Rachel is a hermit. She lives “in solitude and silence” in a small Lincolnshire village and has taken a vow to stay in the hermitage for the rest of her life.
The eremitical life exists within most world religions – the call to a life of seclusion, spent with God alone, in solitude and silence, has an authentic resonance within almost any faith community: not everybody is called to the totality of the hermitage, but most people do need at least to touch the edge of solitude, to acknowledge a deep yearning for something beyond themselves, which, try as they might, is never quite satisfied. Within the Christian church the tradition stretches back to the earliest days of the desert fathers and mothers in the first few centuries AD, when pioneering men and women left their communities to walk into the desert and live there for God alone.
To live as hermit these days seems a strange and outlandish thing – but in reality the experience of it is surprisingly ordinary. Before I could begin my life here as a hermit of the diocese of Nottingham, I had to present the Bishop with a Rule of Life which described how I would live in the hermitage – it states (amongst other things) that I would live in “simplicity, solitude and silence, staying and returning there insofar as duties permit” so I come back to solitude and silence in the same way most people come back to a family.
Of course I have to earn my own living. There is not much call for rush mats and rosaries these days – the traditional industries of the hermitage – so most of my income derives from a small calligraphy workshop which I have set up. Rather perversely, for a hermit, I love words! We live in a society which sells them cheaply, and so they can become cynical or meaningless. Calligraphy is a means of slowing all that down – a way of exploring and valuing the particular form and identity of each word, each phrase. Any time left over from the workshop is spent in the garden which I try to work organically. My first job here was to dig up the lawn so that I could grow my own vegetables. It was a mammoth task, but the work paid off, and now I enjoy produce from the garden with nearly every meal.
My Rule of Life also states that I will spend time each day in prayer. Without this, my life in the hermitage would become meaningless. Twenty years ago I was a novice in a Carmelite monastery. Although I did not stay, I recognised whilst I was there that the most authentic experience I had of God was one of absence – the despair of not experiencing God at all – but that this non-experience was more real, more demanding, more sustaining than any other encounter I had known: Being here keeps me in touch with that, day and day again: this is where I rest, waiting on God.
You can find out more about being a hermit from this website
Taken, with permission, from www.stcuthbertshouse.co.uk