Alone before the almighty

By Leo Campos

For Peter Damian the fundamental question is “How can I live an authentic eremitical life?” He, smart man that he was, quickly realized that physical separateness does not a hermit make.

Rather, the call of the hermit, of the solitary, is a call from and to Authenticity. How can you respond to the True God truly and truthfully? I know this all sounds like an academic question, or perhaps a niche topic for a bunch of cave-dwelling hermits. But I have come to believe this is the question facing all Christians. And the answer is authenticity.

It is important to highlight that authenticity is not the same as creativity, and certainly not truth. Creativity is desirable in purely intellectual activities. There is much more creativity required of the mathematician than the historian or the novelist. Truth is orthogonal to authenticity – but they are not causally connected. Of course in any healthy authenticity there must be a correlation to truth. But truth (or Truth) travels independently and meanders through both creativity and authenticity. It also (frequently!) traverses beauty. Authenticity may be geometrically parallel to beauty, but there is hardly a correlation between the two – only at points which are crossed by Truth in both lines.

Authentic expression is possible only after work is done to nullify the programming which everyone uses to navigate life. In fact it could be said that authenticity is the very flow of Life, while Truth transcends it, or is at best liminal.

To find an authentic expression a couple of pre-conditions are necessary. These are probably apriori phenomenologies. The first is that of The Caller. The Holy Spirit initiates, the creature, at best, responds. Always reacting to the movement of the Prime Actor. Always a step behind. The second, assuming the initiative of the Ghost, there is the personal effort of the Called – the work of sanctification, deification (in Eastern terminology). It is me becoming Jesus God.

But how? Here we enter some hypothetical territory. But the evidence for the correctness of this path is available for those souls who are of an empirical nature, who are not afraid to try things. First, for those who truly want to pursue this path there must be a tendency to distrust personal judgment. This is either something which the individual is born with, or it can be learned through experience. There is a reason why monastic life is best left for those older among us, who have had enough life experiences to realize that our own judgment is a poor guide.

Secondly there is a need for the soul to have (or develop) a great and joyous desire to abandon judgment in favor of response. Response is how a sinner can act righteously. It is a mimicking, a shadow-play, following the Spirit. To be responsive to the way the wind is blowing requires quick hands and quick feet as a sailor friend of mine put it.

Thirdly, as evidenced by all who have attempted this work is that there will be an overflow of charity. This charity, this love, comes not from the emotional center, nor does it come from the intellect. Emotional love is passing, and it varies, fluctuates. This is carnal love. It can be harnessed to much good use, but not solid enough to use as foundation. The intellectual love comes from understanding the nature of Truth and the demands it makes. Thus loving a neighbor is a duty – a joyous one, but still duty. Duty is subject to many things, mostly interpretation, evaluation, history. Truth being transcendent will always be scattered in the prism of the zeitgeist, which makes it inauthentic, even while it does bring light.

Authentic love comes from another approach. It is not that emotional or intellectual love is incorrect or invalid. Far from it. But they are unstable in the eyes of eternity. What is needed is something that will last. And here is where the Christian is called to take up their own cross. Authenticity comes from incarnation. To use more monastic terminology, it comes from presence. It is only in being present to the present that authenticity can blossom.

The only way to do so is to be given the gift of seeing, profoundly realizing the uniqueness of God’s Love for me in my totality. I am not if not loved. Saying YES to this love of God is the authentic response.

At that level true Rock is found, true foundation. It is pure light.

This is why I always say that every Christian is called to be a hermit: alone before the Almighty and Ever-Living God.

From that place, word by word, brick by brick, the hermitage can be built – the place of healing for all who enter, the place of safety for all who seek it. In the presence of the authentic Christian hermit the Church exists.

And nowhere else.

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude, a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the “tech guy” for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

Past Posts