Anne M. Smith-Nochasak:
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Winter has arrived in the woodlands, and the silence settles around us. Sometimes, it is a comforting blanket, shielding us; other times, it crowds close, suffocating us.
Today, I pause to reflect on the community that is formed in such places.
In The Monastic Journey, Thomas Merton dwells on the monastic calling not, like many of us assume, as a call to reject society, but as a summons to enter it more fully. I guess this makes sense -- sometimes being apart draws us to contemplate that which we love, and in our separation, we recognize what makes loved beings, places, and things special. It magnifies the beauty, while gently blurring the lines of failure. This does not mean that we deny the realities of the world, but that we look past these, to celebrate what the world can be.
I was surprised to learn that Merton considered the hermitic calling to be an extension of the monastic calling, kind of an ultimate call to community. Here, one loves and interacts with the world without coming into contact. The hermit embraces life, it seems, while no longer requiring a physical reference point. That would be an ultimate participation in the world -- an appreciation transcending the boundaries of space and time.
The true hermit, then, is not a taciturn misfit who hates people. This person is, instead, one who has integrated fully with life itself -- one who loves completely and with an enduring love.
I love the sound of that, but it is an ideal. We look out for each other here, and we love the tranquility of the snowy woods, but we are by no means of monastic or hermitic mindset. Now, we might see glimpses and flashes of monastic-like peace, but the realities of daily living are never far away. Today, a truck and trailer slid backwards down the big hill to rest sideways with the trailer pressing into the woods on one side, and the truck leaning into the ditch on the other. We sympathized with the driver while eagerly anticipating open roads and town amenities. On a more drastic note, there was a couple trying to reach a medical appointment. In such moments, we are very much world dwellers, driven not only by consumerism, but also by need.
There are, however, the moments when any of us anywhere might have a flash of memory of a loved one, separated from us by distance and time, perhaps deceased. And in that instant, we experience an outpouring of love. I guess the ideal hermit would feel that way all the time, but for the rest of us, these moments are sweet intervals in our lives in the world.
For me, it comes down to Anna Caine's discovery in The Ice Widow: "But your spirit is free upon the Land, and I will find you there. I will reach and find you from anywhere in the universe." (217) In all our separation, in all our longings in our journey, our connections, when they are strong, will transcend all.
And that is more than enough for me.