02 January 2017

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.