30 July 2017

Is Orchestra Consonant with your Hermit Vocation?

[[Dear Sister,
       I enjoyed the Beethoven symphony movements you put up. I think your orchestra should be proud of the job they did. I say that because you have pointed out they are an amateur orchestra. But this video raises the question for me: how can you be a hermit and get out so much? Do you think you represent the vocation of diocesan eremitical life well in this way? I am guessing your bishop approved this activity, but how can you play in an orchestra and live as a hermit? How much rehearsing does your orchestra do?]]

Thanks for your questions. You are the second person who wrote with a similar question. I am always surprised at how much time people believe I spend outside the hermitage to do this. So let me clarify this one point. Because it is an amateur orchestra, OCO rehearses one evening a week for about 2.5 hours with a 15 minute break where we can get a snack, talk a bit to one another and just generally say hey to folks we have not seen for a while. At the end of 6-7 weeks we have a dress rehearsal on Saturday morning and a concert on Sunday afternoon.

On the Sunday there's a brief warm up and then a period of waiting in the green room for concert time. Usually folks use this period: to warm up more completely by playing through difficult passages, to finish folding programs for guests, to eat and drink something light which will sustain them through the concert, and generally to get in the right space for the performance. Interestingly I think, there is a lot of solitude during this period as everyone prepares themselves for what will be both personally, physically, and intellectually demanding. (There is a lot of pre-performance anxiety and each of us deals with our excitement in different ways.) So, again, I am describing @ 3 hours per week mainly working hard to play music with one another --- working to learn parts and transform them into music together! The week of the concert is different with (usually) 2 rehearsals and the concert itself.

Apart from Mass or some other occasional activities at the parish, OCO is my major activity outside of the hermitage. It is important to me in a number of ways and while I have not always been able to play every set and sometimes have had to discern whether it is time to retire or continue, the bottom line is this is one of the ways I make sure my solitude is healthy. When I say that I do not mean that it is an outlet or escape from solitude so much as it is an extension of it; it is (or can be) a focused contemplative activity which symbolizes (embodies and expresses or mediates) the way solitude is intrinsically and reciprocally related to community. It is always important to remember that eremitical solitude is a form of community --- though a rare one which accents the hermit's physical solitude in communion with God lived as "ecclesiola" or "little church", and thus, as paradigm of the whole Church in whose name she is commissioned to live as ecclesiola. The hermit lives alone, but is not a lone individual, not in her prayer, not in her silence,  not in her joy or her suffering and not in her solitary witness to human wholeness achieved in continuing dialogue with the God she proclaims with her life

I believe profoundly in the importance (meaning) of my life as a diocesan hermit and that means I believe profoundly in the importance of a life of the silence of solitude, stricter separation from the "world", prayer and penance, etc.. But solitude in the canonical eremitical life is a rare  and even paradoxical expression of union and communion, first of all with God in Christ, secondly with God's people (Church), and thirdly with all who are precious to God. Isolation is not healthy, not for the human being generally, and not for the hermit specifically. As I have written before, even recluses in the Roman Catholic Church are supported by communities and live in relation to their religious community and the Church Universal. (The Church typically only allows two congregations to have recluses: the Carthusians and the Camaldolese.)

Do I think I live the diocesan eremitical life well in this way? Yes. More exactly perhaps, I think I live my own life as a diocesan hermit well in this way. Orchestra is written into my Rule and fits into a vision of this life which sees it as life giving and, most significantly, a way to genuine wholeness and holiness. This means it is intellectually, aesthetically, spiritually, and personally rich and challenging. At the same time it is a genuinely eremitical life which is lived according to the canonical vision of the life in the revised Code under the supervision of my bishop and delegate in accordance with my Rule and conscience.  It is not, in this way, a matter of anything goes --- nor does it leave the silence of solitude or a life of prayer and penance on the margins somewhere! These are central and orchestra supports and even enriches them. I love orchestra; I love violin, but they relate integrally to my own eremitical contemplative life. When that ceases to be true so will they.

I hope this is helpful.