Lent and the Unintentional Hermit

MonksFor some time now I’ve been meaning to post this quote from the  beginning of Leah Libresco’s Building the Benedict Option:

I’ve never felt called to imitate Saint Simeon Stylites.  I’ve never sensed God calling me to build a pillar on top of a tower or a mountain and to live an ascetic life on it, far from other people.  But God doesn’t need to call stylites anymore.  It’s easy to become one accidentally.

Although marriage and monasticism would both require me to seek out someone else– husband or mother superior–  to discern with and to guide me, the atomized nature of modern life makes it possible to become a hermit unintentionally.  This situation is a big departure from the history of hermits.  At the time of the Desert Fathers, a monk who wanted to live alone had to get the permission of his spiritual father, because living alone, just he and God, was not something to undertake lightly.  It was an unusual calling that required exceptional spiritual discipline.  Living one’s faith alone, without preparation, is the religious equivalent of trying to run a marathon without so much as a jogging habit as preparation.

The book is about establishing “thick practices” in Christian community that can help clarify the place of Christian faith in a context more hostile to the faith than many of us understand.  But it also says something significant about the situation of the single Christian striving to live a faithful life . . . . often without the wisdom and guidance of those further down the road.

There’s more to being a single adult Christian than simply lacking a spouse.  Don’t get me wrong: that alone changes the landscape in ways both obvious and subtle.  It’s particularly true in a culture that has all but deified marriage.  The assumption made by many is that the single life is easy and free from constraint.  Neither of those assumptions is true.  But often people either can’t or won’t sit with us long enough to get a real sense of that.

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One of the things that makes the liturgical calendar, and particularly the daily office, appealing to me is that it gives me scriptural structure and intent that is too often unavailable from a local Christian community.   And it’s not just that I get to read widely from the Bible regularly.  There’s also a sense of it having been lived in for a while, that it’s something passed down to me that I don’t have to come up with myself.  Granted, there are some limits to such tradition (which I hope to write about next week).  This is particularly helpful during seasons like Lent or Advent, even though I don’t necessarily take part in any fasting or extra church services.  These things, along with seasonal music, helps me as I find myself an “unintentional hermit.”

(image from mysticmonkcoffee.com)

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