There is a difference between a secular solitary and a monk eremitic. The secular solitary is alone just to be alone. The monk is alone to be alone with God. By secular, I do not mean atheist. By monk, I do mean spiritual; the monos who is one heart with God. The secular solitary may say prayers. The monk is the prayer.
I am a monk. The point of my life is God. I am not traditionally consecrated into a religious tradition. I am a monk in the world; self styled. I learned about being a monk from Benedictines. I learned about it from books. Most of my monastic practices are traditional: lectio divina (spiritual reading) and contemplative prayer. Anthony was an early Christian who famously started the tradition; leaving the city and going out in the desert to live with Christ and fight demons. But most Holy Rules for monks advocate the structure of a monastery. I am the variety who left the monastery and went to the Poustinia to live on my own. The lack of religious validation is a cross I seem to bear; a relic of my Benedictine teaching. I have no trappings, like religious garb, or title, or hairdo. I look very ordinary and do not generally speak publicly of who I really am.
You might say, “But you are an engineer.” I would say, “I don’t have a desert cave or a monastery, so I work for a living.” You might say, “You are a runner.” I would say, “I am running to God. I run in the Spirit.” Alone, I am not constantly busy, not even reading all the time. Often, I just sit and contemplate. I spend hours in lectio. I listen. I am silent. I am being still and waiting.
I live in a Poustinia. Poustinia is the Russian word for desert. It was traditional for Orthodox monks to go to a hermitage. A Poustinia in the West is a place for someone to go and seek God. It is a place of silence and solitude and prayer. Although looking like a house, inside it is the Mount of Carmel, the Mount of Tabor, the cave of Jesus tomb, the cave of Elijah, the Bodhi tree of Siddhartha, a Tibetan mountain peak, an ashram of one in an Indian forest. The Poustinia is the agony of the cross where Jesus cried, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Poustinia is the river of baptism and the mount of transfiguration where God cried out, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” The Poustinia is a prostration at the foot of the cross, and before the Glory of God. The Poustinia is the wild shouting, “Hosanna” and “Maranatha.” It is the place where I have chosen to go.
My Poustinia is also in my heart, my consciousness; my inner temple where God dwells eternally. I go to work and the store and the marathon and other places, but my life is always hidden in the inner temple, known only to Christ. The light of Christ shines out. If it was me that lived in the world, not Christ, there would be no light for others and I would be a dreadfully sickened person. This is not so.
In the Poustinia, there is the darkness of Mother Theresa, the great faith of pilgrims crowding Lourdes. There is Eucharist and Adoration and Reconciliation. There is no football or election campaign or financial crisis. The monk’s material needs are minimized, being filled by God. Music is a type of veil, hiding the soul from God; or a covering which prevents the mind from being totally exposed to the divine light. The news is a distraction, diverting thought from the divine Presence and from prayer. TV is programming; filling the mind with something other than Christ. The monk’s food will often stray into nothing but spiritual texts; eating the words and being satisfied with God. The Poustinia is not often ecstatic. Usually it is just a desert, just a silent place, just faith. With the darkness of God’s silence and the blinding light of faith, the monk waits and watches and listens and prays. This is the life of a monk in the world and what I have embraced as my vocation.
This leads into my response to your question, “Why am I telling you about being a monk?” There are cosmic and eschatological reasons for the eremitical life, the silent life. At a minimum, the conscious contact of one person with God is a gift for all; whether they know it or not. Christ is a cosmic consciousness remembered for all and given to all. It is because I feel the inner light of Christ beaming out to all creation. I wanted to offer Christ consciousness as a gift; and remind us of spiritual realities beyond normal day-to-day life.
One person alone praying seems so worthless. No evangelization is attempted. The works of charity do not take place in the physical world. Purpose is carried out metaphysically and spiritually; perhaps not seen but deeply known. No trace of the hermit’s healing hands are found, but surely they were there. No sound of the hermit’s prayer was heard, but surely a blessing was received.
In my silence and my fasting, I have found the well of praises for Christ my life. These praises gush forth uncontainable. My dam has broken. My reservoir empties. Peace be with you.