Solitude for a hermit is essential.
In fact, for any depth-seeker of His Real Presence, it is requisite. We know from the Old Testament prophets well enough that going out into the desert, yea the desert of our minds as well as pulling apart physically at times, is necessary for that still, small voice to be discerned.
This morning I thought of two people, Roxy Lefforge and Henry David Thoreau.
Roxy was a missionary to China in the 1930's or before; her time included being in the Philippines during WWII as a victim in the Death March. She was a victim of the persecution, but she physically survived the march and was rescued along with those she was evangelizing. I knew her when I was a child because she would return on furlough once ever two or three years and would speak at our church.
Later in my life I had the honor of reading her personal letters and writing about her for publication. She became a missionary as a young woman, following the untimely death of her fiance. She went to China and learned the language on-site, which was a rather horrific and daunting immersion program for a woman, alone, in her very early 20's. Her life is nothing but sheer inspiration, but what I recall from my childhood is a sense about her of Christ within. Her eyes sparkled of the Holy Spirit. That is the best and only way to describe them.
When I returned to my hometown after the divorce and disabling back surgery, I returned with my children for a judge let us out of California in a dramatic court situation. My ex-husband betrayed his terrifying temper at the last minute, lashing out at the judge. The latter's gavel dropped three times after he simply announced I could return to my home town and take the children with me.
So back in the hometown, I was asked to write an occasional column for the newspaper about people who had affected lives for the better. Thus I got to know Roxy Lefforge intimately yet after her earthly leave-taking. I know she is with me now as I think and write this little synopsis of her life, sharing with you.
I learned she died alone, in a small, humble house. She was discovered at her kitchen table, head dropped down on her open Bible. As I recall, she had been dead for a couple or more days. A great soul and great lady, a heroine she would be called today, having helped thousands of Chinese and Filipino people to come to Jesus Christ and to teach them to read, write and love God in Himself and see Him in others.
Her letters shared the immense loneliness, though, in her solitude among the native peoples, particularly when she did not know the language for quite awhile at first, and was a single woman, young and beautiful, in foreign lands of which most Americans would not think of inhabiting at that time. She had much solitude especially in the bouts of illness--malaria and other diseases--she suffered. And it was in solitude that she lived a great part of her life even when amidst people, even when on that Death March.
She was a soul who had climbed the holy mountain in ways others had not. That "alone" created an effect of solitude, even upon her return to her home town and church in retirement years. And she was humanly alone when she drew her last breath while reading her Bible at her little kitchen table in her simple little house.
Her accomplishments in the spiritual life were due, among other aspects such as selflessness, suffering, simplicity, stillness, stability, silence, slowness and serenity--to solitude. There is no substitute for solitude in the walk of Christianity and closeness to His Real Presence.
Roxy was not a hermit by any means. She did not have that vocation. But she possessed the secret of the Nine S' and lived them, all the same. Ultimately and supremely, though, she existed in His Living Word and prayed and praised God, and gave her life in service to Him, for and with others.
As for Henry David Thoreau, his solitude was for other purposes, yet it brought some excellent results. He went into silence, solitude, slowness, simplicity, stillness, stability and serenity partly as a philosophical and literary experiment of the transcendental ideology and movement. No doubt living apart from humanity for awhile had its inbuilt elements of suffering, and perhaps it was selfless of him to place himself in the trial and to have written his thoughts in and on solitude.
I'm not sure what more I might write of Thoreau. But he provided insights and sampled a way of life that transcended the typical and the worldly, and it altered his soul all the same even if not in any Christocentric fashion or conclusion.
I suspect that his eyes did not sparkle the Holy Spirit, although I do not know. Perhaps I am narrow and wrongly guessing or judging in this, and the sparkle of the Holy Spirit is quite subjective, anyway, and a way I use to describe how I personally detect or am shown a marvelous soul filled with His Real Presence. Did he meet Jesus in the solitude of his experiment at Waldon Pond? Perhaps so. He did not write of such.
Regardless, as a hermit a Catholic one at that, I am a seeker of truth and of Truth. In that seeking, I have caused some to react, especially those who I may remind of some higher calling or reflect a wrong being done for which they are responsible. I also tend to nail myself from time to time, and to discern and pick through whatever may be my wrong or sin in any given situation.
I definitely do not see that the hermit vocation could be lived other than with a goodly dose of steady solitude. I am convinced that is why His Real Presence has caused my change in hermitage locale and the events leading up to it and following. The other day I realized I'd not likely get this place salable for a long time given that cash is short and my body pained and getting older, and a neophyte in most if not all the manual labor necessary for me to accomplish.
But Jesus and St. Joseph are excellent carpenters and contractors, both. My angel Beth is marvelous with "houses" of all types. Yesterday I completed framing two windows, other than I still have to figure out a way to lift the larger one into the opening. I noticed a neighbor out and asked if she or one of her many male guests could spare five minutes to help me lift it into place.
There has been no help, and I have seen people coming and going there. I could take this poorly. Rather I see it as His Real Presence asking of me to pray for others but to rejoice in the solitude, for He will figure a way, and when He works in our lives in rather miraculous ways, it is more testament to His Real Presence.
Today the young mother and wife called, and she thinks she can manage more chapters than two a week in the Garrigou-Lagrange book we are reading, together, yet me in earthly solitude and her in relative solitude. Reading is actually a solitary action, unless reading aloud with others. People can be all about, but silent reading is between the soul and the soul and words of the author. We are not alone.... I cannot think of my hermit vocation as being other than it is regarding the amount of solitude necessary. Granted, it is a process of deepening adaptation. I am learning to be comfortable with solus Deus My inner senses are growing keener, my love for others and God is growing whether or not that love is returned from others, and my discernment also is growing. I will ever rake over the temporal aspects of myself and of interactions, and of the church. Seeking truth and Truth requires raking within and without. This prepares the ground, the soil, the hummus.
Despite some who have other than vastly solitary hermit vocations, I am finding solitude quite necessary even if there is at times the lurking temptation to think one is lonely or surely this should not be, that God would surely not want this much alone time. Then I reach out and try an hour of socializing with, such as the other day, and I am reassured of my social skills and liability factor. I return to solitude and the other nine s', and I renew my faith and trust in His Real Presence.
It is all very humbling.