“Silence, Solitude, Simplicity: A Hermit’s Love Affair with a Noisy, Crowded, and Complicated World”
by Sister Jeremy Hall, OSB
Forward by Kathleen Norris
Collegeville, MN: Order of Saint Benedict, 2007
Sister Jeremy Hall defines spirituality as “our being-before-God and how this works out in al aspects of our lives: our self-understanding, our values, our relationships, our commitments, our prayer, our work, our leisure, our goals and the means we use to achieve them.” A member of the Benedictine order with a doctorate in Theology, born in 1918, Sister Jeremy lived as a hermit for twenty years of her life. It is that experience as a hermit that informs “Silence, Solitude, Simplicity: A Hermit’s Love Affair with a Noisy, Crowded, and Complicated World.”
Sister Jeremy speaks of the desert experience which all of us go through at some point in our lives. While we may not physically go to a desert to live, we all are tested by the dryness of life. At those times, we are “challenged, purified, to become aware of my frailty and God’s strength, of my infidelity and God’s unending faithfulness, to be healed of my enslavements and set free at the heart of my being, to learn to trust deeply in the God of promises.” The desert is not a destination, but rather a place to get through in order to reach a land of promise, as Moses and the Israelites did in the Hebrew Scriptures. The journey may be long and arduous but there is a reward on the other side.
Sister Jeremy also speaks of the value of silence. Silence should not be pursued for its own sake. Indeed, there are definitely times when speech is more appropriate. Silence actually shows a reverence for speech in that it allows one to truly listen to the other. Silence is “a positive receptivity, a creative waiting, a welcoming openness. It is openness to God, to our deepest selves, to others, both as individual persons and as the human community, to beauty and truth and goodness, to mystery – and to the word of Scripture that reveals God, and to the Word who is God’s Son.” Sister Jeremy reflects on how maintaining silence forces you to actually listen to your own thoughts which at times can be an unpleasant reality. Silence forces you to listen to yourself as you truly are. It provides self-knowledge to begin working on your faults.
Contrary to what one may think, embracing solitude, even as a hermit, is not a rejection of the world at large. “The person who embraces true solitude, either at certain times, or as a way of life, is not running away from, nor rejecting anyone. Rather, such a person is making room within, is preparing to welcome someone – God, others, self. It is a positive choice, … and it is for a positive goal.” God seems to be calling more and more people to lives of solitude. Hermits, practicing a way of life which has not been greatly embraced since the sixteenth century, are growing in number. Even those who cannot make such an extreme commitment to solitude are seeking it in smaller doses through retreats. Solitude often then leads to greater service. Once the well has been filled with the Spirit, there is more to offer to others. “Every Christian solitary, whether living in a hermitage for a long time or going to a quiet place now and again for some desert time, has to discern, with prayer, in grace, and often with the help of another, the right personal balance between solitude and service.”
So, too, are more and more people embracing simplicity in their lives. “Jesus says forcefully that genuine disciples shouldn’t be preoccupied with wanting things. . . .Don’t worry about food, drink, and clothing . . . certainly not with more than is needed to live decently.” Sister Jeremy goes on to discuss American icon Henry David Thoreau who “chose simplicity as the most deeply human way to live.”
Embracing the desert experience of silence, solitude, and simplicity helps to open ourselves to God and others. Sister Jeremy helps readers appreciate the value of the journey.