12 September 2018

Questions on "Justifying" Inner Work

[[Dear Sister O'Neal, when you write about the inner work you have undertaken you justify it in the name of your vocation --- as though your vocation itself called for it and made it the right and necessary thing to do. I wonder if that is really true. I don't think I have read about any other hermit undertaking this kind of work after leaving the world or entering the desert! It seems entirely unique to you. Do you really think other hermits might be called to this kind of "work" or could you be justifying it in order to remain a hermit?]]

Thanks for your questions! They do push me further in writing about this work. First, I have no idea how many other hermits are acquainted with PRH; I know that Father Michael Fish, OSB Cam has done PRH and knows my director/accompanist personally for her skills in PRH, but beyond Michael's experience I don't know of other hermits who have engaged in this work. At the same time I think it is important to remember the entire history of eremitical life and the frequent references that occur throughout this history to the struggle or outright battle with demons --- most of which, I am sure, are the demons of our own hearts. As I wrote here a couple of years ago in On Battling Demons and Mediating Peace:

[[. . .believe me, when we deal with the parts of ourselves left unhealed, distorted, or broken in childhood and throughout life, the process of healing can be as fierce, demanding, and messy as stories of Desert ancestors battling all day and night long with demons then coming out of their caves torn and bloodied but exultant in the morning! The same is true of the story of Jacob wrestling with God (God's angel) and, painfully wounded though he was, refusing to let go until God blessed him. We enter the desert both to seek God and to do battle with demons; it is a na├»ve person indeed who does not anticipate meeting herself face to face there in all of her weakness, brokenness, and [(fortunately), her] giftedness as well! We may well know that God is profoundly involved in what may eventuate into the fight/struggle of and for our lives but it can take time, faith, and perseverance before we walk away both limping and blessed beyond measure.]] (cf Sources and Resources for Inner Work)

I am also reminded of a passage from Thomas Merton's Disputed Questions in the essay "The Renaissance Hermit"; here Merton cites Bl. Paul Giustiniani: [[It is here, in this inexpressible rending of his own poverty, that the hermit enters, like Christ, into an arena where (she) wages the combat that can never be told to anyone. This is the battle that is seen by no one except God, and whose vicissitudes are so terrible that when victory comes at last, the total poverty and emptiness of the victor are so absolute that there is no longer any place in (her) heart for pride.]]

Hermits have known throughout the history of eremitical life, I believe, of the nature and necessity of the struggle Paul Giustiniani noted here and which I have described as "inner work". Alan Jones in Soul Making,  The Desert Way of Spirituality,  refers to the healing of memories as an integral part of the desert tradition and life, and while I don't believe he appends the description, "struggling with demons," I have no doubt he would agree with the linkage made here. In other words, the work which I have described here and there during the past two years and more is work which is entirely consonant with the life of a hermit; more, it is work that the desert context makes absolutely essential. I think I could call it a sine qua non of eremitical life and not be overstating the case. It is in fact, a necessary dimension of the salvific character of the hermit life. As regards your last question, I am clear that my posts on "inner work" capture the paradox of risking a vocation because the very vocation itself makes this necessary. I have, so far as I and others can discern, not fooled myself or them in identifying solitary eremitical life as my own vocation --- an important reason to have embraced an ecclesial vocation under the direction and supervision of others!