January 3rd, 2008

cloister

Rule of Life, draft #1

Below is my first pass at a Rule of Life.

In case you have never seen one, a Rule of Life is a set of guiding principles by which religious vow to live. Monastic orders all have them, and Solitaries generally compose their own. They often follow the format below. In my case it at least had to include the three traditional vows (poverty, chastity and obedience) plus a description of my praxis. Some Rules are quite extensive and specific, resembling a corporate charter with extensive provisions for daily schedules, advisory boards, etc. At the other extreme, I've seen one that was a single sentence.

For mine, I felt it was better to articulate the guiding essence of what I'm doing, and that specifics would be too limiting in this context. So this one is fairly brief, as Rules go. Here goes.

RULE OF LIFE

+In the Name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

By the grace of God, I offer my life as a Solitary of God, to live in union with God, surrendering myself to be totally immersed in the mystery and love of God.

Vocation

My vocation is to seek the perfection of Divine Love, devoting my life to continually deepening my relationship with God, in a covenant of love, through prayer in silence and solitude.

Vows

By these vows, I seek to be free from hindrances and remove all barriers to perfect intimacy with God, seeking God before all else, and only him.

  • Poverty. Recognizing my spiritual poverty, I cast myself upon divine mercy, empty, waiting, thirsty for God’s grace.
  • Chastity. I vow fidelity to God and to this Rule, to love God with an undivided heart.
  • Obedience. I vow to empty myself of any ambition of my own, surrendering totally to God’s grace, listening attentively at all times to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
  • Silence. I vow to entrust myself to a “living and vigilant silence,” to listen and wait upon the voice of the Holy One.
  • Solitude. I vow to seek God in solitude, trusting that all I need comes from God alone.

Praxis

I will live out these vows through a practice of prayer, contemplation, reading, study and work, including:

  • Regular participation in the Sacraments of the Church.
  • Daily recitation of the Daily Office according to the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Daily practice of contemplative prayer and Lectio Divina.
  • Ongoing reading and study in contemplative spirituality.
  • Ongoing spiritual direction.
  • Regular journaling and writing spiritual reflections.
  • Honoring God’s presence and love in my relationships with others.
  • Maintaining a residence as a place of enclosure, and limiting interaction with other people to those that are necessary for sustaining a healthy, balanced life and this vocation.
  • Simple living and responsible stewardship, owning only what is necessary for a healthy, balanced life and sustaining this vocation, in harmony with this Rule.
  • Seeking physical, emotional and spiritual balance, treating myself with respect and compassion.
ubi caritas

The Solitary Witness

The application asks: Describe what you believe the Solitary witness is… what it involves, and how you believe it differs from other lay vocations.

The Solitary Witness

In 21st century America, the spiritual lives of most Christians take place in the context of gathered community, and are filled with the bustle of sound and activity. We are encouraged to talk to God, talk to each other, make a joyful noise, join up, be together, engage in activities, accomplish things. For most, togetherness and activity are the essence of Christian life; silence is merely the absence of sound, solitude is a problem to be solved, and stillness is a void to be filled.

But some few people seem to be called by God to another experience. For them, the noisy activity of community life, while valued, may be distracting. In silence, they listen rather than speaking. In solitude, they give their entire attention to God. In stillness, they are content to rest in the awareness of the presence of Love.

The Bible gives us glimpses of this ancient, alternative calling; even Jesus sought God in solitude. Following his example, in the 3rd century, Anthony went into the desert, and Christian monasticism was born. In medieval times hermits were respected and sought for spiritual counsel. Although over the centuries modern monasticism has become less eremitic and more focused on community and charitable service, some few are still called to an eremitic life. Some still live enclosed in monastic communities; some live independently in private houses or even city apartments. Because of the quiet and solitary nature of their spiritual lives, few know about them.

The vocation of the Solitary is, in many ways, a hidden vocation. It is a call to withdraw from the world, to live on the margins, within the apophatic and unknowable, forsaking the comforts of social lives and accomplishments. Apart from prayer, the Solitary vocation contemplates no visible ministry, no work, no productivity, no service to the Church. The Solitary is a failure by the world’s standards, cast upon divine mercy, empty, waiting, thirsty for God’s grace.

Most people find their greatest fulfillment in relationships with lovers, family and friends, who are (usually) a source of joy. For solitaries, that same joy is found in relationship with the Holy One, and in devoting one’s life completely to continually deepening that relationship. Our aim is to discover the perfection of Divine Love, removing all barriers to intimacy with God.

Becoming a Solitary means restructuring one’s life and priorities. Most people seek relationships with loved ones, or personal achievement, and structure their lives to provide what is needed to sustain those priorities. By contrast, Solitaries structure their lives to sustain their relationship with the Holy One, above every other interest. Given this re-prioritization, one’s life takes on a different shape. The Solitary withdraws from the world’s values to immerse herself totally in God.

The praxis of the Solitary, which nurtures and nourishes this relationship, is a diet of prayer and contemplation, supplemented by reading and study, and tempered with work. For me, the vocation to be a Solitary is a particular focus of contemplative spirituality, a love-driven way of knowing God that is centered in constant awareness of the Divine presence. In the silence of contemplative prayer I focus my mind and heart totally on God, not to ask for anything, not to say anything to God, but to open my heart to listen and simply rest in God’s presence. I seek to quiet all distractions, the better to be open to God’s voice. The highest experience is simply to be aware of God’s presence and delight in it. There is no agenda other than: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

An essential part of the Solitary vocation is to pray for the Church and the world. In union with God’s desire, I see others through God’s loving gaze and face, with him, toward our suffering world in love and compassion.

God calls some people to activity, service, intellect and study. But the Holy One calls the contemplative Solitary to seek the Divine in an interior landscape, in a cloud of unknowing, in love and by faith. I do not necessarily know how or even whether God will use this vocation to the benefit of the Church, nor do I feel a need to know. Others seem to benefit from reading my journal reflections, though that is not why I write them. I am confident that God has some reason for calling me to this vocation, and will reveal it in his own time.
labyrinth

Where I am now

For new readers, here is a quick summary of where I am right now. (If you want some backstory, feel free to go back to previous entries and find out what transpired up to this point.)

If there were Episcopalian Carthusians, I would get rid of all my possessions and simply show up on their doorstep tomorrow. I would happily enter the monastery forever, never to leave, and abandon myself to the life of a monastic hermit. But after exploring the available religious communities for women in the Episcopal Church, I found that there are very few options for someone seeking a contemplative, eremitic life, as opposed to one devoted to community living and charitable service. In fact, there were only three tiny contemplative orders. Upon review, I felt that none of them are right for me.

Therefore I decided to move forward as a Solitary. I will continue to live alone in my current apartment, and convert my life into an eremitic one, insofar as possible, by the grace of God. For the most part, I am already living the life.

I discovered that my own diocese, the Episcopal Diocese of New York, created a program for the Solitary vocation. The process requires an application, written statement, letters of recommendation, several interviews, medical and psychiatric evaluations, and a background check. The program calls for annual vows for a period of five years, before making a Life Profession. The program seemed promising at first, but turned out not to be a good fit for me, so I elected not to move forward with that option.

Becoming a Solitary involves a radical re-ordering of my present life. There is much to do on a practical level:

  1. Convert my schedule to liberate enough time for daily office, lectio, centering prayer (done!)
    1. Try to work from home instead of commuting 20 hours a week (done!)
    2. Craft an appropriate rule of life and horarium (done!)

  2. Convert my apartment into a hermitage
    1. Get rid of unnecessary possessions (pretty much everything) (working on it)
    2. Arrange the space to support prayer and study as primary activity (working on it)

  3. Seek formation
    1. Further study in contemplative spirituality
    2. Find a mentor who is a hermit for guidance on solitary life (working on it)
    3. Nurture relationship with spiritual director & wise friends (working on it)

  4. Find a support system of confreres for encouragement and counsel
    1. Internet connections (working on it)
    2. Associations of solitaries (working on it)

Even these initial steps clearly constitute a multi-year project.

As I take each step, I'll have a question in the back of my mind. Is this step irreversible? If I'm wrong and I need to go back, will I be able to? Should I keep the option open? Is it wise to have an exit strategy, or is it faithless? To what extent should I abandon myself to this process, never to return?

There is a lot I can do, however, before I reach a point of no return. So I begin.

Here is a journal entry reflecting on my life as a Solitary as of July, 2009.

updated January 1, 2011