Today is the first Sunday of the month when we share guest posts from people living and teaching the Contemplative and/or Celtic Christian way around the globe. One of the beautiful things about the internet is that people doing amazing things in isolated parts of the world can learn from one another and grow together. We hope this article inspires you to dive a little deeper into what it means to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors while looking forward to what kind of world we will leave for our grandchildren. I would like to share an article with you today from a member of our New Eden community, Keren. That’s her artwork above.
Keren Dibbens-Wyatt (aka The Honeycomb Hermit) is a chronically ill writer and artist with a passion for poetry, mysticism, story, and colour. Her writing features regularly on spiritual blogs and in literary journals. Her full-length publications include Garden of God’s Heart and Whale Song: Choosing Life with Jonah. She has a new book, Recital of Love, coming out with Paraclete Press in June 2020. Keren lives in South East England and is currently housebound by her illness.
I hope you enjoy her post!
That solitude and silence are great assets to the spiritual life is a truth universally acknowledged. But not many of us have the luxury of them laid out for us. We have to go in search of them. Sometimes that means going on retreat, or carving out for ourselves slabs of early morning or late evening, or between school runs, when we know we won’t be disturbed.
Jesus tells us to pray by closing the door (Matt 6:6) and often went off by himself into the wilds to pray. He knew that human beings need space and time away from the world to just be with God, and to sit with the mystery of both ourselves and the Trinity.
You don’t have to be a hermit living in the woods to become a contemplative or a mystic (though it probably helps) and I’m quite sure that I would not have trodden this path if I had not been chronically ill to the point of being functionally disabled, unable to work, and largely housebound.
I spend most of my time in bed, sitting up to use the computer or do a little art when I am able. I do not have much, certainly no strength or energy, and it is not quiet where I live, so earplugs are my constant helpers. But one thing I do have is time. I am also mostly alone, since I’m too ill for conversation.
If you take yourself off into a place of isolation, or if you are forced there, a time and space is created in which you cannot run away, either from God or crucially yourself and the shadow work that you need to do (and which will soon make itself apparent when you begin to pray in earnest with any regularity).
This is why so many contemplatives are religious (monks and nuns) but it is quite possible there are many parents of young children among us who are mystics (ones who see) since it is a calling for those who have experienced great love, great suffering, an act of grace, all three or any combination thereof.
Looking at tiny fingers and toes is likely an epiphany for many. We don’t hear about them so much, most likely because they don’t get time to think or write things down, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t see and know. It is a different way.
I met with a real-life hermit several times, a Carmelite sister who lived in a hermitage flat within a priory. One of her duties was spending mealtimes with the guests. In this way, she actually saw a great many people, but she spent the lion’s share of her time alone.
Even my go-to saint, Julian of Norwich, shut away in her anchorage attached to St Julian’s church for nigh on forty years, had a window in her cell to which people would come and seek spiritual advice. I wonder if she ever found it annoying, but I suspect she knew only too well that some connection to life is necessary.
Whilst we need solitude to seek God’s heart with diligence, it is almost impossible to cut ourselves off from all human contact and activity, and in any case, it is good to keep that contrast alive in order to thirst more for God. It also teaches us ways of experiencing and living out Christ as his body, which deepens our prayer lives still further.
We do need time and quiet to some degree to contemplate, to “be still and know that I am God,” and even if you are old, sick, or live alone, this is still something that needs to be intentional. In this century, time is so easy to fill with “entertainment,” whole film libraries, contact with our friends and a myriad of games are now at our fingertips, all of which we can slide between effortlessly in moments. Perhaps this means we are losing the ability to stop and chew things over, to savour the taste of food, let alone God. It is tough to learn to hear his voice over (or indeed under) the world’s cacophony.
When you do start to seek out quiet and isolation, you usually come slap bang up against resistance. You find in ways you did not notice before, that the world and the father of lies love noise and distraction.
Social media can be a wonderful place for connection, but it is also a shouty place where anything of length or depth is ignored by all but a stalwart few. We need to be weaned from memes and gifs, from twee quotes taken out of context, onto things of more substance.
People of God need to be thirsting for something with more gravitas, if we are to enter into prayer with any good intentions. How can we prepare to meet the holy three-in-one if we can’t expand our attention spans and learn to wait for mystery to arrive to a heavenly timetable? It can’t be done. We will quickly give up and wander away and say it was not for us.
Waiting, delving, falling into the undercurrent that seems like nothing, but which is flowing with everything, is what we need to learn to do. And that will only come by sitting with and in silence, being still and training ourselves to let go of the focus on ourselves that binds us so much of the time. God must become the centre, and all else fall away.
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