Archbishop Rowan Williams Hermitage Trust

Eremitic Life Within Everyday Life

There are many misunderstandings about eremitic life though it has often been a central feature of Christianity and many other religions; in Britain though it is only since the mid 1970's that it has been on the rise. The reformation put paid to monastic life - coenobitic, eremitic or anchoritic. It took a long time to recover and is still very much hidden from view especially in the Anglican community.

The public benefit of such vocations was so valued by civic life that in the middle ages Norwich city alone 'employed four hermits' - coenobitic and eremitic life still is in Tibet where allegedly one in four of the population is supported by the populace, so important is the work they do for everybody's benefit.

It has always been understood in other counties that a hermit is not cut off from ordinary life, for instance the poustinik in the Russias is well understood to be an essential part of the community and not just the religious community.
Prayer and meditation alone is understood not to be as it is often seen here in the secular west as a 'private' matter for the meditator alone irrespective of the religious / spiritual / community active services provided to other locally, regionally, nationally and wider; one thought, one word, one deed - affects the whole and the more that word, thought and deed come from an egoless place the more effective. As is accredited to St. Teresa of Avila 'Christ has no body now on earth, no hands, no feet, but yours'. Quantum understanding, interpenetration and interbeing understanding centuries and millennia ago.

"We will eternally abide in God and constantly flow forth and ceaselessly turn back within" (John Ruusbroec)

The current hermit has many years experience in the practice of and training others in community, health, youth, aged, disability and special needs and other social action work, has run tow charities and been involved in many more. These skills and understanding are brought to the vocation.

Training is offered and taken up by those who seriously wish to deepen their understanding of contemplative life and solitariness (it is said you cannot be with others Truly until you can be with yourself and God) which they then take back to their active communities. This solitariness may be called 'Walled about with God', and is the means of breaking down the division between action and contemplation. Training is not a rest from 'the so called world' but a resting in all worlds by rigorous training in meditation. This is not a soft option.

"where the body stands there should the mind be also, so that nothing exists between God and the heart as a dividing wall or a partition to screen off the heart and separate the mind from God".
(St. Isaac the Syrian)

The early Christian Abbas and Ammas practice as far as we know was based in close attentiveness of mind to inner and outer processes. "To know the self is to know God" says St. Anthony.
Thus the basic practice at the hermitage is in the closest we know which is satipaṭṭhāna or as it is popularly called mindfulness; this is the spiritual form of practice not that which is currently used in healing and commercial arenas.

The Eucharist is celebrated monthly to which those on retreat here or living close enough are invited. At other times the Blessed Sacrament is held here and dispensed daily agian of which others may at agreed times may partake.
The hermit gives talks from time to time on the life, engages with those who contact her - it is a given of eremitic life that the hermit responds to those who 'knock on the door' she/he does not go out soliciting it - it is very responsive and hospitable. There are also from time to time public events and activities, last year (2012) a community tree planting initiative with donated trees and a summer event to which 41 people can of an interpractice nature between Buddhism and Christianity, attended by people from as far away as Sussex, Leeds, Huddersfield and as close a Rhandirmwyn, the newsletters go to over a hundred people from Cornwall to a Scottish Island, to New Zealand, Australia, Japan, The United States and Malaysia - from one hermit and a handful of trustees and practitioners.
Spiritual practice is not limited to the chapel or to the time on the cushion/knees but in every area of life. Working meditation and moving meditation are especially important as the means of wholeness of body, mind and spirit. This too has long been known but often lost today. "that it was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times: that we are strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action, as by prayer in the season of prayer" (Br. Lawrence of the Resurrection, a Carmelite monk. 1611-1691)

In other more informal ways, the hermit acts as a 'beacon', in community work parlance 'access information', if you do not know that such exists (that there is a bus tune take for instance which if you speak English, are numerate and literate will give you access to many places and opportunities) it is impossible to know that such a life and training are possible to open up your mind, heart and life in the activities of everyday life. Though apparently hidden much unknown becomes visible. IN the street, in the shops local people as questions, ask for prayer and engage in discussion about things they would probably rarely dare to do with others. So, not cut off, private and divorced from the world wither in the mundane sense or the true sense - as fully as possible within but not of the worldly.

It is the trust's aims to be able to support fully not just one hermit but in due course as donations are forthcoming others called to the life and those 'testing' the vocation who are not supported by any other means. They need not be Christian hermits.