The Quiet Life of an Urban Monk/Hermit

Many people know I live an unusual life as an urban monk or hermit. Some years ago I built a fully self contained hermitage in our basement complete with all that I need to live. At the top of my stairs there is one door going into the first floor of the house, and another door going to outside so I am able to come and go independent of the rest of the house. My wife Caroline lives on the first floor, my step-son Glenn and his wife Joyce live with their daughter Lucy in the top flat, and I am the “feller in the cellar”. I live down here full time. In fact, I visit with my wife on the weekends but from Sunday bedtime to Friday suppertime we have no contact except to leave notes for each other at the top of the stairs. I live this life with my wife’s total approval and support.

I belong to a religious order,
the Order of Desert Companions.
The Order has its own rule,
and I live by its principles
as well as additions and adaptations
particular to my own call and situation.

As a support to this life I belong to a religious order, the Order of Desert Companions. The Order has its own rule, and I live by its principles as well as additions and adaptations particular to my own call and situation. There are seven words that dominate my personal Rule of Life, well eight actually but the eighth does seem to stand alone. The first five are my gifts to God in opening my heart and living my life in contemplative communion with Him:

Rule of Life.
  • Silence
  • Solitude
  • Stillness
  • Simplicity
  • Servanthood

The next two are the wonderful gifts that God gives to all of us to assist our living for Him.

  • Scriptures
  • Sacraments

The final and eighth one is not something I choose to do, or something I want, but it is a large part of my life nonetheless. It might be considered a “gift from God” the value of which is determined by my response to its presence.

  • Suffering

I have mental health issues that impair my concentration and limit my functioning. I am also a chronic pain patient. I have lived with continual moderate and sometimes severe pain due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome for more than thirty years. This primarily affects my shoulders but on bad days it can radiate down into my arms and hands. I choose to give myself to silence, solitude, stillness, simplicity and servanthood. I choose to make use of God’s gift of the Scriptures and the Sacraments. I do not choose to have this suffering in my life; I did not and would not choose this path. But it is there, day after day after day. The only thing I can choose is how I respond to it, and I choose to respond by offering it as an oblation, and offering poured out unto the Lord. I manage both without medication. I so order my life as to not aggravate or stress my emotional/mental well being. And as much as I can I avoid the things that make my pain worse (wouldn’t you?), and soak in two scalding hot baths a day, which seems to help. And in spite of these things mine is a blessed life.

A Hermit, not an Anchorite

While I am an “Urban Monk”, I am not an Anchorite. Anchorites life an enclosed life. They are cloistered in their Anchorhold and rarely leave. Some, in the pattern of Dame Julian of Norwich, have an Anchorhold attached to a church with a window to outside and one into the church through which they participate in the Mass and receive the Eucharist. I come and go as I please, but I do spend significant time in my monastic cell. And during the week I do my best to avoid people and not violate my solitude or my silence.

Which Is It, Hermit or Urban Monk?

Saint Anthony of the Desert.

I practice what I call a form of Primitive Monasticism. Today most think of a monk as one who lives in a monastery, and a hermit as one who lives alone, and far from society, often in a rural area. The idea of an Urban Monk or Hermit is relatively new, but very appropriate to our times.

In ancient times the word "monk" applied to those living a hermitic life in strict silence and solitude and poverty. They first lived in the deserts of Lower Egypt. They were truly alone. But as this way of life became more popular more and more people came to the desert, and communities began to form. Each monk lived alone throughout the week but within walking distance of the church to which they travelled on the weekends. They enjoyed an “agape meal” together on Saturday, and the celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday, and returned to their hermitages or cells for the week. My own life somewhat follows this pattern, only in an urban context. St Antony of the Desert, my patron saint and religious namesake, was a leader and inspiration for this lifestyle.

Saint Benedict.
The Rule of Saint Benedict.

Others felt called to a religious life but not to the same degree of solitude. They came together in monasteries and were called "cenobites," after the Greek word "koinonia," or "fellowship." An early leader of this movement was St. Pachomius who organized the monks into a strict common life. Sometime later St. Benedict reorganized the system with a more humane and gentler Rule, now called the Rule of St. Benedict. While I am not a cenobite, I do consider myself a Benedictine. The gentleness and moderation of his Rule is a great antidote to my own tendency to be extreme, and it also accommodates the limitations imposed on me by my disabilities.

So which is it, Urban Monk, or Urban Hermit? I do not have a call to live in community, other than that in which I participate with my wife and the rest of the household on the weekends. I am much more hermitic, but since both were originally called “monks” I can legitimately be called an Urban Monk. Eh, call me what you will.

Fantasy Fulfilled

It is interesting how life works out and how the desires of our heart lead us to where God wants us to be. During my last pastorate in a Pentecostal church I loved the people, enjoyed preaching and teaching, and had a place of influence in the community. But all during that time I entertained a secret fantasy that I would be convicted of a crime I did not commit and it would be of such a nature that I would be incarcerated in solitary confinement. They would give me my Bible, a few books and basically leave me alone. So you see, I am living my dream! God is good.


Divider.

Saint Anthony of the Desert.

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