which the hermit vowed "canonical obedience" despite her vows being private. From what you have written in the past I can't see how the term can be used but maybe I am just missing something. Here is the vow I didn't understand: [["I, [full name including Confirmation name], offer and present myself to the goodness of God to serve in the order of a hermit [anchorite is the technical term used from Medieval Ancrene Riwle]; and according to the rule of that order I promise to remain henceforward in the service of God through the grace of God and the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church and to render canonical obedience to my spiritual fathers.]]

Important question. Thanks for asking it. Canonical obedience refers to obedience owed under canon law to legitimate superiors. It is part of the obligations assumed in the making of canonical (public) vows. The problem with the vow you cited is that it is a private vow and does not obligate or bind to legitimate superiors. This is because the hermit involved is making a private act of dedication to God, not a public one which involves the whole Church through the mediation of those who assume the role of legitimate superior. No one assumes the role of legitimate superior in private vows. Assumption of this role occurs in PUBLIC professions where admittance to vows is carefully discerned and the assumption of public rights and obligations are similarly accomplished in relationships that are mutually established and governed in canon law. (The legitimate superior is bound both morally and in law to serve the hermit as the hermit is bound both morally in law to obey the legitimate superior; the parameters of the relationship are spelled out in canon law and the hermit's Rule of Life.) One makes a public vow of obedience which is canonical or one does not. In private vows there is no "canonical obedience."  Moreover, as a matter of terminology, "spiritual fathers" is a phrase which tends to be used of spiritual directors and not of other roles; in the contemporary church spiritual directors do not represent a role in which they bind in obedience.

There is another set of problems with this vow, namely the reference to an order of hermits or anchorites and to their Rule. When this hermit vows to serve "according to the Rule of that order" what Rule is she speaking of? What order? You see, there is today no "order of hermits" in the same sense that there is, for instance, an order of consecrated virgins. Canon 603, for instance, does not refer to an order of hermits and did not intend one. And Orders like the Carthusians or the Camaldolese are different matters (and a different usage) yet again. Likewise the ancient "Ancrene Riwle" exists today --- one can certainly find and read it if one wants to --- though the accepted title is Ancrene Wisse or "Guide for Anchorites". The problem here? Ancrene Wisse is more "antirule" than rule --- written to guide anchorites who were asking for a Rule rather like that of St Benedict with matters of prayer, rest, work, etc. all spelled out, but whose spiritual guide resisted providing one! Ancrene Wisse is not and never was the Rule of an order of anchorites or hermits.

Linda Georgianna, in her book The Solitary Self, Individuality in the Ancrene Wisse, writes: [[The kind [of Rule the author of Wisse] chooses to emphasize bears little resemblance to anything we would recognize as a religious rule and is in fact best understood as an antirule. It is descriptive rather than prescriptive . . . and if its message could be summarized in one sentence it would have to be that the religious life is much more unruly than the young anchoresses might have first have supposed. The term "inner rule" is finally less a generic reference than a polemical term, a metaphor for an inner life that cannot be controlled by external precepts or religious rules.]] Finally, anchorite is not a technical term for hermit. It represents a particular kind of eremitical life which is marked by much greater physical stability than ordinarily obtains for the hermit. In this stability the anchorite is bound in some way (sometimes literally through being walled in!) to a particular residence or cell which she does not leave!
To summarize regarding your question on the phrase "canonical obedience" your sense here is exactly right: it is quite literally incoherent in the text and context provided. This is because it is only meaningful in the case of public vows (i.e., profession) where (1) one binds oneself in obedience to God, (2) through legitimate superiors who supervise or "govern" this vocation on behalf of the Church, (3) according to the canon laws which pertain to such public and ecclesial commitments. All  of this makes a vow "canonical." Accordingly, there is something missing in what you cited but it is not your deficiency; instead the phrase simply lacks coherence in a private vow. Once again let me say that private vows are significant forms of private dedication to God and should be esteemed. However, the persons making them should not conflate them with public vows and must take care not to make claims or pretend to obligations which do not really exist or even make sense. Language is important here and must not be thrown around to give the sense that what one purports to be doing is other than what one actually does.

No one is served by such confusions, not eremitical life which, whether publicly or privately undertaken, is already too often misunderstood, not individual hermits who must know what they are committing themselves to if they are not to make the vocation unbelievable in the process of trying to live it, not the Church who esteems and mediates public vocations in the name of God, and certainly not the God of truth who gifts these vocations charismatically to the whole Church in the life of the solitary canonical hermit. This is why the vow formulas of solitary canonical hermits, for instance, are carefully checked by canonists prior to profession to ensure they say precisely what they must say in responding to such a call and making such an ecclesial commitment. It is also why the term Catholic hermit is restricted to those making public profession. Words have meaning and their misuse, whether willful or inadvertent, brings confusion which can destroy credibility and trust.

Again, thanks for your question. It is an important one.

Follow-up question:

[[Dear Sister, Are you saying that private profession should not include a vow of obedience? I thought you were implying that.  Also do canonical religious use the phrase "canonical obedience"?]]

Excellent follow-up! I am torn on the issue of private vows of obedience. I think every Catholic is bound to be obedient in the NT sense of the word. It is part of the baptismal commitments we each make, part of what it means to believe in God, his Christ, his Spirit and Church. For this reason I think every Christian is committed to obedience in the sense of being attentive and responsive to God in Christ in Scripture, Sacraments, relationships, and the ordinary events of every day. No vow is necessary because we don't make vows for things we are already obligated to. However if one feels a need to specify the contents of this baptismal commitment more clearly that has seemed to me to be a good thing. Unfortunately, the fact that some are misrepresenting specific private vows with the qualifier "canonical" as the person who was cited above seems to do, leads me to  reconsider what I thought could be a good thing; consequently I am coming to agree with canonists who say private vows of obedience make no sense.

But if individuals choose to make such private vows they must understand that these vows are specifications of one's lay commitment -- no more nor less. They are not a profession ---an act which initiates one into a new state of life (hence we do not "profess" private vows). One may dedicate oneself to God in an act which makes one's baptismal consecration, one's baptismal vows and commitments more explicit and contemporary --- but such an act is not the same thing as making public profession of vows that are somehow "canonical",  include being consecrated by God, or result in religious obedience being owed a legitimate superior.

The fact that in profession one comes to live ones life  under new canon laws (canon laws which do not apply to everyone in the church and which require a public commitment beyond baptism) and in this way embrace new canonically defined and moderated relationships and a Rule and constitutions (proper law) which bind canonically is something we sometimes believe everyone in the Church understands --- but in this I think we have been naïve. The post which was cited earlier demonstrates a significant ignorance or perhaps an outright disregard of Church usage so perhaps there is a need for greater clarity in speaking of canonical vows of obedience, for instance. Many Religious have also been careless in speaking of consecrating ourselves in making our vows. We dedicate ourselves to God in public vows and (in perpetual profession) this act is received by the Church and followed by a prayer of solemn consecration. (In temporary profession there is a prayer of blessing following the vow making.) These two movements, dedication and consecration, are part of a single act of perpetual or definitive profession but human beings dedicate themselves; God consecrates. In the grammar of "synecdoche" we can refer popularly to the WHOLE ACT as either profession or consecration but again, we do not consecrate ourselves. Only God may consecrate --- a distinction Vatican II maintained throughout any documents pertaining to these matters.

Regarding your second question, ordinarily since private vows do not include obedience except in the NT sense (which is already included in one's baptismal commitments), there is usually no reason for religious who make public or canonical vows of religious obedience to specify "canonical obedience." Religious are more apt to say "religious obedience" which includes the idea of  public commitments and the concepts of legitimate superiors as well as canonical rights and responsibilities beyond those assumed with baptism alone.. Usually though we simply say "obedience" because it is typical of religious life and not of lay life.
I hope this helps!

Do Hermits Have Hobbies?

 [[Dear Sister,
     Do you have hobbies? Do hermits have hobbies? Are they allowed to do this or is your life all about work and prayer? Thanks.]]

What a good question! I don't think anyone has ever asked this before and I know they have never asked it in this way --- with the reference to the work and prayer that structures Benedictine life. I don't know if any hermits refer to some of the things they do as "hobbies" (they certainly might and could) but I would say that every hermit I know engages in activities they consider literally recreational. Some may call such activities "hobbies" but I prefer to identify them in terms of their capacity to help "recreate" me by opening me to the Spirit. What I mean is that the activities I undertake here have some power to assist my prayer, to keep me open and responsive to the Spirit of God. I enjoy them, have fun with them, relax with these activities, explore new and different parts of myself, have the freedom to fail, to try again, and to grow with these activities.

So, what things do I do that fall into these categories? The first (but not the most important) activity is violin; I play violin both in the Oakland Civic Orchestra and with chamber groups composed of friends from the orchestra. I also sometimes play Celtic fiddle --- though less frequently than I once did. Violin used to be my primary recreational activity. These days it is secondary or even tertiary. I don't play every set with OCO or even every year these days --- though I have written violin into my Rule to be sure the time and things music empowers are protected. Secondly, I spend significant time each week writing. That may be blogging, writing poetry, journaling, or working on more substantial projects (articles, etc on prayer, eremitical life, or theology more generally). Sometimes it involves music composition. Some of this falls under the rubrics of work and even penance but the line between recreational writing and these others blurs considerably. That is especially true when writing becomes a form of ministry or part of the writing I consider "work." A third form of recreation is reading. This can sometimes mean fiction (Science fiction, fantasy, poetry, mysteries) but it also means theology; unfortunately, I don't always have time for the really "hard-core" theology I would like to be doing --- the kind that excites, energizes, challenges and renews me.

A fourth form of recreation I am coming to use more and more (because I am learning as I go) is drawing. Ordinarily what I draw illustrates liturgical seasons, Scriptural themes, important dimensions of spiritual direction, etc, but even then I am able to play a lot -- with different mediums, colors, and so forth --- and at the same time spend time reflecting and praying in ways I would be less able to do otherwise. Drawing has helped me a lot in journaling and in some of the inner work I am doing with my director. There are times when what we deal with is difficult to articulate; at such times drawing a picture may assist me more than pages and pages of writing. It may also invite my director or delegate into the reality I am seeking to share more profoundly than words are able. Moreover, drawing taps into parts of myself writing alone does not do (the same is true of music!) so it is important to pay attention to those parts of myself and find ways to allow them to speak. All of this is part of being a contemplative and hermit. Finally, recreation includes physical exercise --- mainly walking and some exercise on gym equipment (total gym, time works, treadmill).

You asked if all I do is work and pray. The answer to that is sometimes not so straightforward. Clearly there is room for recreation; in fact, recreation is necessary --- not only for my own physical and intellectual well-being but also spiritually so that I can actually live a life of ora et labora (prayer and work). At bottom everything is meant to serve prayer and thus empower the dignity and integrity of my Self in God. Lines blur because my life is not compartmentalized in the way some people's lives are. Spirituality is not a separate activity I undertake. Neither, in some ways, is prayer. Moreover they each have different dimensions and forms. Work is part of my spirituality; recreation is part of my spirituality; rest and prayer are dimensions of my spirituality. Work (especially reading and writing serious Theology) is profoundly recreational. Work, recreation, and rest all contribute to and segue into prayer. Prayer is both my work and a profound form of rest and recreation (though not in the common sense of that word). Recreation (more usually music, drawing, reading and writing) involves both work (intellectual, spiritual) and prayer. And so it goes!! As you can see, things don't "divvy up" or fall very easily into neat categories! They tend instead to flow into or contribute to one another.

By the way, what I am "allowed" to do is what serves prayer and my capacity for wholeness and love as a solitary hermit. I discern what I need to be doing and include those things in my Rule. The Rule is approved by my bishop. It is first read by my director and delegate --- and sometimes by other religious or monastics who can assist in this way; discernment of what is included is undertaken with the assistance of these folks. I cannot simply do whatever I like, but at the same time my own discernment (provided I have really undertaken this!) is something which tends to be trusted by all involved. The larger questions are not so much what I choose to do but rather, (1) how does this genuinely contribute to my life as a contemplative and solitary canonical hermit along with (2) how is this joined in a balanced or healthy way to the rest of my life?

I hope this answer has been helpful to you! Thanks again for your own question.

01 January 2017

On Journals and Journaling: New Year's Wishes and Prayers

 Yesterday I finished filling a journal and prepared to begin a new one. It was strange finishing one book at the end of the year just a day away from the beginning of a new year. These two things don't usually coincide so neatly. Meanwhile, I don't know how others feel about this kind of thing but for me opening a fresh journal is always a bit difficult as I prepare to write the first entry on the first page of a virgin notebook. Moreover, leaving the older journal behind usually feels like leaving a trusted companion behind; my journals are the place where I write, reflect, do the growth work and spiritual direction work needed for appointments with my director and delegate, make notes on significant prayer experiences, keep copies of drawings and cards from friends which mark my journey, etc. Figuratively speaking they can be kind of blood-stained: my latest one sports repairs to the spine, is cobbled together with laminating plastic, clamshell clips, and silicon bands ---and is three times as thick as it was before I started writing in it. To close a journal for the last time (except for those times needed to review bits of it) and pick up a new book is always poignant and just a tiny bit resistance-producing for me. And it is exciting as well.
Every day really is a new beginning and some events as well as some holidays help us realize this. At every moment God calls us by name to begin a life of newness (kainete) with "him". At every moment God offers us a fresh chance to grow and heal and fulfill the potentialities we carry deep within us. As Catholic Christians we celebrate the truth of this reality by spending Advent and Christmas times in a more especially focused way. According to our civic calendars we celebrate this with attention to the New Year and to resolutions and intentions for more focused and responsible living. The pattern each of these sets for us is the pattern of openness to the new, responsiveness to the creative Spirit of God --- obedience, once again, to our deepest selves, our deepest truth and potentials, a pattern of listening and responding deeply to the presence of God within us.
In this way we work with God to compose yet another "journal" record, another chapter in a long journey spent seeking God and the fulfillment of God's will in the realization of our identities as Daughters and Sons of God in Christ. So too do we thus close the cover on an older chapter of our lives and at the same time bring all that we have become into the present moment. In this way we become people who rest in the dynamism of a future which belongs entirely to God --- we come, that is, to rest in the future which IS God.
My prayer on this first day of 2017 is that we each have the courage and feel the excitement of moving into the future even though it may mean letting go of some well-loved "companions" on our journey. May we not hesitate to commit ourselves to filling page after fresh page of our journey with God --- for how ever long we are privileged to do so. And may we each come to see and celebrate the awesome beauty of a "life-journal" whose ink-stained pages are marked, occasionally marred, but, incredibly, are "cobbled together" and most profoundly inspired by the grace of God in ways which are entirely unique and unrepeatable.
My very best wishes to you each and all for a wonderfully grace-filled and fruitful New Year.
Sister Laurel M O'Neal, Er Dio
Stillsong Hermitage
Diocese of Oakland
(St. Perpetua's Catholic Community)