S T C U T H B E R T ’ S H O U S E Hermitage of the Diocese of Nottingham
Waiting in the tabernacle of the hermitage
Written for the Merton Journal, Advent 2020
I am a canonical hermit, originally of the diocese of Nottingham UK (professed 2006), currently of the diocese of Hallam UK: Hermits are eclectic and catholic in nature – we each do our own thing! I write from my own experience of hermitage, though I hope there may be common themes here which will resonate more widely.
1. Who made you?
God made me.
2. Why did God make you?
God made me to know God, love God and serve God in this world, and to be happy with God for ever in the next.
3. To whose image and likeness did God make you?
God made me to God’s own image and likeness. 1
As we draw towards the end of this Year-
When I was consecrated as a canonical hermit, I was offered the privilege of having the Blessed Sacrament reserved within my hermitage. I gave the invitation much prayerful consideration, but eventually decided against it. My understanding and experience of hermitage is that the whole of the hermitage is sacred space; the whole of the hermitage is tabernacle, the place where the hermit meets Christ. Hermitage is, for the hermit, the sacred space of God-
Deep within the paragraphs of Vita Consecrata (an encyclical on the consecrated life which is adopted by canonical hermits on their profession) there is hidden a quite audacious phrase. It describes Jesus’ life on earth, his humanity, as the expression of his relationship as the Only-
We have been taught, perhaps too often, that Jesus’s humanity is a belittling, a humbling of his deity, as if it were second-
And for ourselves, being human is Christ creating us upwards into the ecstasy of the Trinity. Christ’s undiminished humanity is the ecstatic love that we, and all of creation (because it is all spoken), are invited to share in our living today. Each one of us is created in the image of Christ’s humanity – in the image of the fullness of this unbounded expression of Trinitarian love. As a hermit, I witness that I am called to make manifest Trinitarian love, through my own humanity -
So how does that work in practice? The heartbeat of my hermitage is its sacred ordinariness. It is an experience, in silence and solitude, of total immersion in the humdrum of daily life. A hermit is one who has, perhaps, become so overwhelmed by the immensity of the privilege of sharing Jesus’ humanity that she chooses to spend her whole life contemplating the mystery and manifestation of that gift in the most simple and ordinary form of living. A hermit lives out the mystery of the Incarnation in her own body, her own blood. A hermit says, “Christ, from the beginning of time, and in the fullness of time, chose being Jesus, being human, as the best way of expressing the love of the Trinity. Living in Christ, under the action of the Holy Spirit, and totally dedicated to God who is supremely loved 3, I will now do likewise”.
Because of the relentless ordinariness of her life, there is very little of worth that can be written about a hermit and her hermitage which cannot be written about every individual and community on the earth. That participation in the mystery of Christ’s humanity in Jesus is the focused privilege of the hermitage, but it is the lodestone of every human life. The hermit inhabits the tabernacle of her hermitage, but all people wait and attend in the tabernacle of the world. Christ is close to us when we are kneeling directly in front of the Blessed Sacrament in a church, but just as close when we are sitting in the pews at the back, or standing at the boundary wall outside locked doors, or at any moment in any place when we attend inwardly to the presence of God.
Lockdown in the hermitage was not a time of greater separation, but a time of dwelling deeper within the mystery. Now, as the churches tentatively regroup and are re-
God is with us.
1. Opening phrases of the penny catechism.
2. Pope John Paul II, 1996, Vita Consecrata. 18
3. Code of Canon Law: Part III Institutes of consecrated life. Canon 573 i
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