Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Guidance from a Solitary Hermit and Bits on Exile

In reading more of John Climacus' The Ladder of Divine Ascent, this hermit is blessed with pertinent guidance in daily life here in the hermitage.

Returned from two days in civilization (all went well, allowing love to take over).  Learned that the one remaining family unit, although they live a distance already, may be moving.  This possibility reminds this hermit that the temporal passes easily, and the Lord allows changes which are all very good for those seeking Him in each detail.

John Climacus (6th c. solitary hermit) describes three levels or types of religious.  The first are those who live among many others, such as in a monastery.  (In our current times, this could include hermits who are more interactive in parishes, work in public jobs, and are generally known in and for their hermit vocations.)

The second are those who live with two or three others who are seeking God in a more focused, spiritual solitude.  (Today, this could include those who live together in a house, or in a small monastery with laura-type apartments or individual cabins.)

The third type or way is a hermit who is more isolated from others, and experiences vast amounts of silence and stillness.  Climacus himself was of this way of eremitic existence, and describes such a hermit as a solitary, one who lives alone, not with others. (Such a hermit in current times would embrace a more austere existence, face rigorous physical and spiritual trials, yielding growth, but who also may be more criticized by others in a world of increased and rapid communication, technology, and value placed in material and action-oriented success.)

Climacus ascribes the term hesychia to one who does not approach this third level of solitude but is more of the first two types.  He terms as a "solitary" or a "hermit", one who is of the third type--very much immersed in solitude and stillness to a higher degree than the other two categories.


Climacus devotes the third step of the divine ascent to emphasizing the point and value of exile.  The solitary hermit must enter into this mode which Climacus describes as an irrevocable renunciation of all to which one has become comfortable, attached, used to, in one's familiar surroundings...and which hinders the soul from the ideal of holiness.  

Climacus is not one for extremism.  Although to some, including perhaps the first type of religious who lives among many people and interacts more frequently with what is familiar and in the world, if even the world of the church or monastery, his thoughts on exile might seem extreme. They are not, however, at least not to the degree of following Christ to which a solitary hermit type desires, and to that of union with God.  Climacus wisely states, though, that not every form of exile is good if taken to extremes in ways that are not led by God or without discretion.

The description of exile:  a separation from everything in order that one may hold on totally to God.  It is a chosen route of great grief.  An exile is a fugitive, running from all relationships with his own relatives and with strangers.  

Advice for the hermit solitary who desires the ideal comes, but he describes the traits of God's grace that come through the effort:  a disciplined heart, unheralded wisdom, an unpublicized understanding, a hidden life, masked ideals....

[Exile] is unseen meditation, the striving to be humble, a wish for poverty, longing for what is divine.  It is an outpouring of love, a denial of vainglory, a depth in silence.

As for advice to those who take the narrow path of exile:  Do not wait for souls [who are] enamored with the world when you are pressing on towards solitude and exile.  In any case, death [to self, to the world] comes when least expected.  Many set themselves the aim of rescuing the indifferent and the lazy--and end up lost themselves....Not all of us are summoned to rescue others.

And this, on detachment:  Detachment is good and its mother is exile.  Someone withdrawing from the world for the sake of the Lord is no longer attached to possessions that he should not be deceived by the passions.  If you have left the world, then do not begin to reach out for it.  Otherwise your passions will come back to you....

A true exile, despite his possession of knowledge, sits like someone of foreign speech among men of other tongues.

This gives a glimpse of but one small section of the thirty "rungs" or steps of the ladder to God.

What it evokes for this hermit is much assistance in what is currently being experienced in daily life.  It is not the withdrawal from relationships, as that has occurred quite naturally and without this hermit having to do the parting.  It is more the additional descriptions of the most solitary of the types of hermits, which are so very helpful. 

Climacus describes the throes of adaptation, quite aptly!  He writes of the pitfalls, of God allowing the devil to try to draw the soul back out into more active duty among men, even of the good works of active Christians, and appeals to pride in souls that would have them think they are something rather than nothing.


There is so much more, but just today, when very cold in here, the body did not want to get out of what warmth the bed and a small space heater provide.  Yet, the inner spirits began seeking distractions, and it began to ponder just how solitary is the solitary life, and even a dream had dangled financial aspects of the world in a fantasy way.  

This hermit was just about to think itself back into what-if's of life in the outer world, even of the good aspects of the temporal church. But the grass was too high, and the days are numbered for weather good enough to mow it.  Just then, in another section of his guide, Climacus mentioned that solitaries needed to have a pile of palms nearby so that they would fight off temptations in thought, by working in weaving mats.

Two-and-a-half hours later, the grass here was mowed, and a silent, solitary, but stilled and thought-stabilized hermit came back to the warmer room in the hermitage, and thanked God for John Climacus who is evidently accepting this hermit's request that he be the spiritual guide for now.

The book is so good, that when the hermit received a rare phone call this evening from a friend, John Climacus' writing became a topic.  The woman and her husband live the second type of religious that Climacus describes, although they have not taken vows other than as oblates.  But their life circumstances have them as two monks living apart from the world other than her work editing a religious, online publication.   

She mentioned how, with her husband ill much of the time, that the silence gets to her, so she wears a headset with ear buds so that she can listen to some news or other programs. Yes, she said the silence becomes too intense for her, day in and day out, even though her husband may be in the next room, sleeping.  

This hermit admitted that it is a process, the adaptation to some of the pulling away in order to draw toward His Real Presence in a depth we'd never thought, through a narrow gate of which we'd read in Scripture but not fathomed how narrow it can be in the unfolding of actuality.

She would like the book.  Am going to send a copy to her.  They both will find help in their daily lives and spiritual lives, for they are seeking the ideal of holiness, as well, even if not consecrated religious of the eremitic life.

This hermit here has so much to learn, and most of it by hard experience.  Praise His Real Presence!  God bless His Real Presence in us, and let us love one another, little children.  Remain in His Love!

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