My current personal medical isolation, the inability to get around on two feet, and a sudden crippling snowstorm, have each contributed to a perfect vortex for the season of Advent! I have no choice but to be still and know that God is here.
An article in The New York Times of last Sunday threw a little heat into this cold swirl of spiritual dryness called acedia. Suddenly, I became interested and even inspired over the story of a couple who are bona fide hermits in the North Carolina woods. You might ask, what are hermits? For starters, the early church fathers and mothers in Christianity are the best known examples of the life of solitude who wrote and prayed from desert caves in the Middle East. Hermits are prayerful persons devoted to going deeper into solitude in order to meet and commune with the expansive love and existence of God. It is key that hermits enter this journey out of love for God and others. They are not misogynists, or recluses, trying to avoid people and life in general. Getting away from it all is not the attitude of the hermit. In fact, hermits need people and events to carry to their prayer, to intercede for, to lift up as offerings out of love and concern.
The eremitical life presents a wide berth to accommodate anyone interested in it. From one end of the spectrum, you can retain your career and become a hermit. And, from the other end of the spectrum, you can sell everything, build a cabin in the woods and begin life as a hermit either way, your life as a hermit must include reading (mostly spiritual books including scriptures), meditation, prayer, and contemplation. The New York Times article inspired me to encourage my readers to spend this advent in a hermit-like environment for the purpose of settling into the spirit of waiting. Waiting for growth in your spiritual life, or for peace, or happiness while making time for the elements of reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating. Each week in Advent I will take one or two of these elements and discuss them with you from the perspective of Advent. Let’s do this together.
Reflection: Spiritual Reading
Reserve an area of your home where you can assure yourself of quiet for at least a few minutes per day or longer. Try to do this the same time each day. A comfortable chair, a candle, maybe some music always help with the ambience. This first ingredient of the eremitical life requires that you take inspiration from reading during this quiet time. I suggest you try the traditional lectio divina method by reading a passage or section once. Next, ask what word or phrase jumps out at you. Re-read the section with that word. Think on it. Ask again, why it might mean something to you. Read the entire passage again. Do this with scriptural readings, two of which I indicate below. You might want to also read some excellent books or articles on Advent spirituality. A classic for Advent is The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander which is really a reflection on Mary as she came to the realization of Christ taking form in her as He does in us. Check out titles found in Catholic magazines like America, Commonweal, and U.S. Catholic.
Most of all, let’s you and I settle into a place of peace for a few minutes everyday of this season. Let’s become useful hermits of the spiritual life, exploring the depths of God within us. I can assure you, good things will happen as you move more into the meaning of Christmas. Share on our comment line what may have stirred the embers of your spirituality as you did your reading. Others will take consolation in it. Next week we will discuss prayer and meditation, the next two ingredients of the hermit’s life. And I can’t wait until the week of the 21st when our blog will have a wonderful surprise for the contemplation part of a hermit’s life!
Using lectio divina as a method, let the Word of God permeate your soul as you read Isaiah 9 and Luke 1. Whatever strikes you as you read is something God wants you to consider. Take it to heart.
Choose a book on Advent and commit yourself to delving into it during your hermit prayer time. Or, at least read the Advent reflections found in popular daily Mass and prayer books. Nearly all parishes provide these in the vestibules of the church.
Let’s do this together and move quietly through Advent where the God of love awaits the thrill of embracing each of us.