Hermits: Reflections on Time, Space, & Place

 

            Hermits do not distance themselves from humanity. Consider how someone surveys a Goggle map. There are two icons – an addition sign and a subtraction one. Clicking on the plus sign, one draws closer to the map revealing the details, topography, and if even closer, the streets and buildings at street level. If, on the other hand, the minus sign is employed, the viewer produces distance from said details while acquiring a more regional, national, and global perspective. 

    Hermits choose the latter as the perspective in which to operate. From that vantage point, one views the planet and humanity significantly differently. Prayer is no longer for a community or neighborhood. Instead, it is said on behalf of a world where national boundaries are nonexistent, and people's futures are not limited by political or military results but experienced as one human family.  

            Rather than isolating oneself, a hermit takes a much broader approach to mandates of service and prayer. Whereas a local parish will invest in the street-level vicinities of a city, hermits recognize their call to be a macrocosmic one. Neither expression of spiritual life is better than the other. As mentioned in numerous writings on the eremitical life, spiritual personalities, a deeper sense of union with divinity, and a call to contemplation are the compelling forces behind a person’s choice to be a hermit. 

            The nature of eremitical practice seems to be misunderstood as an elite spiritual minority whose concerns remain rather ethereal and esoteric for everyone else. While the rest of humanity barely holds on to the spiritual roller coaster, which seems to be conscripted by nature, hermits got off the ride onto a coveted stable ground.

            This is far from an accurate appraisal of eremitical life. The difference between hermits and anyone else who isn’t is simply this: hermits use their multi-sensorial and cognitive experience to interpret ordinary life as extraordinary. Hermits choose to live without any need for racing through life or meeting expectations of success and power. Each day affords an array of possibilities. Each possibility is interpreted as potentially adverse and part of a perfect spiritual process that we are invited to experience with God. 

            Most of humanity does not experience life; it is judged. Depending on our preferences, often veiled as values or disguised as morality, lives are interpreted according to pre-existing ends and expectations. As we go through our day, whatever does not meet the criteria (or fantasy) we entertain within our minds, is discarded. Therefore, options, opportunities, broader interpretations, and perspectives regarding life are ignored, limited, or unavailable.  

The spiritual life is antithetical to this. I believe releasing oneself from expectations provides the conditions for enjoying life here and now – unfettered by the past or by the uncertainty of tomorrow. 

            While hermits do not possess any monopoly of the spiritual life, most people do not explore the spiritually rich freedom eremitical life offers. Yet, regardless of their spiritual or religious affiliation, anyone can experience such a palpable difference in one's inner life. 

In spiritual solitude, elevated and precise attention to the sacred exists. When these two aspects of the human condition become one – we experience the Sacred. Everyone has this ability within reach. The invitation to transform the quotidian is genuinely available.  

            Hermits, witnessing God unfold one’s day, choose to allow God to reveal – according to a different rhythm of time - sublime and salient opportunities for prayer, reflection, work, contemplation, service, and wonder on this side of the Earth’s finite and terrestrial shores.

            Why would anyone desire this experience? How can the hermit's approach matter in a life with children and normal work requirements? It may seem strange to suggest this question to the reader. In our present-day American society, the "value" of lifting the veil above and over the "reality" of 21st-century life seems unprofitable and unattainable. It seems to be folly in a world famished with meaning and drowning in anxiety. Yet, when one reflects on these great thoughts, there is no question that the spiritual life as outlined in Scripture is - in its most authentic sense - an expression of eremitical life. 

            This doesn’t mean that one is disconnected from others. Relationships do change, though. Networking loses its value as the investment in others is no longer profitable, personal benefit, and self-gain. Instead, relationships are shared experiences where the presence and space held by others are mutual and cherished. Silence becomes part of daily spiritual life and self-care. Gardening, walking, arts, and slowing down is physical and doable for people of all ages and in various domestic settings. With children, play and the invitation to bring them into these practices and establish the boundaries for the hermit to have these periods of "alone" time – teach children boundaries and help parents reenergize, pray, plan process, and seek peace. 

            My spiritual life is eremitical. Acknowledging this did not happen overnight, I easily draw this conclusion. It took time. After many seasons and plenty of upsetting circumstances in my life, the ideal conditions for reflection, surrender, adversity, and ambiguity were thrusted upon me. Being trained in the Benedictine tradition, the Rule of St Benedict was a useful tool to help me navigate these uncharted spiritual waters for me. As I grew in understanding, my ability to comprehend the manual for monastic life as a guidebook for daily living also made more sense. Rather than being antagonist to married life, parenthood, and work in civil society, the Rule afforded a way of seeing all of life’s affairs as being part and parcel of a rather large and complex “monastery” where life together requires active listening, stability, humility, study, and above all things – prayer. These are the foundational aspects of spiritual life for anyone, whether one is a hermit, cloistered, or a layperson – in all three cases, each is called to serve one’s community. 

            Hermits do not need to be identified to any religious group. Hermits can struggle, doubt, and be seeking harmony with oneself and nature. As diverse as the spiritual experience, the eremitical life mirrors the kaleidoscope of intimacy with God, the cosmos, nature, and the Self. As more find the weariness of these times challenging, the need for silence and re-engagement with seasons, the inner rhythms of Self and Scriptures, becomes an existential need. I invite you to consider the solitary life as a kind companion for the times you live in community and for the times you yearn to "Be." 


Peace, 

Dom Daniel Medina, csr

 

 

 

 

 

 

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