… I always wanted to be one — in a modern sense, not the ancient idea — at least I don’t think so…
Society today calls a hermit someone who just doesn’t want to be with people all the time — someone who draws strength from being alone and actually loses energy by being in the middle of a crowd. I guess a hermit could also be someone like the uni-bomber who lives in the mountains all alone and thinks of ways to destroy life. That’s creepy. I certainly don’t want to be like that!
Still, I do relate to large chunks of time that offers solitude and quiet — a few days at home alone, not answering the phone or the door, in front of the fire or outside on the patio in the summer by the fountain refreshes me like nothing else. No conversation. No questions to answer. No dressing up. No one to impress. Just. Time. To. Think. Time to reflect on God and his ways. Just oceans and oceans of alone.
Conversely, a weekend at a Christian or secular conference packed with people and activities drains me completely dry — even if the worship and teaching are amazing. I have literally run out of meeting centers where retreats and seminars have taken place just to breathe some alone air — to get refreshed away from the oppression of the crowd. I feel smothered, stifled, trapped with all those people.
I saw this as a weakness — was told it was a weakness — and I repented of it over and over. I still confess it as sin when it comes up in my life.
Yesterday my husband and I took a drive to the Dead Sea area. The arid, desert mountains where life is extreme and severe and the area filled with caves that sheltered the lives of hermits through the ages. Some of them didn’t flee there for solitude and spiritual strength, they sought refuge from their enemies in those dry, craggy mountains, like David fleeing Saul. But many came there willingly just to be alone, so they could be close to God.
My hubby and I were in the desert just a short time, and my imagination ran wild considering the ample solitude, strength, and spiritual insight the ancient hermits found in those dry and severe places on earth like the Negev and Egyptian desert.
One interesting fact about hermits is that they actually did not live completely isolated. Although they had their own “cells” or caves and certainly some of them started out alone, others became part of a family of hermits that helped each other and learned to love and serve in community.
The one commandment that became supreme to them was “to love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” They realized that love could not be found or expressed alone, although they deeply yearned for solitude — even needed aloneness to show their devotion to God. They saw that one cannot “love his neighbor as himself” without having a neighbor. So hermit clusters formed in the desert. These men’s lives became so inspirational that outsiders would come to hear their wisdom and witness their lifestyles. If a woman was interested, she had to dress like a man to approach the community.
The severity of their surroundings shaped their lives, and they found comfort and delight, not in things, rather the Maker of things — God himself. Reading some of the history and mystical writings of those hermits, the great Desert Fathers, as they are considered now in some circles, makes me wonder if this “sin” I have been repenting of all my life is really a gift.
Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her