Welcome. Peace and All Good, Pace e Bene!
The first post on this blog is updated below. Instead of changing the original post, it seemed better to leave things as they were. Here is the updated content, which adds more of the richness of meanings that are associated with this project.
‘Vox Eremita’ literally means, Voice of the Hermit. The deeper meaning arising within the Latin and Greek traditions point toward the Voice of the Desert. In a similar way, this site recalls these traditions, but more so, points toward and explores a form and way of life. We are students of this tradition. We will not attain this tradition during this lifetime, we will only walk this path and learn as we go.
Vox Eremita is a form and a way of life, is for today, comes from today, and nurtures an awareness of God and Life in the now.
The desert and the Vox Eremita is a place of self-emptying, of poverty in life and spirit. Only poverty finds the sure path to the desert, and to giving birth to God and new life in the world. This is a deeply ancient teaching, and is also profoundly Franciscan (arising from St Francis of Assisi’s way of life during the 13th century).
The desert and the Vox Eremita recalls Jesus’ gift of self to others, his outpouring of love and sacrifice of self for others, and his ultimate gift of self in his crucifixion and death of self for others. These are our models for Vox Eremita, for life in the desert, for life in the Spirit, for all of Christian life, and for those who are seeking an authentic and dynamic way of life that goes beyond the shallow dictates of many of our modern cultures. The underlying principles and teachings are for everyone, and anyone, who has a heart of respect and honour, and whose intellect is open to becoming well formed by the wealth and depth of western and eastern Christian mystical, ethical, and moral teachings.
The hermit is the person of the desert, who dwells in the desert, which is a meaning that is applied to any hermitage whether existing in a physical desert or not. The desert is a place that is uninhabited and empty. A natural place that is challenging to everyday life in society. A place that is viewed by most to be desolate.
Going still deeper into the early 14th century meanings, the place of silence and solitude, in the desert, is bereft, that is, deprived of conditions considered to be normal, where these things or relationships are take away. A person, or hermit, is seized, and robbed of these material and immaterial dimensions of life. The hermit exists within a primal simplicity, the desert prior to human habitation. Here we see the much more ancient desert traditions going back to the 3rd and 4th centuries, when women and men retired to the desert in search of authentic self-emptying and indwelling.
The Old French desert (12c.), is associated with, “desert, wilderness, wasteland; destruction, ruin.” Late Latin desertum, means “thing abandoned,” and “wilderness,” and deserere, meaning “forsake.” We are reminded of Jesus on the Cross, crying out in anguish, “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mk 15:34; cf. Mt 27:46). Jesus was of the desert, a forsaken place, and an inner and body-based experience of desolation, pain, suffering, and a literal outpouring of self through blood and water, all for the sake of gaining the love of you and I. All for the sake of love.
The Papal Audience of November 30, 1988, records the Holy Father, Saint John Paul II, as saying that this cry of Jesus “manifests Jesus’ feelings of desolation and abandonment.” The cry sounds from the deep of the desert, of desolation, and “expresses the depth and intensity of Jesus’ suffering, his interior participation, his spirit of oblation, and perhaps also his prophetic-messianic understanding of his drama in the terms of a biblical psalm.” That is, Psalm 22′s opening lines,
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my anguish?”
So astutely, and from the same link, the Holy Father says that,
“On the other hand in quoting the beginning of Psalm 22, which he perhaps continued to recite mentally during the passion, Jesus did not forget the conclusion which becomes a hymn of liberation and an announcement of salvation granted to all by God. The experience of abandonment is therefore a passing pain which gives way to personal liberation and universal salvation. In Jesus’ afflicted soul this perspective certainly nourished hope, all the more so since he had always presented his death as a passage to the resurrection as his true glorification. From this thought his soul took strength and joy in the knowledge that at the very height of the drama of the cross, the hour of victory was at hand.”
The word, ‘Voice,’ appears during the 16th century meaning, ‘to utter, to express.’ Only in the 1800s the word was applied to ‘vocal cords,’ however, in the 13th century, the word was applied to ‘sounds’ from the human mouth.
The Latin vox implies many aspects and is highly descriptive, “voice, sound, utterance, cry, call, speech, sentence, language, word.” The Greek eipon, for “spoke, said,” also relates to epos, meaning “word.”
Eremita or hermit derives from the early 12th century, meaning, “religious recluse.” Recluse means, a “person shut up from the world for purposes of religious meditation.” In Italian, the concept of recluse includes carceri, meaning prison, cell. The place of the recluse. These concepts are commonly applied to voluntary religious seclusion.
From the old French arises the ‘h’ (h)eremite, leading to ‘hermit.’ The Greek eremites, literally means, “person of the desert,” from eremia “desert, solitude,” and from eremos “uninhabited, empty, desolate, bereft.” ‘Ere‘ means “to separate.” The implied Latin connotation of the roots, rete and retis, means to catch in a net or seive, respectively (i.e. to separate one item or substance from another).
The late 18th century added a direct reference to a “person living in solitude”. The early 18th century saw the word applied to the Hermit Crab, who has solitary habits. Since the mid 18th century, eremita and its forms (excepting hermit) were lost from everyday speech, except “in poetic or rhetorical use.” However, even though the terms tend to be on the edges of society and desert, and still imply a sense of self-sacrifice through a simplicity and humility in lifestyle and values, today there is a revival of usage as people seek to understand the eremitical vocation and the deeper meanings that a solitary life affords.
During the course of events, as things unfold, I and with hope, others, will share much about the nature of Eremitical Life. But because this is only the first post besides the About post, written recently, instead of getting too detailed, allow me to share from the heart.
As a private vowed Franciscan monk, my best kept secret during most of my life so far was that my deepest commitment is to Jesus and Mary of Nazareth. In the past, in the west and around the world, people often took private vows and lived their lives and sense of commitment to spiritual values. These approaches came through actions, works, jobs, and relationships. Private vows are just that, private.
The ‘private’ needs to be understood not so much in the modern sense of privacy, and private space, but of one’s place within the social order. Imagine a world where all of society is Christian and the one Church, the Catholic Church, governs society. As much as people critique that world, the more one studies life under the rule of the Church, the more likelihood of a Christian ethic in society, and the more likelihood of pockets of compassion, kindness, and self-emptying behaviour, including, necessarily, by contrast to times when these qualities were least demonstrated. By comparison to the fragmented world of today, steeped in secular ideology and philosophy, where often violence and even worse, indifference to others is the norm rather than the exception, take your pick… I would choose a world guided by ethical and moral values that arise from deep cultural and spiritual foundations.
In the original western and eastern Christian social order, private then means not publically recognised under Church authority and law. Recognition has two elements, as there are times when we can see an informal acknowledgement on the part of a bishop. Then there is a more formal process that is pubic, from the front of the Church, as it were, and that exists under Canon Law.
The Roman Catholic Church has undergone such vast change since Vatican II reforms, which happened during the mid and late 1960s. From the 70s on through the 90s, most religious communities of women and men have seen major decline and closure in countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Australia, and Europe. Under Pope John Paul II, we get the impression that the Church was realising and waking up to these vast changes, which were already quite clear during the 1960s.
I’ve been reading the documents of Vatican II recently, wanting to revisit the wealth and wonder of that event. At some stage I may share some insight from that reading, but suffice it to say, highly recommended for anyone interested in grasping some of the seminal and prophetic visions of the Fathers of the Council, not only for the Church, but also for the western world and globally.
More recent changes in the Church point toward what is called the ‘new evangelisation’ which, if I understand correctly, acknowledges that western countries are now mission territories. We no longer have the luxury to assume that cultures are Christian or Catholic. Indeed, societies have changed that much that they are now quite secular and atheistic. As a trend, we can see how these changes have happened over time. But that discussion is also for another post.
Today the Church needs young men and women, and people of all ages, to ‘stand up and be counted’ in living the life of the gospel. Privately is one thing, and is certainly a wonderful way to live these values. Taking things to the public level is also worthwhile considering.
To live in either form of life, and especially for a public acknowledgement of spiritual values, means that we need to carry on our bodies the Lord Jesus Christ, and him crucified, so that the light and wisdom of his suffering, death, and resurrection will be seen, witnessed to, and will touch the lives of people in visible ways. The inspiration behind this impulse within the Church moves people to make their vows to the Lord somehow public – even if only to witness to this sacred way of life in such a way as to talk about it, write on it, and share stories and insights around it. Then people will know, and can know, that there is a way of life that is deeply inspired by these values.
So Vox Eremita is probably the deepest and most profound name I can imagine for this website at this time in western history and cultural development.
If you look around the web currently, you can find more voices from the authentic silence of contemplative life and prayer. You can find private and public hermits, some of whom live as formal vowed and consecrated diocesan hermits under Canon 603 of the Roman Catholic Sacred Law. You can even find Consecrated Virgins who have given public witness to their complete dedication to the Lord in prayer and service to their fellow human beings. There are many new and innovative communities that have emerged over the past couple decades, some of whom have web presence, while many remain still hidden from modern media.
At heart, the hermit represents the deepest yearnings and desires of the human person. The hermit speaks to the profound and simple nature of solitude, self-awareness, and letting go, or emptying of the self. What happens when we empty the self? Something might be there. Or something might be empty. We can only try, and wait, and see. Part of the mystery, and the danger, is that we do not know. And maybe we should not be allowed to know, I mean, ever. By living unknowing, we live in the very nature of question. We live the question.
By living the question, we wait in silence. In the liminal spaces between being and not being. We often imagine we hear an answer, like a small whisper. Some of us are quite deluded to think we have the answers, and then we teach and preach and wax and wane… endlessly… But God is not God, unless God is more.
So there is a deep irony in this Latin phrase, Vox Eremita. At once the ‘voice’ of the desert, of the wasteland, of the hinterland beyond the living places where people dwell, where life for anyone is hardly sustainable, this voice may well arise from illusion and projection, if not wholly from complete delusional thinking. And yet, the voice may also be of sight, touch, or smell, when the Spirit of Vital Life and Divine Wisdom breaks into our dull senses, and gives us something precious beyond reckoning. If we were to speak then, struck down by lightening. Nothing can compare with the wonder of God’s voice. But damned be the person who believes they are speaking with God’s voice.
And here is the rub… The voice of the hermit must surely be all of delightful madness and poetry. Like the songs of the Ancient Bards of Ireland. Like the mystical workings of the Ovate Masters, whose work it was to walk between the worlds of the Sacred Madness and the Human Sciences. Today we have within even the Roman Catholic Church a culture that seeks to welcome and invite people into the SACRED WORLD. And yet, still within reason. Still of practical mind. Always, Holy Mother Church wants to protect and care for people’s overall balance and well being.
And the Church knows, I mean, really KNOWS, that the spiritual walk is extremely dangerous. As a counselling psychotherapist my work in the realms of spiritual health and pastoral guidance make me painfully aware of issues of mental health, and of illness, and how these play and dance their way into real life, and into spiritual life.
Within all of this the voice of the hermit can and does speak from a place of tested balance, where discomforting harmonics interplay with the crude daily and human contingencies of life in the polis. The marketplace is no place for flippant spirituality. We must respect the way that deep calls to deep, and opens up these passageways for people, breaking through the ego and the crusted, projected, and false self. Causing crisis for so many of us, a completely profound crisis of meaning.
We modern people don’t know what to do when we awaken from decades of illusion, mistakes, and false living. When the Spirit of Life breaks into us, we are often crushed. We call this crisis a spiritual emergency. And it truly is for many. In those times, people need gentleness, but also firm and trustworthy caring. Crisis of spiritual emergence is a huge transition for people who have little experience in the realms of being.
The beauty of a once strong Catholic Church was that there was, in all likelihood, that you would meet someone wise and strong enough to carry you through such a crisis. The Church is set up so that people are around when you need them the most. But the Church today is weaker, because there are not as many people with spiritual maturity and depth, public people who will stand up and be counted among the elect, and who are part of the leadership in pastoral ministry.
This is not to say the Church is not still strong in so many ways. This is only to say that the Church always invites more of us to stand up and be counted. After all, the Church constantly asks us to live up to our Baptismal Promises, and she constantly prays for vocations, even when she may not know what to do with them when they arise. Every part of that emerging of new forms of life requires patience, listening, and discernment. This is also quite demanding on bishops whose trusted role for the People of God and for the world, is to discern the authenticity of new vocations and forms of sacred living. Today we want to explore with the Church new vocations and new expressions of living the gospel way of life of Jesus and Mary of Nazareth.
Therefore, we solitary hermits, other practitioners in the world, and we Christians who have let the Church be for many years, and who have stood by and watched the Church change these many years, and lived our lives silently, making our vows and good intentions part of our daily bread, we must now stand up and be counted. The Church needs us. Western societies need us. The community and the political arena need us. The Church has and continues to wake up, as well, and is far more active across the world.
Under Pope Francis the Church is seeing a new awakening, like a great and powerful Mother Bear rising from a long sleep of some forty years. She is powerful when she moves. The earth will tremble and feel her mighty energy of light and hope. She is very likely the only existing united and cohesive institution that carries forward a complete and integrative vision for ethical and moral living in the global community – at the very time that the world needs her the most.
We pray for Pope Francis, with heartfelt humility, asking God the Father for clarity and strength so that he can continue to transform the Church and the world through acts of mercy, charity, and loving kindness.
© 2014, Joseph Randolph Bowers, St Clare Hermitage (excepting borrowed materials of course)