Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Where have all the hermits gone?

Today the Church celebrates Saint Antony of Egypt – the “first” desert-dweller. Though many were ahead of him in seeking a solitary way of life, Antony pushed the literal boundaries of what it meant to go apart. While his contemporaries isolated themselves on the margins of civilization, Antony went out – way out – into the desolate reaches. Antony went beyond what was “safe” to truly seek GOD in solitude and silence. Out near the tombs where the dead were laid to rest, Antony began his pursuit of holiness – and news of his success turned a reform movement into a way of life.

Where have all the hermits gone? Certainly, a rhetorical question but beneath it lies a real concern. I suspect there are hermits among us in the monastery – women who might feel the tug of solitude on their hearts yet remain in community because the days of the hermit have passed. But have they? The Camaldolese and Carthusians certainly give witness to the opposite. In Europe these marginal monastic communities continue to support the solitary search for GOD. There are a few foundations here in America, but by and large, most monastics find themselves living the cenobitic life – in community, under a rule and a prioress. Saint Benedict believed that the common life was a necessary preparation for the hermit. Only after many years in community would a monastic be granted permission to live apart.

Do I feel called to be a hermit? No way. Anyone who really knows me could assure the truth of that emphatic denial. But, I do suspect that there are hermit-hearts within most monasteries. I know of a community in MN that granted a sister permission to live as a hermit. Sister Jeremy Hall, OSB, lived in a trailer deep in the forest for twenty years. Like Antony she was not afforded total solitude. People came to see her, to seek her wisdom and receive a good word. Perhaps, Sister Jeremy’s story will give courage to those who feel ready for the spiritual work of solitude. Where have all the hermits gone? They are closer than we think.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki