A Study of the Lifestyle and Maturity of Hermits and People who Live in Solitude – Part 1

A Study of the Lifestyle and Maturity of Hermits and People who Live in Solitude – Part 1

Link to Part 2

Joseph Randolph Bowers, PhD

 

Eugene Stockton (2000) published a helpful paper entitled, ‘Lay hermits,’ in the Compass Theology Review, an Australian periodical. In the paper, he relates that author Marsha Sinetar had made a synthesis of case studies of ‘secular monks’ (i.e. people whose lifestyle of solitude was motivated by a wide range of reasons, only one of which was religious). The author had closely followed the framework of Abraham Maslow, who you will remember focused on a stratification of human needs from basic food and shelter up to the highest levels of spiritual altruism.

Sinetar had concluded that ‘secular monks’ were a group of people who displayed ‘remarkably balanced and integrated personalities,’ quoting Stockton’s paraphrase, and that ‘their mode of life’ appeared to be a path to self-actualization, which as you know, is Maslow’s term for coming into human maturity.

Stockton says that people who follow the path of solitude as ‘secular monks’ will ‘typically go through two stages.’ The first stage includes ‘a radical pulling back from others.’ This stage characterised taking note of one’s life, consolidating of one’s resources, examining one’s motivations, and trying out various ways of living a solitary life to see what fits the best.

The second stage was to slowly re-engage with the world, or beginning to offer service to others. Stockton called this stewardship. Maslow would suggest this indicates a period after someone has grown enough to actualise their internal changes through their behaviour with others. He would indicate that relational maturity only arises in people once they have sufficient self-awareness, of which an essential part is how that knowledge reframes and gives meaning to relationships.

Stockton suggests that personal growth continues, with an ‘increased self- knowledge and the ability to live’ from one’s true self. In psychological terms, this means living within relational authenticity, where one’s personality had integrated enough to be sustained and shared with others. This sharing respects one’s individual nature and being alongside that of others, while allowing others to be separate persons, and yet to engage in loving and being loved, with a deeper sense of freedom and openness of heart.

Citing the study of Sinetar, Stockton suggests there are eight characteristics of a solitary. The order provided did not appear logical nor helpful, from a developmental psychology perspective, and from a view of a person seeking to explore this way of life. Therefore, I have ordered the list below and added original notes, while paraphrasing the information provided if that seemed useful in this context. For the sake of comparison, the original order was:

 

1. Social transcendence, 2. Autonomy, 3. Sacrifice, 4. Metamotivation, 5. Structure, 6. Radical Break, 7. Growth in stewardship, 8. Self-discovery.

 

My reordering and reframing includes two stages. The first is stages of formation of the solitary life. The second is stages of response and ability in solitary life. The picture looks thus:

 

A. Stages of Formation

1. Radical Break, 2. Sacrifice, 3. Self-discovery, 4. Structure,

B. Stages of Response and Ability

5. Growth in stewardship, 6. Autonomy, 7. Metamotivation, 8. Social transcendence

 

As we reflect on these characteristics of a life in solitude, we might wonder what comes first, the action of change that creates the solitary life, leading to qualities of being; or the qualities of being that inspire the outward changes to behaviour and with one’s fundamental relationship with the world and people? Having watched many people over time, and having tested this vocation myself over many years, like most things in life the answer is a combination of the two.

Likewise, a key to these qualities as stages in one’s life will depend on when we begin the data collection, i.e. at what stage are we viewing a person, and how do we then interpret the data coming forward? Many of these contextual questions are not adequately addressed in the notes that came to me. Thus, knowing what the list below actually means in the context of the study and its aims remain a mystery. Hence, I am taking a pragmatic view on using this information as a reflective mirror by which people can learn about self in relation to self, solitude, and in relation to others.

 

A. Stages of Formation

1. Radical Break, 2. Sacrifice, 3. Self-discovery, 4. Structure,

 

Radical break

At some stage, a solitary makes a radical break from ‘ordinary life’ to follow an inner feeling or inspiration, or perhaps to simply accept a personality disposition, or to make life easier. Combined with this, spiritual or philosophical motivations can increase the sense of the ‘radical,’ as getting to the roots or the foundations of meaning, purpose, or identity.

Not being dictated to by others appears a quality of these moments, or motivations. Living truthfully to one’s inner voice also appears important. Thus, being able to distinguish between one’s self-motivations and values and the voices/impulses and mores/values and norms/customs of others, i.e. parents, teachers, siblings, peers, local culture, and society, may also include how these become internalised scripts, and then, as one becomes conscious of this, how you decide to respond, and thus decide how to live your life, are all a necessary part of growth.

Naturally, a lot of this work happens before a person becomes a solitary. And a lot of the work happens during the process of becoming a solitary. The radical break itself is quite a useful metaphor for the process of conversion, of which western spiritual traditions have much to say.

Such a break includes perception of self, others, and of the values and norms that arise in awareness over time. The radical also includes physical changes in ways of living, behaving, and these changes can ‘come at considerable cost’ while opening up greater self-awareness. In many ways, this process can be quite painful emotionally. But the reward of truthfulness with oneself and in relation to others often appears to outweigh the sacrifices made.

 

Sacrifice

The interpretation offered assumes that sacrifice ‘is inevitable’ as a person changes through a radical break with everyday ways of living. We are assuming that everyday ways of living are not solitary. But this is often incorrect. Solitude, aloneness, and being lonely are normal parts of human and social life.They exist in family life, in work, and in commerce. They are highly contextual, and relate to how people’s personalities and dispositions interact and generate social climate, relational patterns, and emotional states of being.

We need to acknowledge that ‘sacrifice’ and ‘radical break’ are highly relative terms that depends on how each person views their context. In fact, by focusing on sacrifice as the ‘norm for interpretation’ people most often project their own values onto the person who is considering a radical break towards solitary living in a more formal sense. This assumption happens often for younger people seeking a religious or spiritual vocation, when others comment on the huge sacrifices that are needed, or the very radical nature of such choices, that encourage the youth or young adult to question the wisdom of their desires for living a spiritual inspiration, which becomes then labelled as a radical life. Not many people want to be radical, different, and out of place. But the irony of these frames of mind is that solitude, aloneness, loneliness, and isolation are quite a formative aspect of normal human existence, and can be major influences in most social and cultural contexts, across time and around the world.

Thus, for a person seeking this life apart, the inward experience may not be radical, breaking, or sacrificial in nature. The experience could be quite natural, in sync with personality and inner motivations. The changes could relate to innate physical attraction to being healthy, balanced, and at peace in mind and heart. The path may be filled with joy, happiness, and contentment. There could be a wide range of experiences, and moments, during the journey toward solitary living. The sense of radical, break, and sacrifice may only surface years later, after having lived a life based largely in solitude, once the person comes to a deeper felt-maturity. Insights may arise that challenge one’s choices, and require deeper consolidation and examination of conscience.

Thus we can see that the different stages are indeed more like qualities, that can arise at any stage and at any time, along the journey of voluntary solitary confinement. In this life, we gently and lovingly contain ourselves within natural limitations that guide and nurture certain values over others. As such, naturally the felt-sense of sacrifice may only emerge long after decisions were made, when the realisation of what was put aside and rendered not as important come to the surface in later life. Do we then regret our decisions? Or are we basically satisfied that we lived an authentic life? Are we satisfied? Or do we awaken to motivations that reveal an earlier denial of self, and an inability to face our demons or shortcomings? Were we in fact moving toward authenticity, or did we run from ourselves into a radically different form of life? In the final analysis, are we happy and content? And what remains behind to motivate us during the last years of our lives?

The author suggests that the solitary counters social norms with a sense of social detachment. This is fascinating, and if true, surprising. When we detach, are we more free to decide one way verses another? Or is the notion of freedom contrary to the underlying felt-sense of responsibility? That is to say, a true solitary maturity cannot relate to social detachment, but rather, to the deep abiding relational shift that renders our hearts and minds into an authentically loving and self-honest giving, which ironically, can just as easily be manifest in backing away, leaving, and entering solitary confinement.

Detachment does not mean being indifferent. Detachment, in the classical western sense, is a reorientation of self to a very valuable other. That other can be a thing, a person, or a value. Becoming de-tach-ment is not actually about separation, severing of ties, and leaving behind. This is only the surface, and perhaps the behavioural, and what we can observe empirically. Underneath, the felt-sense of radical detachment arises when we love more truthfully, more authentically. Therefore, we may outwardly remove one thing from another. But inwardly, we may reunite with, and awaken, within us, a truthful relationship with the other.

Again, when young people and those seeking a spiritual life hear words like ‘detachment’ they often cringe. What will I have to, be forced to, let go of? What will God ask me to forsake? These notions are likely the cause of 90% of vocations being squashed from day one. People go, wow, that is scary. They have a felt-sense of fear and anxiety, and the rest is stopped in its tracks. The sad part is that our social constructions of spiritual conversion, and of even the secular layers of change, leading to a life of eremitic solitude and personal dedication to prayer and service, are the biases that we need to overcome to communicate the inherent joy, gladness, and goodness that characterise the living of these forms of life.

This is one area where the notion of social construction of meaning is helpful, only as an analytic tool (and not as a full-blown philosophy, which is unhelpful and dangerous to faith), to examine the words and concepts we assume, and that we use. By doing so does not in any way compromise the deeper truths and traditions these words convey. Indeed, the objective truths of these traditions and meanings is fully appropriate. However, where we can improve is in how we communicate these messages to younger generations, who clearly are coming from a new perspective, one that tends to struggle in understanding or appreciating traditional language and symbolism.

While I am not entirely convinced, and recommend considering these ideas more fully in future, the author suggests that sacrifice relates to countering collective opinions, customs, and notions of social security (again, relational analysis is more holistic than this binary approach). The solitary moves away from living unconsciously (anyone who grows in maturity, according to Maslow, does the same), and lets go of the social norms found through direct and safe routes to accomplishment (does such a thing exist?).

In other words, the solitary takes risks that others might find difficult (or selfish?), if not outright crazy (or entirely sane… but according to who?). In this framework, playing it safe is not part of the solitary’s life (any lack of decision or active decision is risky). The solitary and everyday monk leaves behind the risk-avoiding tendencies of others (says who?), and ultimately embraces a separateness from others (or becomes a ‘sticky’).

Having a separate identity and a label, I am a solitary, I am a hermit, provides people who wish to live this way, with a new relational method. A way to reorient, and re-engage with others. In my felt-sense of things, a solitary way of life is deeply relational, ecological, and entirely holistic.

 

Self-discovery

Self-discovery appears to merge into a three-fold cluster with radical break, and sacrifice. Coming to a greater knowledge of oneself is key to both the discovery of solitary life as a possibility, as well as during the many stages of awakening, and re-awakening. Across the lifespan we are continually discovering self and other.

Thus I might apply a Trinity-Frame. The Father/Mother, Son/Daughter, and Spirit/Creator elements of the western spiritual tradition relate to Radical-Being-Change, Sacrificial-Giving-Generativity, and self Discovering-Creating-Energising of human growth and transformation into maturity and into spiritual life and being.

A person discovers, and is discovered, while uncovering and disclosing aspects of self-to-other. We are not only islands, we are islands within relation to land and sea.

The abilities to interpret oneself more truthfully arise from being more authentically all of the three elements of growth – Mother, Daughter, and Creator. We cannot exist without any one element. If we were to sever that leg from the body, the body would no longer exist as a body in oneness. Rather, we would be broken and cease to exist.

Discovering our nature and place within the objective world, nay, the cosmos, is another layer of this story that the author(s) do not, in this context, fully acknowledge.

Ironically, and practically, the authors suggest that self-discovery includes a pragmatic ability to manage resources creatively and efficiently. Self-discovery is about letting go of conventional pressures while tolerating more ambiguity. Self-discovery is about merging (or separating) ‘self-and-other interests,’ while increase creative problem-solving skills.

From these ideas, it appears that the author relates self-discovery to learning, and not only inwardly, but in a practical management sense, as well as in finding solutions to problems that arise during solitary living.

 

Structure

What arises when the Trinity of Being creates? The seven day week falls into place. Natural order is established, at least until such time as that temporal and place-based order is changed, disrupted, disintegrates, or ceases to exist.

However those avid (and, without much respect, quite stupid) social constructionists wish that life to be without order and in eternal chaos, the sun does tend to rise within a reasonable degree of regularity. Life and death tend to happen, within an acceptable window of observed frequency. And our hands do tend to stuff our faces with food on a fairly consistent basis, leading to digestive processes, that lead to elimination processes. And not without regard for how certain people wish to believe that their bodily excrete does not smell, it can be objectively agreed by most sane people that shit does indeed stink. How one can consider the world to be socially constructed, and then to base social theory on such nonsense, is an affront to science as well as religion, sub-objectively speaking.

In eremitic life, structure is somewhat important. But so is change, and letting go of structure. Finding time alone often relates to non-structure, to letting go of time, space, and other constraints that allow a person moments or hours of transcendence.

In this way, the author suggests that externals of place and time are ordered to enlarge the precious time to be, which is true. Albeit, the move into solitude may simply be more about not having annoyance and bother from others, from people. As ‘spiritual’ as many of we solitary folk wish to be, and indeed are, we also might just not like people very much. There is a place for the nasty and cranky monk and mystic. There are countless saints who demonstrated enormous lack of patience and respect for the ordinary distractions of human life and behaviour.

Structure, that is, monastic enclosure, the Liturgy of the Hours, daily Mass,times for meditation, times for reading, times for sharing meals (in silence), and times for chores and work as well as creative projects, are all forms of structuring life while protecting solitude as of high value. Keeping out the crazy ordinary people is no doubt important to monastic life, however flowering the language of enclosure. There is, in this sense, a radical break from the world. There is a protection that is built up, an actual wall, a barrier, to allowing uninitiated people from entering the enclosed space of solitude and prayer.

However, as much as this may look astoundingly arrogant, and artificially selfish, the monastic structure is very normal to human life. Every couple has their own space, where they live life and make love. Every family has its own domain. All businesses have a private office, even if that exists as an open-concept space. Every society has its edges, where other societies can enter, leave, and interact. Every country has a government. All human relationships are made with boundaries. Therefore, the monastic enclosure, the hermit’s cell, the hermitage, and the solitary’s apartment, are quite similar. What we wish to keep inside, verses what we wish to remain outside, constitute our sense of the structure of life. Whether we want to poke holes or to not respect the otherness of solitude and monastic enclosure, the fact remains that gates tend to be locked, and tend to be occupied by a human being who takes the role of guard, watcher, and protector of the innocent.

Structure is also about survival. Without structure our life is not sustainable. There is a budget for a hermit. A solitary must survive on less, because, if they rely on the work of their own hands or on providence, they need to eat, even if that means eating less and fasting more. A person’s resources are therefore ordered, structured, for independence and self-sufficiency. Planning is critical to sustain the order necessary for a meaningful and less anxious life. A lifestyle of frugality is certainly part of the picture for many. The notion of voluntary simplicity appears common to solitary life – indeed, as more than a pragmatic value, simplicity appears essential to sanity and to the practice of mental, emotional, social, and ecological relations.

We can assume that solitude as a way of life means deliberately scaling down social obligations, at least in the sense of external busy projects. However, a solitary may indeed deepen their felt-sense of social consciousness. They may actually increase activity, giving, and active ministry, from within the hermitage, at the gates of the hermitage enclosure, and as they walk and work in the world as a hermit-on-the-move.

Once structure exists, there are natural exceptions. And life tends to be a flow from solitude to engagement, and back again.

 

B. Stages of Response and Ability

5. Growth in stewardship, 6. Autonomy, 7. Metamotivation, 8. Social transcendence

 

Growth in stewardship

Borrowing and respecting western Christian notions of spiritual formation, we agree that formation is a life-long process. Stewardship itself is a deeply western and Christian concept that raises affinity with ethical and moral approaches to managing resources and relationships. To be a steward is to be a servant. To be either means a degree of humility, smarts, and realism. To engage these qualities means responding to any given challenge or situation, and discerning how to act and how not to act. A steward knows when to change, to move, to do something. And likewise, when to rest, and when to cease engagement.

To suggest growth in this quality and capacity, or skill, we are assuming the author might attach the notion of growth to any of the other dimensions. However, given the word appears here in a unique way, we also assume that stewardship may not appear to be innate, and is something that solitaries tend to learn over time. Not only that, but that growth in this capacity and skill is an important and a common need among solitaries, and a quality and capacity that helps to sustain eremitic life.

We might add that a steward is like a shepherd. The steward in a court of people seeks to take care of the King and Queen, taking on various roles of hospitality and responsibility for the household. Naturally, the one in solitude does not normally have an attending court. Indeed, the solitary might actually face opposition, challenges, and demands from others that attempt to break into the ‘enclosed’ and ‘sacred’ space (of even the secular solitary). Therefore, all the more important to sustain this way of being, and lifestyle ‘choice,’ the solitary needs to grow in the role and mindset of a mature steward. Otherwise, their life will go from crisis to crisis. They will not experience stability in life. And their solitude will not attain a level of peace and satisfaction due to the constraints of their personality and lack of resources.

Maslow’s discusses a motivational movement toward wholeness, of which stewardship may be one aspect, in as much as stewardship provides a way for wholeness to become sustainable. We might think that wholeness constitutes what is sustained, otherwise, it ceases to be whole, and reverts to what is transitory and fallen apart. And yet, wholeness is more than what is rendered complete. Wholeness exists in a fragmented personhood, torn apart by contrary energy, and ravaged by conflicting emotion. Clearly more is at play than surface notions of the whole and the identity that stewardship implies.

A key realisation is that self-actualization is not a moment, nor a state, but is in fact a process unfolding over time. Therefore, wholeness is not a moment, a state, nor something attained. Wholeness is, rather, a process through which a person discovers and recovers self in relation, self in context, self with the other. Likewise, stewardship itself is not a role, per se, as much as an ability or capacity for action. To be a good steward of self means we are able to respond with wholeness.

This is how we know self as part of an integrated whole. This is how we function effectively and responsibly in our world, whatever that world is for each solitary person. Is it precisely in standing back that one sees things (including self) as a whole? Or is the seeing itself a jumping into the action of life in fullness? Are we not engaging with the primary action of being, and as such, dancing within the movement of solitude, exactly in that one, single, extended and expanding moment, when we stand or sit, kneel or prostrate, on the head of the pin of being?

A steward of the soul is, thus, different than a steward of the mundane…

 

Autonomy

Auto means “self, one’s own, by oneself,” and Nomos means “custom, law.” The word was first used to describe social government, as self-government. Later the word became applied to persons, and this was how Maslow used the term.

Maslow saw autonomous individuals to be people ruled by the laws of their own character. He paired this against being ruled by the laws of society. To gain autonomy was to come to terms with social laws, and make conscious decisions on how to act.

Maslow sensed an inner authority. He witnessed this in others. He tied this idea to personal authenticity, integrity, and the capacity to live by one’s own truth.

In past, obedience for persons was tied to external authority, i.e. obedience to a bishop, to a priest, teacher, or lord. Maslow reframed this notion into psychological terms, seeing that obedience was to one’s own law, an inner law of self. Indeed, there is not a separation from one to the other. Maslow just focused on the latter emphasis. He did not come up with the theory of self and other, which is steeped in western theology and philosophy.

Obedience arises from the word obey, in Latin ‘obedire. Oboedire means to “obey, be subject, serve; pay attention to, give ear,” literally to “listen to.” As far as I can gather, the second part of the word obedience arises from the root of science such as with conscience, again from the Latin conscientia “knowledge within oneself, sense of right, a moral sense.” We have to remember that these words arose between the 11th to 14th centuries, from the Latin roots, as new concepts were applied to human knowledge.

Thus ‘science’ actually means “what is known, knowledge (of something) acquired by study.” And the notion was not coined until the 14th century. The word also implies, “assurance of knowledge, certitude, certainty,” and was first applied during the scholastic era of studying nature as an expression of learning about God’s objectively created world. In that sense, scientia “knowledge, a knowing; expertness,” is linked quite profoundly to oboedire, that is, to the capacity of the person to listen to the truth of knowledge and to attend to personal growth within this contextual and objective universe, as created by God. Only then, was conscientia enabled, given human dignity, upon the threshold of an informed conscience.

Autonomy then, we have to say, has become a rather flat-land idea that relies completely on mostly uninformed individuals, in a social landscape that assumes having a torso with a head on top means that a person has autonomy. While Maslow may have wanted us to apply the profound history and wealth of the word to everyday people, we can see how much was lost in the formation of conscience, that must, necessarily, precede an acknowledgement of maturity in being, to the point where true natural and spiritual autonomy can be in evidence. We need to help people rise higher. To grow into these qualities. And to do so, outside the context of a program of learning and life-guidance, in relation to what is normally quite an individualistic and one-off desire toward eremitic life, is indeed a great challenge. I am hopeful that over the years, because the Vatican has supported the creation of Canon 603 for diocesan hermit, that a development of formation theory and practice will one day come to apply to helping people, whether religious or secular, to engage in growth in these essential dimensions.

 

Metamotivation

The motivation that comes after… an interesting concept.The idea of meta includes, 1. “after, behind,” 2. “changed, altered,” and 3. “higher, beyond.” That which follows, changes what was, and shifts to another perspective, or arises from another (slightly, or significantly, removed) place.

The Greek meta, provides a different range of meanings, being “in the midst of, in common with, by means of, in pursuit or quest of.” This sense imagines that which is hidden within the ordinary, of which we cannot see or know, until our perspective deepens, changes, allows, or transforms our awareness, to the point of discovery.

Motivation arises from motivate, which is the ‘inner stimulus’ for an action. The word motivate is dated to the 1860s. But its root, motive, comes from the 14th century, from the Old French motif “will, drive, moving,’ and the Latin motivus “moving, impelling,” and movere “to move.”

Thus, after one’s radical withdrawal and establishing some idea of a solitary life, there comes a ‘sense of kinship’ and relatedness to others-as-self. There is an outward gaze from self to others, i.e. a reorientation of self and solitude as a form of service, of othering the self for the sake of something more. From a deeper maturity arises a self-less altruism…

Leaning gently toward the expenditure of one’s ‘recognised gifts’ for the something greater, for ‘the whole.’ The one for the many. The one for the single other, whose value cannot be measured nor compared to the self. There is a self-emptying that solitude affords, as a natural element of being, arising quite spontaneously and apart from religious sentiment. Thereby, the meta-quality leads to a giving of self ‘through a strong emotion of love.’

 

Social transcendence

The attaching of social to the notion of transcendence seems inappropriate, albeit, functional enough. By now, we can so clearly see the element of the social, including as metaphor and in the nature of being. From the Latin, socialis, “of companionship, of allies; united, living with others; of marriage, conjugal.” The socius, meaning “companion, ally.” But the older “follower” and “to follow.” So we see a range of quite profound and useful meanings, pointing to the absurdity of polarising solitude from being with others. Hermit existence is not anti-social, but is meta-social, that is, a reorientation of the social for a better and more whole-purpose.

Therefore, the phrase social transcendence makes a heap of sense. The word transcendence appeared during the 16th century, coming from the earlier (15th century) Latin transcendentem, meaning “surmounting, rising above.” In today’s meaning, often including a sense of the transformed and becoming a higher perspective, a higher order of things. Implied is that that which comes later is better, more fully realised, and including aspects of what went before, but from a new place, a new being. Changed in substance and in form.

Here placed last among my list of dimensions of the solitary life, but perhaps also coming first, or in the middle. The moment is not as important as the being.

At the shallow end, an ‘emotional independence or detachment from societal influences (rules, customs, idols, etc. of the external world).’ This is contrasted to pursuing ‘the inner call to become more what one already is, one’s personal truth.’

To add a significant insight. Franciscan spirituality suggests that engaging transcendence requires incarnation. The transformation and transubstantiation of God, Being, Creator, into humanity, requires and demands an embrace of the fullness of human contingency. Incarnation happens when God so loved the world that God gave to us a child, born of the virgin of Nazareth. Born of she who came from our home, from the place were we live, and in our solitude. In that dwelling place of our hermitage, our family, our enclosure from the weather and storms of life.

Our path, likewise, towards transcendence requires of us a social movement, or more apt, a movement from self to other, in service and in embrace of humanity. That path opens through embrace. When we open our arms to hug another, we open our being to the otherness of another being. We allow them to be themselves. We hold nothing. We are open, transparent, and vulnerable. We let them into our inner space, our personal space. We take on their energy. We share our energy with them. We become, for a moment, one being, cohabitating such a small space in time that our oneness occupies that space between milliseconds.

Then, to be authentic, even in deeper unions such as marriage, we open our arms once again. We allow the other to sustain and maintain their otherness, their identity. And we allow ourselves to remain one, in relation to the sacred other. We open our arms, and allow that space that existed between us to again fill up with air, with space and time. We back away from the embrace having been self and other, self with other, self and other as one, coming again to that inherently respectful self and other that defines our solitude in being. Nay, defines the very essence of human solitude of being within that divinely given identity by which we call ourselves human.

For the Franciscan, that embrace of self and other leads to transcendence the more we become aware and open ourselves to the transformative nature of love. This path leads to the birthing of God among us, and to the most radical change of all, our becoming the Crucified in-flesh within the world. The path of social transcendence arises within an assent to God’s indwelling Spirit. We become Jesus through the embrace of love, and become the embrace of love through a life lived in solitary abandon to love. In this way, the path of solitude embraces and vivifies the world, and even secular society, changing the very nature of life, through consecrating all of life to God’s love, within our embrace, our engagement, and our hiddenness.

 

Summary

The qualities of solitary living appear to be in the early stages of social scientific study. Most of psychology tends to focus on the normative, and the abnormal. Perhaps the solitary does not quite apply to either, which is why they tend to be overlooked. They are, rather, and in the classical sense, an outlier.

Those who live in liminal space, on the edge of desert, beyond both norm and not-norm, engage in an other-type that both transcends and transcribes. The transcription arises a new language, or meta-tongue, that is, at first and in the main, quite challenging to articulate. Not surprising, as the whole tenor and modus operandi of the solitary is to cease words, and to enter into silence.

It is therefore quite a challenge for a science of words to give voice to a silence beyond words, especially when most who wish to study have no idea what they are saying, doing, or being. Clearly there is another trans-linguistic meta-transcendent project that needs to be entertained… Perhaps this cannot happen until science is reclaimed by the conscious and the becoming. Otherwise, allow us to simply be.

This paper is for the heart and mind of those daring solitude. I love you, as my sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers. I love you dearly and wholly.

Errors notwithstanding (we need a copy editor), and in the humility that silence affords to all,

Yours in the Christ,

Little brother Joseph Randolph

 

Source

Eugene Stockton (2000) ‘Lay hermits,’ Compass Theology Review, 34(2), 46-50, http://www.hermitary.com/articles/stockton.html (1 April 2014).

 


 

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About Joseph

Welcome! Pace e Bene! Peace and All Good! This blog explores the nature of consecrated life in the western Catholic tradition, with an emphasis on contemplative life, prayer, solitude, spirituality, and other supportive practices. A lay eremitic and anchorite charism informs the inspiration for this work. Comments are welcome. Many blessings to you and your family. Father. Son. Spirit. Amen.
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