Thursday, November 13, 2014

Braving, Battling Birds and Demons

There is a prize for anyone who can figure out where birds get into this hermitage!  Another one greeted this morning.  Perhaps it is the Lord reminding that He cares about the sparrow and certainly cares about us!  Not sure if the little sparrow is outside or not.  Have opened windows and doors, but then it tends to pop up in another area, yet inside.  So be it, little bird.

It has been 44 degrees inside here, and that with the heat pump going non-stop.  Yes, it finally got repaired only to have another power outage.  But this time when the power came back on after a few hours (cold ones, huddled in bed), the circuit board had not blown, thankfully.  It is just very cold.  The heat pump man came when called, and the heater is pumping out heat.  He thinks more insulation will help, and "button up the place."

There is nothing like physical discomfort to be either a motivating factor or a death-knell.  For this nothing Catholic hermit, it is a motivating factor for now.  Hustled as much as a cold, old, pained hermit can hustle, and got more insulation in the wall spaces.  

But it is not as easy as it may sound.  First all the rat feces, remains of nests, and cobwebs are to be swept from between studs.  Then steel wool is jammed down in crevices through which critters can squeeze themselves, amazingly squeeze themselves to find warmth.  Perhaps the cold in here is helping them not desire coming in so much?

Each piece of insulation is cut-to-fit the stud spaces of which no two are the same dimensions in this old domicile.  Woke up in the middle of the night to pain and also to the immediate thought:  Have to remove the insulation between all the studs and toe-nail in 2x4 blocks along the floor line.  Yes.  Surely my angel or some carpentry contractor in purgatory was sent to remind that one must have wood along the floor between studs to which the drywall and baseboards can be screwed and nailed.  

Most construction has what is called a base or toe-plate, a 2x4 that comprises the bottom of a wall.  the wall studs are nailed to the base plate and also to a top plate or ledger plate.  This old farmhouse simply has wall studs that run from the crawlspace to the top or ledger plate at roof.  The studs are 20' long and probably milled at an old lumber yard, early 1900's.

There is work to be done, and the bird of this morning is still not outside.  Saw him fluttering about in the next room.  Opened that window, but it flew downstairs.  Will deal with him later (a him due to the brighter feather coloring).  And will deal with removing insulation and nailing in the wood between studs once the body gets energized and focused enough to tackle the cold downstairs and outside where the power saw is upon its stand.

As to demons, have been battling them, and not as bravely as one would hope.  They attacked Saturday night and did not leave until Sunday night.  This hermit is sick and tired of the annoying spirits, inserting such dark thoughts into the mind and playing upon physical pain and weariness and emotional fatigue.  So decided to defrock the demons, so to speak.  Shame them out, shine the light on them, and enlist a couple of close spiritual friends to pray for this hermit in the thick of battle.

Just put it in writing to the friends, what are the dark thoughts, and how am tired of waking up to them in the wee hours, or having them descend with the dusk.  There is power in prayer; and there is power in laying bare the ugly thoughts that gain victory over us when we keep them held in.  Called the electrician, and said how overwhelmed in here with the cold and the discomforts, the work to be done and the dwindling funds.

He said anyone would be discouraged and overwhelmed with this place!  He said men would be, and men who were able-bodied, at that.  Told him how the other day decided to use the hammer he'd forgotten the last time he was here.  Laughed and said was used as a show of force and strength to get some work done! 

The main thing is to trust the Lord and simply keep going.  One must brave the elements and battle the demons.  Both are aspects of the eremitic life and tradition that are nothing new. 

A friend sent a video that helped with fortitude and  with outing and routing the demons.  It was of a man who'd been atheist for 44 years and then converted to Coptic (Eastern Orthodox) monk.  He exudes humility in the video as he shares his challenges, of which a main one is the human loneliness and sense of isolation. 

Yes, of course he has God with him; but he mentioned the other monks were in their own culture, had their language, and their families who would visit now and then.  He does not speak their tongue; he has no immediate family living, and if so would be on the other side of the world.  This hermit put it in a fascinating context.  He said the other monks have it much harder because they deal with the demons of the senses as distractions.  They can converse, they can hear and understand, they are reminded of the world in these ways, plus through their family members who are alive and not far away.  

These distractions are needling attachments and cause the other hermit monks more difficulty in arriving at the inner attachments that then need to be revealed and removed.  So, despite how difficult it is for the hermit who is of a different culture and country, he considers himself blessed to have the outer attachments snipped by circumstances. 

Hearing the hermit monk speak of such loneliness and sense of isolation helped this nothing Catholic hermit immensely.  Instead of the challenges here being hardships, or the inner battles being somehow a signal of something wrong or the vocation a failure, it all made sense that all this is a gift.  Being stripped of much human interaction, being in such solitude, braving the elements and battling the demons are signs of progress in the spiritual life and in this eremitic vocation.

The hermit monk also mentioned some phases or categories of which St. John Climacus discusses in The Ladder of Divine Ascent.  There are three ways of the hermit monk.  The first is living in community in a monastery with people about and some level of interactions.  The second is living with two or three others.  The third is living in solitude.  The man in the video lived in solitude whereas others in his community lived in the monastery.

While examples could be given of the shifts God provides in hermit lives, with some living among others more than those living with just two or three, and yet other hermits living in relative isolation from people whether religious or not, God determines each hermit's course--and most often uses circumstances to let the hermit know his or her course.

For the hermit in the video, his mother's death was a factor, as well as a conversion experience while he was traveling the world.  How he ended up in the desert and as one of the monks associated with the monastery built where St. Anthony of the desert built his hut in the 3rd century, was not revealed in the video.  He was there, though, and had been a hermit monk for some years, and was of the solitary type of hermits (of the three general ways).

What impresses, though, is the hermit's humility in candor about his struggles and challenges (at the time of video being filmed).  While he faced mostly inner challenges, still, he said, memories could snag him the most and tempt him to think of external distractions.  When the other monks families visit, he knew they talked with each other; or at other times the monks talked among themselves.  He could feel very alone.  Then, God would remind him that the hermit was with Him, and that the sense of isolation provided God to fill the hermit in ways no other could.

It is true; it is so.  There is purpose for hermits who God takes along the path of stricter, perhaps strictest, separation from the world in silence and solitude, for greater praise of God and in prayer and penance.  Whatever the case for each hermit, we ought be thankful for whatever way God provides.


Now to go downstairs and into the cold, and try to help the little bird find its way through the door which the hermit shall open for it.  And then, bundle more and measure, cut, and nail some 2x4's.  Praise God for His providence in courage to brave and battle the birds and the demons!  

God bless His Real Presence in us!  Little children, let us love one another (and all creatures) for God is Love!  Remain in His Love!

[As was finishing sharing, that little sparrow perched above on a coiled wire hanging from the ceiling.  Opened yet another window, but it disappeared in a hole in a wall in the other room.  Aha!  That is its little hermitage within this hermitage.  Eventually that wall will be gutted, and hopefully the bird will have flown out a window before more cold in here.  

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" Matthew 10:29-31.]

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