12 September 2018

The Silence of Solitude, a Share in the Abyss of God's own Heart

[[Hi Sister, I wondered why you speak of solitude in personified terms. You say "she herself must open the door to the hermit". Do you think of solitude as a living thing?]]

Thanks for the question. I have repeated Thomas Merton's observation that one cannot choose solitude as one's own vocation; solitude must open the door to the hermit or there is no vocation. I can't say why Merton used this personification with real certainty, but I  know that it reminds me of references to Wisdom in the OT, where Wisdom or Sophia, is a dimension of God --- and a distinctly feminine one at that! I suspect that this same sense might have been true for Merton. In describing the Eremo which is the Motherhouse of the OSB Camaldolese in Tuscany, Merton writes: [[In order to seek Him who is inaccessible the hermit himself becomes inaccessible. But within the little village of cells  centered about the Church of the Eremo is a yet more perfect solitude: that of each hermit's own cell. Within the cell is the hermit (himself), in the solitude of his own soul. But --- and this is the ultimate test of solitude --- the hermit is not alone with himself: for that would not be sacred loneliness. Holiness is life. Holy Solitude is nourished with the Bread of Life and drinks deep at the very Fountain of all Life. The solitude of the soul enclosed within itself is death. And so, the authentic, the really sacred solitude is the infinite solitude of God Himself, Alone, in Whom the hermits are alone,]] (Disputed Questions, A Renaissance Hermit, p. 169)

What Merton is getting at, I think, is that eremitical solitude is not only lived in communion with God, but it is communion with God lived within the very life of God. It is of itself a dimension of the God who exists both as a community of love and as an abyss of solitude. It is the life of God which is opened to us when solitude opens her door to us. Cornelius Wencel, Er Cam, says something very similar in speaking of two freedoms meeting one another in The Eremitic Life. He writers: [[In this sense the eremitic calling is a consequence of meeting the original depths of the Trinity's solitude. God is the living interpersonal relationship of love inasmuch as he is the presence of the original abyss of solitude and silence. The reality of God is thus the original source of any solitude, an impenetrable abyss that calls to the profound depths of solitude of the human heart. Having heard that existential call of God's solitude, people respond to it by opening up the whole secret of their hearts.]]

So, yes,  I personify Solitude because I understand it as a dimension, even the most fundamental dimension of God's own heart. To speak of Solitude opening the door to us is to speak of God opening a particular dimension of God's own heart to us and inviting us to dwell there in silence and solitude and coming to the human wholeness, holiness, and rest hermits call "the silence of solitude" and hesychasts call "quies". It is critically important that we understand how qualitatively different from  ("mere") silence and solitude is the reality we call "the silence of solitude" or "eremitical solitude". The first is simply the (still important!) absence of sound and others; the latter is life lived in the solitary abyss of God's heart and so, a living and communal reality. This is also the reason I identify the Silence of Solitude not only as environment, but also as goal, and charism of the eremitical life.