How to be a hermit

How to be a hermit.

This is one of the most commented on pages of my previous website, so I have copied it directly with a few updates. I hope you still find it useful.

I occasionally receive enquiries from folk asking for advice or support in pursuing their own vocation to the hermitage, so I put this page together.  The information here is purely of a practical nature, and I write only from my own experience in the UK; it is not exhaustive, and things may be different in your locale and circumstances.  I may add to it from time to time.  Please let me know if you have further (practical) information which might be included.

The call to hermitage is often a gradual realisation,  a growing affinity with solitude, a desire to know God in the ordinariness of simply being alive.  It is a call which is falling on increasingly receptive ears.  By nature, it is a very individual call, and each individual will realise it in a different way depending upon personal inspiration and circumstance.  

I hope you will not be put off by the apparent lack of a support structure around the vocation.  It is one of the great joys and freedoms that each one of us interprets the call to hermitage in such  a different ways– it is essentially, perhaps, a call to “solitary living in the conscious presence of God”, though I know of hermits who live in small communities as well, so even the solitude is not a given!

You will find that much of the information on this page boils down to, “you have to work it out for yourself”.   Please don’t be put off by that.  It might take time –  longer than you expect –  and the solutions might appear to be at odds with any romantic ideals you might have been nursing at the outset, but with determination, a good dose of pragmatism, and a sense of adventure, all things are possible.   

By way of encouragement, I discovered (after I had been here 10 years!) that the journey of getting to my hermitage (which took me 15 years) has become a part of the sort of hermit that I am.  So don’t feel that the eremitical life only begins once you step over the threshold of your hermitage.  This long search and struggle for stability is the beginning of it.    God is with you.

I hope this page is helpful.  

Canon 603

§1 Besides institutes of consecrated life the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life by which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance.

§2 A hermit is recognized in the law as one dedicated to God in a consecrated life if he or she publicly professes the three evangelical counsels [i.e. chastity, poverty and obedience], confirmed by a vow or other sacred bond, in the hands of the diocesan bishop and observes his or her own plan of life under his direction.”

State of Life

There are very many different ways of living as a hermit within the Roman Catholic Church.  A hermit can live anonymously, without being “recognised in the law” (of the church), or they can choose to make some sort of commitment, either privately or publicly.  If public, this would usually be into the hands of the local ordinary (bishop).  Again, the type of commitment can vary by arrangement with the ordinary.

A bishop will usually expect you to have devised a “rule of life” for yourself before accepting your vows. (more on that later).

If you are considering  the possibility of becoming a “canonical” hermit by profession of  the Evangelical Counsels you will need to refer to Canon 640ff (“canonical profession” simply means, “profession with reference to the Canons”) which describes the process and requirements (basically a minimum of one year’s discernment, one year’s postulancy, 2 years novitiate, 5 years simple professionCor Orans 2018). Or you might be able to come to some other arrangement with your bishop and still be professed, but not canonically…

There is no “hierarchy” of hermitage – no single type of commitment is more valid or worthy than another.  Neither a canonical hermit nor a professed hermit , nor a privately vowed hermit is a “better” hermit than one who has taken no vows at all.  Most hermits (from the little information which is available) are living simple, anonymous, solitary lives without advertisement.

Rule of Life

This is a guide for daily living.  It should be useful rather than beautiful (though it can be both!).  Some hermits prefer to adapt monastic rules, or a rule from a religious order to which they feel an affinity.  Rules can be of varying length  and detail– I have found the primary usefulness  of mine to be a reference point for decision making; others might look for something which will more definitively structure their day.  From experience I would caution against anything too rigid  –  it is likely you will be chief cook and bottle washer .. and porter .. and gardener.  You will need to have the flexibility to respond easily to circumstance.   I would suggest that drawing up a rule might be one of the occupations towards the end of the novitiate year – when you have more of a feel for how you will live in hermitage.  We each do it so very differently!

(My own Rule of Life can be viewed here  – the first several paragraphs are scriptural and canonical guidance.  The practical bit is just the three lines at the end!)

Hermitage and living expenses

Whichever route you take, vowed or un-vowed, you will usually be expected to be self-supporting.  There is no centralised source of practical nor financial support for hermits, nor any register of empty-hermitages-seeking-occupants, not in the UK anyway.  You will need to find your own living place and some sort of income to pay the bills etc. Many hermits have a working life behind them & so are able to provide their own accommodation. Others are “donated” accommodation in return for caretaker or similar duties, or persuade a convent or monastery or other religious community to loan them an outhouse in return for labour.  You have to be pretty pragmatic, determined, and prepared to explore lots of avenues!  It isn’t easy.  

In terms of work, and support from the state:  in civil law you are expected to support yourself in the same way as everyone else.  You can look for, and express a preference for work which enables you to work alone, but there is no special exemption which entitles you to benefits or financial support if you refuse to work at all, just because the work offered isn’t hermitage-friendly.  

You may have the skills to earn a living from your hermitage – eg. book-keeping, accountancy, copy-writing, web design etc.  all of which which might be financially viable ways of earning a living from your front room.  Realistically, some of the more menial jobs like cleaning work and ground maintenance are usually plentiful and reasonably suitable as most cleaners/gardeners seem to work in solitude even if they are part of a team.  (I worked as a  solitary care assistant to a profoundly disabled woman for 5 years in her own home, which worked out very well).  You may find previous skills can be adjusted to become more hermit-friendly eg. my teaching experience still provides a firm basis for occasional private tutoring.

From experience, the pursuit of the artisanal work traditionally associated with hermits and monastics, does not provide a reliable, nor sufficient source of income – not to an unknown hermit – unless you are at the top of your artisanal game and already earning a living this way.  Many of these types of activities which help support established monastic communities are reliant on the regular footfall of associates and affiliates to the communities, and the publicity which is inherent in their longstanding, their USP, and the loyalty of their local churches.  If it works for you – then great!  But if you are just setting out and hoping to make your living from weaving baskets all day, then I would advise you to have a plan B to fall back on.  Sometimes God’s providence makes itself best known in the guise of a bit of realistic and prudent forethought.

Spiritual support

If you are seriously exploring a vocation to hermitage  then it would be wise to enlist the support of a spiritual director.  The life of the solitary can throw any number of oddities and curve balls at you, and it is as well to have some one you can freely consult and who will be able to advise you. Try and find someone  with a mature and committed prayer life of their own, who will take you, and hermitage, seriously, who is not in awe of the solitary life, and who will not pander to your whims and fancies!

And finally!

This may not have been the sort of information you were hoping for.  Launching into hermitage  is not the same as entering an established religious order – there is none of the security and stability which might be found in other forms of consecrated life.  It is an adventure with God which will require of you every last wit and ingenuity.  I pray and hope for God’s blessing on you.

In prayer, in God.

Rachel (Hermit of the Diocese of Nottingham)

Waiting in the Tabernacle of the hermitage

Written for the Merton Journal, Advent 2020

I am a canonical hermit, originally of the diocese of Nottingham UK (professed 2006), currently of the diocese of Hallam UK:  Hermits are eclectic and catholic in nature – we each do our own thing! I write from my own experience of hermitage, though I hope there may be common themes here which will resonate more widely.

Some questions from the beginning of the penny catechism:

1. Who made you?

God made me.

2. Why did God make you?

God made me to know God, love God and serve God in this world, and to be happy with God for ever in the next.

3. To whose image and likeness did God make you?

God made me to God’s own image and likeness.                       

As we draw towards the end of this Year-of-Covid, I have been curious to notice the priorities of the Church in supporting her members and the wider populace.  Within local parish communities there has been much evidence of ongoing support for each other and for the most needy, finding innovative ways to celebrate and to support. But the ecclesial headlines appear to have focused quite specifically on the re-opening of church buildings for private prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and thenceforward for the physical participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist.

When I was consecrated as a canonical hermit, I was offered the privilege of having the Blessed Sacrament reserved within my hermitage.  I gave the invitation much prayerful consideration, but eventually decided against it. My understanding and experience of hermitage is that the whole of the hermitage is sacred space; the whole of the hermitage is tabernacle, the place where the hermit meets Christ.  Hermitage is, for the hermit, the sacred space of God-with-us. This understanding and experience is a step beyond the foothills of the God-is-everywhere theme of childhood lessons.  This is the confidence that, by God’s grace, simply to embrace and live out my humanity in the place and circumstance I find myself, is the fullest possible expression of my relationship with God during my life on this earth.  

Deep within the paragraphs of Vita Consecrata (an encyclical on the consecrated life which is adopted by canonical hermits on their profession) there is hidden a quite audacious phrase.  It describes Jesus’ life on earth, his humanity, as the expression of his relationship as the Only-Begotten Son with the Father and with the Holy Spirit 2 .  

We have been taught, perhaps too often, that Jesus’s humanity is a belittling, a humbling of his deity, as if it were second-best, dragging him down to our own “wretched” state.  But if we ponder the statement above prayerfully, we can perhaps begin to trust that being human is, in and from the beginning, the most perfect way that Christ participates in being God – that Christ being the Word, Christ being human is the event of God speaking; as the encyclical states, it is “the expression” of Christ’s love within the Trinity. In the desire to most fully express the love of the Trinitarian Godhead, in the Word being spoken, Christ wondrously brought about, for Christ-self, the state of being human.  Christ is human first, before anybody else was even imagined, right from the beginning!

And for ourselves, being human is Christ creating us upwards into the ecstasy of the Trinity.  Christ’s undiminished humanity is the ecstatic love that we, and all of creation (because it is all spoken), are invited to share in our living today.  Each one of us is created in the image of Christ’s humanity – in the image of the fullness of this unbounded expression of Trinitarian love. As a hermit, I witness that I am called to make manifest Trinitarian love, through my own humanity – of Christ – in my daily life; that the call to being human in Christ, and in imitation of Jesus, makes manifest in me, too, the fullness of our relationship, in Christ, in the Trinity.  

So how does that work in practice?  The heartbeat of my hermitage is its sacred ordinariness.  It is an experience, in silence and solitude, of total immersion in the humdrum of daily life. A hermit is one who has, perhaps, become so overwhelmed by the immensity of the privilege of sharing Jesus’ humanity that she chooses to spend her whole life contemplating the mystery and manifestation of that gift in the most simple and ordinary form of living.   A hermit lives out the mystery of the Incarnation in her own body, her own blood.  A hermit says, “Christ, from the beginning of time, and in the fullness of time, chose being Jesus, being human, as the best way of expressing the love of the Trinity. Living in Christ, under the action of the Holy Spirit, and totally dedicated to God who is supremely loved 3,  I will now do likewise”.  

Because of the relentless ordinariness of her life, there is very little of worth that can be written about a hermit and her hermitage which cannot be written about every individual and community on the earth. That participation in the mystery of Christ’s humanity in Jesus is the focused privilege of the hermitage, but it is the lodestone of every human life.  The hermit inhabits the tabernacle of her hermitage, but all people wait and attend in the tabernacle of the worldChrist is close to us when we are kneeling directly in front of the Blessed Sacrament in a church, but just as close when we are sitting in the pews at the back, or standing at the boundary wall outside locked doors, or at any moment in any place when we attend inwardly to the presence of God.

Lockdown in the hermitage was not a time of greater separation, but a time of dwelling deeper within the mystery. Now, as the churches tentatively regroup and are re-inhabited, as people kneel directly in front of the tabernacle, and celebrate Eucharist together in each other’s company, we are able to express more publicly again the community which is Christ’s self-manifestation and revelation to the world.   In this time of Advent, of waiting, of expectation, and from the solitude and silence of my hermitage, I like to stand with the Church and the whole of humanity, bereaved, grieving and masked, together-yet-apart before the altar of God.  

God is with us.

 1. Opening phrases of the penny catechism.

 2. Pope John Paul II, 1996, Vita Consecrata. 18

 3. Code of Canon Law: Part III Institutes of consecrated life.  Canon 573 i

Covid 19 and Solitude

As a hermit, I have had a few requests during lockdown for ideas on how best to live in imposed solitude.  I have generally tried to avoid responding – I like to be on my own, so it is difficult to put myself in the position of those who don’t!  But during a recent conversation about prayer in lockdown, I was encouraged to share some of the experiences which initially coaxed me into hermitage, in the hope they might be of use to those who are less comfortable with the situation.

Many people, I know, have surprised themselves by the ease with which they have embraced lockdown. I am not sure this writing is really for them – they have found their own way into being at home in solitude, and one of the lessons quickly learnt about being alone is that everybody does it very differently. My snippets might well not resonate. There is no “right” way to do solitude.

Raphael Vernay (OSB hermit) wrote: The hermit is simply a pioneer … in the way of the desert which the whole of humanity must follow of necessity one day, each one according to their measure and desire.  This eremitical vocation, at least embryonically, is to be found in every Christian vocation, but in some it must be allowed to come to its full flowering in the wind of the Spirit.  It is not enough to affirm that the thing is good in itself, it is necessary that the Church and society do something, so that this life may be realizable, so that each may at least touch it, be it only with the tip of their little finger.

Hermitage is a lot about being grateful for very ordinary stuff,  savouring the detail.   Here are 4 small dishes,  a smorgasbord of hermitage highs, in which to dip your little finger …

1. Beginning with something concrete, a refreshing absence:  I know many people are using their lockdown to clear-the-clutter in their homes.  There is a great sense of space and freedom in the newly ordered kitchen cupboard, the pared back wardrobe, the empty spaces on the bookshelf.  

The temptation is to begin collecting again, to find more, better stuff to occupy the freed-up space.  But rather than looking forward to filling it up again, we can choose to inhabit the space ourselves, transform the emptiness into an entity to celebrate – a positive, definitive “thing” in its own right.  

We can spend time contemplating an ordered sock-drawer, a newly emptied shelf, a blank wall – appreciating its form and beauty – enjoying its own unique integrity.  God is with us. This is prayer.

2. Extrapolating from the empty wardrobe, like those puzzle images which interlock dark and light to give different pictures depending on perspective, we can sometimes more easily recognise presence, when we reflect on absence. As we can find substance within an empty space, so too we can embrace and explore our aloneness as a mirror and reflection of the company that we crave.  

As a friend put it, “For me personally, solitude is always tempered by the fact that I discover I am not really alone. God is there of course, and the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, but so too are all the people I carry in my heart.”  Absence can reawaken us to the people that we love.  God is with us; God loves with us.

3. In a similar way, instead of dismissing the sense of loss we might experience at the end of a party, or a visit from the grandchildren, or the end of a zoom meeting, we can dare to wait there a little longer and explore the unfamiliar landscape. Suddenly alone again in space, perhaps surrounded by the detritus of celebration, perhaps just standing in the kitchen sipping a glass of water before bed, slightly unnerved by the emptiness, the sudden vacuum of sound; there can be, if we leave ourselves open to it, a thrill of potential within that space.  It might feel initially like anxiety, or regret, sadness or even fear, but we need not avoid these reactions. Stick with the sensations a little longer and relax into them, try to taste them, savour them even.  

That edge, that point of liminality* between society and solitude can be a creative space if we are prepared to let ourselves be absorbed into the moment and not rush on to the next thing.  God is with us in the void.

4. But it is not always possible to stay and wait in the liminal* space, the edgelands.  The good news is that once we learn to recognise and nurture that sensation of presence-in-absence,  we can relocate that sensitivity into activity as well.  

Too often whilst we are doing one task, we can find ourselves planning for another which suddenly seems absurdly pressing. Mindfulness is an increasingly familiar concept, the notion of being in a place, rooting ourselves in the present, “resisting the urge to the next moment” (Quaker spirituality). It is not always easy to achieve, and we might benefit from an idea or motto, to anchor us.  

One such idea is to take seriously the worth of our ordinary everyday humanity.  From a Christian perspective, Jesus chose being human as the best way of loving God. His humanity is the full expression of his being Christ.  Our own humanity is formed in the image of his, so the fullness of our Christ-ness is expressed in our humanity too.  Whatever we are doing that is human (which, for the most part, is whatever we are doing – weeping, worrying, laughing, dancing, catching up on emails, washing the dishes etc. etc.), is the fullness of Christ, the best thing to be doing, the best way to be loving God.  We might remind and reassure ourselves of this with a little mantra, “this is what I am doing”, or “this is how I am being human right now”.   God is with us in our humanity.

Hope this has been helpful.  God bless you in the adventure of your isolation!  God is with you.  

*Liminal:  at a boundary or transitional point between two conditions, stages in a process, ways of life, etc.

Job’s Wife

Job’s Wife: the ordinariness of God.

(Prepared for Woman’s World Day of Prayer 2008)

For those of you who don’t know me I am a professed hermit of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nottingham.  People often ask me what that means: basically I live alone, in silence for the most part, & I don’t get out much!    & I spend part of my day in prayer, & the Church has consecrated me to continue living like this for the rest of my life.

My hermitage is an old council house up at Owersby & like the homes of many of you who live outside town, it is heated from a coal & wood stove.  We have read today from the Book of Job & I often think of Job sitting on his ash heap as I empty the stove of the previous days ashes before stoking up again.  I think of him a lot at this time of year!

So I love the book of Job, but when I was reading through the service booklet in preparation for today, I was struck by the comment of one of the women in the study group: “Job’s wife is more interesting to me.  She speaks plainly …”;  so I got out my bible & went back & studied it at greater length.

As we have already been told the Book of Job is basically a conversation between Job & his friends following a catalogue of disastrous events which have destroyed his livelihood, killed all his sons & daughters, & left him with some hideous & disfiguring skin condition.  So he sits on his ash heap & scrapes his sores & bemoans his fate.  His wife’s only comment, throughout the whole book (I did check) is, effectively, “why not just give up?  Curse God & get it over with!” … her actual words: “Do you persist in your integrity?  Curse God and die!”  I couldn’t help wondering if she could foresee the circus already on the horizon & heading in their direction, & was dreading all its pedantic paraphernalia – & the demands on her housekeeping! Curse God & die might well seem the preferable option!

Anyway, Job ignores her advice, & his friends turn up.  These are knowledgeable & eloquent men, well used to expressing their opinions; they are experienced in the ways of God & they enjoy the sound of their own voices!  At first they gently empathise with Job & encourage him to confess the fault that has brought these disasters on himself.  Job is puzzled because he doesn’t think he has done anything wrong.  “Well there you go,” accuse his friends, “the sin of pride …thinking you have done no wrong … God must be punishing you for that”,   “No”, insists Job, “there must be a mistake, I really haven’t done anything wrong”, “Blasphemy!”, shriek his friends, “God doesn’t make mistakes!”, & they get up & leave him to his damnation.   

Then steps forward a young man; a young man who is very sure of himself & who has a message which it is imperative that Job hears.  A young man who knows all the answers … “I have been waiting, now I shall have my say, I shall utter words of wisdom”,   and then  “Pay attention Job, listen to me,” and then,  “Keep quiet, I have more to say”,  and then  “I shall tell you, and your friends as well”,  and then  “Be patient a little longer while I explain”, and then, “I have more to say” … and so on & so forth.

Meanwhile, Job’s wife presumably trots back & forth preparing meals for these self-made gurus, pouring the drinks, sorting out beds (judging by the narrative, they probably stayed for several weeks), & not a word more is recorded as coming from her lips.  It could have been of course that her comments were totally unprintable, even by biblical standards!  But even after God has intervened & restored Job’s fortunes, there is still no more comment from his wife.  She keeps silence.

Legend has it that she herself did curse God at some point (& die).  I like to think that it was whilst she was making yet another tray of sandwiches for her insufferable houseguests that the wrath of God began to seem so much more attractive, but as Job went on to have another 10 sons & daughters to replace those he had lost, & there is no mention of a new wife, this seems unlikely.

But then I thought a little longer about this silence of hers; the silence of the ordinary; the silence of getting on & coping with the day to day.  It is something most of us here are familiar with I am sure.  

When I talk about hermitage, which isn’t very often, I seem to spend a lot of time explaining to people who are thrilled by the exotics of it all, that it really is very ordinary; intensely ordinary; it is if you like, a profound commitment to the ordinary & the mundane, and so it is probably indistinguishable in very many respects from the lives that so many men & women living alone today seem to enjoy, or maybe to suffer.  The main difference you might notice if you were to visit, is the silence. The hermitage, tries, at least, to be silent; the silence is the point of meeting with God, with humanity, with the hermitage of the whole world. So the ordinary and the silence are both things which are very important & very dear to me.  I like that Job’s wife kept silent.  I like that she kept on doing the ordinary things.

I spoke at this service a couple of years ago, up at Caistor.  The theme that year was about change, & I spoke about how change, effective change, is seldom brought about through momentous earth shattering events, or by the drama & emotion of life moving decisions; really effective change is far more often eroded out of us, it is a gentle, persistent leaning, it is about approaching the ordinary with honesty & reacting the best way we know how. That is how we grow everyday, and that is how we change.

So, whilst I was writing this talk, at about this point, I began to get a real sense of deja vu – the ordinary, the everyday … I was heading in exactly the same direction, & out of compassion to you, my listeners I almost tore it all up … except that today I am not talking about change.  Change may well happen, but I am not looking at it directly; I am not asking for it.  What I am looking at is the status quo; the silence & the ordinary as it is now for each one of us; What I am looking at is God with us in the silence & the ordinary, at Emmanuel, at God’s wisdom here & now.

So what is so special about the ordinary that I keep on going on about it so much?  Nothing!  Precisely.  The ordinary is not special at all, it is not Sunday best, & it is not winning the lottery; it is not the ecstasy of the mountain top & it is not a life changing decision.  I am sure (I know!) all these things have a part in God’s plan, that they can all be good & even holy, but they are extraordinary, not ordinary.  What is so special about the ordinary, what makes the ordinary so much more complete than the extraordinary, is that God chose it; God gave it to us, in fact God created it! Ultimately, of course, God chose it for his Son, Jesus, who spent the first 30 years of his life in a very ordinary way; And he chose it for Mary, who spent the whole of her life being ordinary – if you look at the Gospel accounts, Mary barely gets a look in once we are past the infant narratives: a wedding, a family reunion & the death of her Son; presumably the rest of it was too ordinary to mention.

So God chose ordinariness for his Son & for his mother.  We usually imagine (& to some extent the scriptures encourage us to imagine), that in his great plan, God created man from some sort of blueprint & loved what he had made.  Plan A.  But then man went astray  & made a total hash of things; this, naturally, upset God & so (from Galatians), “at the appointed time, God sent his son, born of a woman, born subject of the law, to redeem the subjects of the law”.  Plan B. If we read this in isolation, it can give the impression that when Jesus became human, he was becoming something less, something uncomfortable, something contrary, for our sakes.

I would like to suggest we look at it another way, the opposite way in fact.  Imagine that Jesus was always human, “In the beginning was the Word, & the Word was made flesh …”; that being human was, if you like, another name for being “the Word”, an intrinsic aspect of Jesus’ divinity; that being human was the best & only way for Jesus to love his Father, for his Father to love him;  that Jesus being human was not the rescue plan, that it was not plan B, it was not even plan A; that Jesus being human predated even plan A; that Jesus being human was the blueprint.   

And then (as St Paul says), we were created in the image of Jesus’ humanity; we were made human, because Jesus already was.  Then we made a hash of it & “at the appointed time, God sent his son …”

If we start from this point, then we can see Jesus’ life on earth from an entirely different perspective – not shoe-horned into an unfamiliar nature in order to fulfil a very specific & spectacular mission, but a totally natural expression of God’s life.  For Jesus to be human was an entirely cohesive expression of his Godhead.  & for 30 years, for Jesus to be human, was for Jesus to be very, very ordinary.  

* The extraordinary events of the final 3 years of his life – the preaching, the miracles, the crucifixion, were, I would suggest, provoked more by our own warped perspective on being human, than by any extraordinary intention of Jesus – if we had been fully accepting of our humanity, our ordinariness, then those 3 years need never have happened – but instead, beginning with that fatal apple in the Garden of Eden, we avoid the ordinary; in Jesus we did it big style!  We killed him!  And we do it still today, in seeking after thrills & experiences & extraordinariness for its own sake: anything to take us away from being human, from being ordinary.  Ordinary is boring & ordinary is mundane & ordinary is dull.  Jesus tells us, ordinary is to love God; that simply in eating & breathing & sleeping & working & walking & sitting we are being ordinary as Jesus was being ordinary; we are being human as Jesus was being human; we are expressing our love for the Father as Jesus expressed his love for the Father;

I recently returned from a retreat up in Scotland.  It was called a “silence & awareness” retreat, & as silence & awareness is the sort of thing that I do, I went up without much research into what I might find there.  In fact it was a retreat using Buddhist methods of meditation for Christian prayer.  But this wasn’t prayer as in lots of words, not even lots of nice thoughts; it was prayer in terms of just being aware – aware of your breathing, aware of your walking,  aware of your sitting, or eating, or even, after sleeping, aware of your awakening, aware of your ordinariness in fact, aware of being human, and always in silence.  

The silence of the retreat; the silence of the hermitage, the silence of Job’s wife, the silence of the ordinary; To be silent is to experience our ordinariness, to welcome it, to embrace it,  because it is only in silence that we can be truly present to ourselves, to all that is ordinary in us, to all that God created us to be; and it is only when we are present to ourselves, to all that is so wonderfully ordinary in ourselves, to our humanity, that we can be fully present to God.

I checked on that last talk I gave, it was 5 pages long which seemed about right & at this point I have only made 3 ½ pages.  A bit short, I thought & prepared to expand a bit more on what I had written, and then I thought of Job’s wife.  … God bless us all.

This is a dodgy paragraph: I have not explained myself well.  My only defence is that I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the talk & go off on a tangent … far better to totally confuse everyone instead.  So to clear up a couple of potential misunderstandings:

1. What I am not saying is that the events of Jesus’ 3 “mission” years were not extraordinary, clearly they were.  What I am saying is that this extraordinariness was provoked by our need, (to counterbalance, and undermine, and overthrow our warped perspective), rather than by any inherent desire on Jesus’ part to be extraordinary.

2. Following on from that, I am also saying that in presenting himself “extraordinarily”, that Jesus was not setting a new benchmark for what it looked like to be in relationship with God.  The fullness of his relationship with the Father had already found perfect, lived-out expression in the 30 “hidden” years and it is there that we need to look to see God’s perfect and loving intention for each of us.

3. However, just so as to not have the last word … the following comment was made by a friend & he is probably right: he usually is.  I repeat it verbatim:

A truth that your talk takes you towards but perhaps which you don’t want to admit, is that through this, first acceptance of, then immersion in, the ordinary, a person enters into that extraordinary life in God for which they are always searching, and almost unknowingly prepares themself for extraordinary acts of love.  Jesus’ 30 years of ordinariness prepared him for his 3 year mission, Gethsemane & Golgotha.

Welcome to St Cuthbert’s House, home of a canonical hermit: diocese of Hallam, UK.

The hermit is simply a pioneer … in the way of the desert which the whole of humanity must follow of necessity one day, each one according to their own measure and desire. This eremitical vocation, at least embryonically, is to be found in every Christian vocation …  it is necessary that the Church and society do something so that this may be realizable,  so that each may at least touch it, be it only with the tip of their little finger.

 (Benedictine Raphael  Vernay: On the Desert Place of the Inner Sanctuary, 1974).