05 September 2018

On Inner Work and the Importance of Having Healing Well in Hand Prior to Profession

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I wondered about the inner work you refer to having undertaken during the past 2+ years. . . . Does every hermit do this kind of thing? Did you need to do this because of difficulties you were having with your vocation?  .  . . I don't mean to pry but if a person needs to undertake this kind of work should their diocese profess them? . . . Please, I really don't mean to offend but you also write that candidates for profession to your life should have their healing pretty much in hand before profession. Do you still believe that?]]

Thanks for your questions. I understand where you are coming from and take no offense so please don't be concerned. First, I continue to believe that candidates for profession under canon 603 should have their own personal healing well in hand before approaching a diocese to petition for admission to profession and consecration. One must be relatively whole if one is to adequately discern or to commit to such a call --- perhaps even more than one needs to be in other more usual life contexts and commitments. Secondly, the inner work I have referred to over the past couple of years can be beneficial to anyone seeking to grow more fully into the persons they are called to be but who, over the years of their lives have been wounded in ways which may prevent a full, even exhaustive, response to God's call and presence. I don't know anyone who has not experienced some, even some very significant trauma or situations which wound personally and can prevent or at least hamper this kind of openness and response or "obedience." In fact, the inner work I have been referring to is geared to assisting every person to respond to God's presence and achieve an integrity of personhood which otherwise might remain merely potential.

At the same time I undertook this work when it became clear that there was significant essentially unhealed trauma I had grown up with and which needed to be addressed. I did so understanding that there was some risk this work might actually lead to the conclusion I was not really called by God to this vocation, but also, on the other hand, I  appreciated that it was this very eremitical vocation that provided the time, motivation, and resources to do this work; more importantly, I think, it provided the personal, moral, and even the legal (canonical) obligation to do so as one publicly vowed to obedience and desiring to live the depth of the silence of solitude as well as "the privilege of love" identified as the core of Camaldolese life. Paradoxically then, I realized I was willing to risk discovering this was not my vocation precisely because I was in touch with the profound call of this vocation to personal wholeness and integrity. And over the past couple of years through this work I have only been confirmed in my conviction that it is in the silence of solitude that God calls me to an abundance of life I could not have imagined. So, while this work does not radically change my position on hermits having personal healing well in hand before petitioning for admission to profession and consecration it does nuance my position.

One of the truths hermits sometimes recognize in rare cases is that they have been made ready for embracing a vocation to the silence of solitude for a very long time. This is not merely a matter of temperament but of formation by the combination of life circumstances and the grace of God.  I came to see clearly that God accompanied me throughout my life, that (he) helped me understand and, in fact, be very sensitive to the difference between isolation and solitude from the time I was very small, that (he) gifted me in profound ways that actually suited me to a life of eremitical solitude as much as these gifts might have suited me to a life of apostolic activity in the academy or elsewhere. Tom Merton once wrote (perhaps tongue in cheek) that "hermits are made by difficult mothers"; Carl Jung once wrote that sometimes extraordinary and difficult circumstances can lead to a maturity which is surprising in someone who is so young. Analogously, extraordinary circumstances can suit one to eremitical life --- though it has to be emphasized these can also wound the person in ways which make her incapable of responding to such a call or even be unsuited to it. Since the externals of either case (i.e., life in solitude) can look similar or even identical it requires careful discernment --- and the assistance of those with experience in formation, etc., to determine the true character of the vocation with which one is dealing.

The discernment needed in such cases is clearly significant, personally demanding --- and very rewarding. What absolutely must be evident to those involved in this process if they are to determine the hermit really is called by God to this vocation is that the person is genuinely embracing a call to human wholeness, has experienced the redemptive love of God in eremitical solitude in a significant way, and are compelled by personal integrity and faith to follow the work to its conclusion. I have noted this before here, but now I can be clear about the source of my conviction. With eremitical life specifically, coming to human wholeness involves a call to do this in "the silence of solitude". If one cannot do this or if one's growing wholeness and holiness makes one less able to remain peacefully in their hermitage, then one may need to leave eremitical life. If, however, this environment of eremitical solitude is clearly redemptive and the healing or sanctification one experiences as a hermit lead even more profoundly into the life of the hermitage, one's vocation will be confirmed.

But what if one is not (or is no longer) called to eremitical life? I believe that if one is not suited to eremitical solitude, living in this way will not have the same salvific character. Further, one may be unlikely to see the work required for healing to be a matter one must personally embrace because it is morally required by this vocation and one may therefore eschew it.  In such cases, one will also have to submerge or even deny parts of themselves which are absolutely essential for personal wholeness and a life of responsive or obedient love.

More, as one undertakes the work required and experiences the healing it can effect in and of itself (that is, no matter the context), one is increasingly unlikely to be able to return to a physical solitude that may have been more mute isolation or escapism than what canon 603 describes as or allows to be called the silence of solitude. Eremitical life would simply not (or no longer) be healthy for one or what one could tolerate. Growing wholeness and fullness of life developing from the work undertaken will lead one to be increasingly unable to embrace the constraints of eremitical life. A more positive way of saying this is to note it will not represent the realm of freedom one really needs to be fully themselves, fully human. One will certainly not be able to truly know eremitism as a gift of God with which God gifts one either for one's own abundant life or for the sake of the Church and world.

Regarding your first questions, every responsible hermit works regularly with a spiritual director and beyond this, I have to trust that every publicly professed hermit will undertake the work or therapy or whatever it takes to fully respond to the vocation with which they have been entrusted once it becomes clear such work is called for. Certainly canonical hermits, hermits who have thus accepted the obligations and rights associated with eremitical life lived in the name of the Church, will generally be unable to eschew the necessary personal and inner work needed to embrace the life God summons them to within the hermitage or as someone with an ecclesial vocation. As I have noted before, I have been very fortunate in having a director who is specially trained in PRH and who was able to offer me the unique accompaniment needed to work through significant unhealed trauma even as she was able to keep her finger on the pulse of my vocation and assist in my ongoing formation. I do believe, however, that if one knows this kind of work is needed she should undertake it before admission to profession; it is entirely imprudent to forego it because of the effect healing has on the whole person.

While your question about this is a good and logical or understandable one, I was not having difficulties with my vocation. In truth, it was the fact that I was doing well in it which, at least in part, led me to realize the need for this work and gave me the courage to undertake it, risky though it might be to that same vocation. As hermits  find in the silence of solitude, one must face oneself squarely in light of the love of God. A solitary life of prayer will uncover more and more any need for healing or forgiveness.

As my director and I continue the work and deep healing God wills for me, and as I come to know and embrace my whole self even more completely in light of this work, I have experienced an even greater sense of eremitical call specifically as a diocesan hermit embedded in a parish community; with this my excitement regarding canon 603 and its implementation in the Church has grown significantly. I wish I had undertaken this work before profession (or at least known clearly it was still needed) as is prudent and ordinarily necessary, but I am grateful to God my very vocation made it possible as well as necessary that I undertake it now and that it in turn has led to the reaffirmation of an ecclesial call to the silence of solitude.