10 March 2019

Moving Back into "the World"?

[[Sister did you ever think that by "taking on" Bible study you were turning away from your vocation. The Bible tells us that we shouldn't look back after putting our hand to the plow! Aren't you moving back into the world God called you to leave?]]

Thanks for your email. The question regarding whether anything new I take on is a form of flight or escape from some dimension of my vocation or a way of living it inauthentically always comes up in discernment, so yes, I certainly considered these questions. I sense in your second question a dichotomous view of reality I don't share. I don't believe we can treat the hermitage as one reality and "the world" as reality outside the hermitage. As I have written here before, if we do this, we will soon discover, perhaps to our great shock, that upon closing the hermitage door we have shut ourselves in with "the world" that lives and is deeply lodged within our hearts, minds, and limbs. In a post I put up recently Thomas Merton describes this as merely having isolated oneself "with a tribe of devils." The "world" hermits and monastics turn from when they accept the call to seek God in silence and solitude is the world of "that which is resistant to Christ." It is the world which believes in values which are illusory --- values which promise fulfillment but which leave us empty and hungry for that which is lasting and completes us.

Remember that not everything outside the hermitage is "the world" in this sense. In fact, since God is present within the whole world making all of it at least potentially sacramental, and since God can be found in the ordinary things of the world around us, we identify "the world" the hermit (or monastic) "flees" with all of that only at our peril. But I have written about this before so I invite you to check out other articles on the term "the world" or "stricter separation from the world". Some will refer to Thomas Merton's reflections on "the world" the danger of hypostasizing this term. Merton stresses that we need to learn to see everything in God, that is, we must learn to see everything in its truest sense. "The world" is a kind of illusory seeing which prevents our doing this. Freeing ourselves of this illusory (and sometimes delusional) perspective while learning to see everything as God sees is what monastics and eremites do to as part of "leaving the world." A commitment to the life of God on behalf of the other is another part of "leaving the world", physical separation in the silence of solitude and prayer is another part. All of these are true especially for a hermit living in eremitical silence and solitude.

My own work with regard to Scripture study, at least so far, is proving to be a significant and concrete expression of this commitment. It does not detract from but rather is an expression of it which paradoxically calls me to live my eremitical life with even greater fidelity, imagination, energy, and love. So, yes, my life of solitude gives me something concrete (as well as many things which are less tangible) to share with my parish/diocese just as the small time I am giving to them strengthens my own eremitical life both in returning me again and again to Scripture and in allowing me encounters with people I will carry in my heart back into the solitude. God is alive and very active in all of this and it is in this way I move forward to live more deeply perhaps, the eremitical life God has called me to. You see, I think this means I am moving into the world God has called me to love and I am doing that precisely as a hermit who has and does embrace "stricter separation from the world" in ways which help me to grow in the silence of solitude (the very goal of eremitical solitude and silence).