Archive for October, 2013

The Lost Guide to Finding Yourself in Solitude

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by citydesert

The great omission in American life is solitude; not loneliness, for this is an alienation that thrives most in the midst of crowds, but that zone of time and space, free from the outside pressures, which is the incubator of the spirit. ~ Marya Mannes, US author

“With external pressures on us ever increasing in this fast paced, 24 hour, interconnected world, we are craving a sense of balance and sureness that we are in charge of our own lives. Otherwise we can feel overwhelmed and overloaded by outside influences.

Today, as never before, we need to find solitude.

Like an emotional and spiritual thermostat, being alone gives us the ability to shape and adjust our lives. It can teach us how to have inner strength and enables us to satisfy our own needs, rather than having to rely on others.

But we’ve become reluctant and wary of seeking out solitude because of our fear of loneliness.

The shadow of loneliness

When most people think of solitude, they automatically imagine the bitter pain of loneliness. To many, the concept of ‘aloneness’ evokes our deepest fears of abandonment and lack of belonging.

Loneliness, however, is not simply a case of being alone – we can be surrounded by crowds of people and still feel lonely – but rather it is the belief that no one cares about what happens to us. It is the distressing realization that we lack close and meaningful contact with others which, in turn, produces feelings of being isolated from them.

It is this basic need to avoid being lonely that pushes us to create countless connections around ourselves. Our computers and cell phones reassure us by providing the tools to stay constantly in touch with each other. Yet these technological props only distract us from listening to our internal voice and increasing our sense of self awareness.

This obsession with staying connected to the outside means we are forgetting how to get in contact with our inner selves.

So why seek solitude?

Unlike the negative state of loneliness, solitude is the positive and constructive experience of engagement with oneself. Solitude is refreshing, a time of being on your own where you voluntarily retreat from the company of other people.

Solitude is being alone without feeling lonely. The difference is in our attitude towards ourself. In solitude we enjoy spending time alone, because we know that we are all the company we need.

Solitude can be used to gain fresh perspectives that allow us to appreciate those things that actually matter. Learning to be at ease in your own company is a skill you can develop which will be of great help throughout your life.

I believe that solitude is a key ingredient to a healthy sense of self. It provides us with a dedicated time to discover and to get to know ourselves better. By repositioning ourselves at the centre of our own lives, we feel that we are back in charge, rather than being buffeted by external forces.

Preparing for solitude

Unfortunately, very few of us can just ‘go’ into solitude – albeit briefly – without some preparation. We have other people and commitments to consider before we are able to arrange quality alone time. Here are a few things you might need to think about if you decide to give solitude a try:

• readying your mind
At first, the notion of being all alone can make you feel a little nervous and uncomfortable. If so, take a moment to ask yourself why this is. It’s helpful to think through the issues you have with being in your own company before you try to create a time of solitude. But don’t let these doubts stop you from going ahead with your plans – you can use your alone time to work through these issues.

• deciding your time
Hopefully you already have some ‘me time’ built into your life, even if it’s just for a few hours every so often. The exact length of time you need really depends on your own situation, but it’s important to organize a dedicated period rather than just hoping you can grab a few hours here and there. As for how long is necessary, the more quality time you can set aside the better, though one hour is better than nothing at all. The crucial factor is how you spend your time in solitude, not the duration of minutes.

• choosing your location
To minimise everyday distractions, it is useful – where possible – to get away from your usual living environment. If you do decide to remain at home or in your own garden, you need to be sure that you can go uninterrupted and undisturbed for a reasonable period. Alternatively, you might visit your local park or forest. What matters is that you find somewhere you can experience meaningful alone time, rather than having to go to a place with no one else around for miles.

• telling other people
The idea of us wanting to spend some time in solitude can be alarming to the central people in our lives if we suddenly announce our intentions. Partners, for example, can feel hurt and threatened if you declare a need for your own space – even if only for a short while. They may take it personally and wonder what it is they’ve done wrong to drive you away. It helps if you’ve previously discussed each other’s views on what it means to be apart and to do your own thing in the context of your own relationship

How to spend your time in solitude

Of course, you can simply ‘go with the flow’ and do whatever you want, but you’ll get the most out of your precious moments alone if you have a rough plan of things you want to achieve. There are a few activities you can try during your time in solitude that will help improve yourself knowledge:

• meditation
The quietness that comes with solitude provides the perfect backdrop for meditation. This is an ideal way to revitalize our understanding of what makes us who we are. With regular meditation comes the ability to bring a degree of clarity and insight into our lives.

• deep thinking
Strategic thinking lends itself well to periods of solitude. It’s not an easy technique to master, but it is a valuable skill to practice. One way of trying it for yourself is to take a problem and then play around with it in your mind. The aim is to dig deeper into your thoughts that are bubbling below the surface. Go beyond the initial solution you hit upon and come up with the next few possible solutions. Put the problem to the back of your mind and go back to it later, when you repeat the process again. By doing this, you can be reassured that you’ve done your best to get to the heart of the issue and have confidence your answer is well considered.

• creative thoughts
Our creativity comes out when we are in contemplation. We need peace and quiet time to work out solutions, to have ‘Eureka’ moments, and to devise original ways to do tasks. Most earth-shattering discoveries have been made by the solo scientist or when great minds have been alone. You can use your time in solitude to brainstorm ideas as the starting point to unleashing your creativity. Be bold with your thoughts – there’s no one else around to dismiss them.

• get closer to nature
Throughout the ages, humans have escaped from the constraints of society to commune with nature. There is a solitary happiness in appreciating the natural world close up. Do you remember the joy (perhaps fear!) you had when you first saw a bee close up as a child? You’ve probably lost that feeling of amazement in adulthood. Use your solitude to really study the world around you. Touch the grass, smell the flowers, watch the clouds. You’ll soon begin to get a renewed sense of your place in the world. Going for a walk in nature is another great way to connect with ourselves.
If you’ve never purposefully spent quality time on your own, you’ll be surprised at how beneficial it can be to helping you reconnect with yourself – and the world around.”
scott 2
By Scott McIntyre – see

Solitary Mans Hut

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by citydesert

The unknown and unrecognised Hermits are those who simply disappear into the wilderness, whether for reasons of religion, philosophy or personal desire, and live alone and undiscovered. In Australia. One of the areas that has attracted many such Hermits is the wilderness of Tasmania. Fortunately, there are now groups seeking to document and preserve the stories – or last the artefacts – of these unknown Hermits.
solitary hut
“Masterfully hidden in its natural surroundings in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park, the Solitary Mans Hut was built by a modern day mountain man who to this day remains an enigmatic character, his identity known only to a handful of people. He was extremely physically fit and aged in his late thirties, when he challenged himself in the mid-1980s to not only build a mountain hut but also to live and survive in the harsh conditions which the extreme weather and isolation of the area threw at him.
mountain hut 4
The hut is set on a stone foundation with saplings fashioned into an A-Frame to support the green aluminium cladding. The surrounding bush shows no scars from where this remarkable man gathered the rocks and saplings to build his hut. In fact, the hut is so well camouflaged that walkers can come within metres of the cabin and still not see it. Nearby, a weightlifting bench, made from locally gathered stone, is testament to the fitness of the Solitary Man.
solitary hut 2
The Solitary Man managed to exist for about 18 months in his mountain hide-away, leaving it only to replenish supplies or compete in the occasional marathon, then stealthily returning to his highland home. When the Hut was accidentally stumbled upon and discovered by bushwalkers, the Solitary Man returned to urban living, but wrote in his journal that those who ventured to the hut were welcome to use it, so long as they left it as they found it – neat, clean and tidy – and respected the surrounds.”

“The Mountain Huts Preservation Society Inc (MHPS) came into being in 1988. It was founded by concerned community citizens and users of the high country who felt there was a need to protect and preserve mountain huts, and to have a forum for debate, and input and representation on the control and management of iconic features on the plateau. The catalyst for the formation of the MHPS was the swift and secret removal, in 1988, of what was known as the Tiger Hut—a bushwalkers’ hide-away near Lake Adelaide.”
solitary hut 3
See also and

“See, back in 1983, an unnamed man decided that for some reason or another, he wanted to get away from life as he knew it, so he illegally built a hut in the Walls of Jerusalem, in a little traveled area near Tiger Lake, just east of Lake George Howes. He lives in this hut for 18 months… Wait… He can explain it better in his old entry in the huts log book.”

“It is a simple A-frame affair, clad in grey-green roofing metal, with a rock foundation. Jeff goes inside, at first unsure whether this is the hut Doug built. But he finds a hand-built chin-up bar just inside the door, and smiles broadly. Doug used to pride himself on his chin-up prowess.

Jeff tells us a bit about the man who built the hut. In the early 1980s Doug’s life had taken some difficult turns, including a marriage breakdown. A keen bushwalker, he had sought out a remote location to retreat to. He wanted his mind to become as strong as his body. Over a period of just six weeks in 1983, he had built this simple, isolated bush hut, carrying in everything that he needed. Between January 1984 and July 1985 he spent the bulk of his time living in what he called “Solitary Hut”.
Because it was, and is, an illegal structure, he has chosen to remain anonymous, refering to himself as “Solitary Man”. Although he was usually solitary, he did bring visitors up to the hut, and also shared it with possums that were so friendly they would sit on his lap. We read in the hut’s logbook that Doug continues to come here regularly, and that he has remarried and had a daughter.”

“The Walls of Jerusalem National Park forms a part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. As the park is remote and not accessible via road, the Walls retains its wilderness character. There are no facilities for casual visitors, while bushwalkers are required to be well-equipped and experienced in the often harsh Tasmanian conditions.
The region is an alpine wilderness dominated by dolerite peaks, highland tarns and lakes and alpine vegetation. The Walls of Jerusalem National Park is very exposed to the extremes of Tasmania’s changeable weather. “

walls of jerusalem
Looking north west from Solomon’s Throne. The prominent peak on the left is King Davids Peak. The Temple is on the left with Mount Jerusalem behind.

“Walls of Jerusalem is a national park in Tasmania, Australia, 144 km northwest of Hobart. Located in the Tasmanian Central Highlands east of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, and west of the Central Plateau Conservation Area. It is south of Mole Creek, Tasmania, and Rowallan Lake. It forms part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The park takes its name from the geological features of the park which are thought to resemble the walls of the city of Jerusalem in Israel. As a result many places and features within the park also have Biblical references for names, such as Herods Gate, Lake Salome, Solomons Jewels, Damascus Gate, the Pool of Bethesda.”

A Pelican in the Wilderness

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by citydesert

“A man that studies Happiness must sit alone like a Sparrow upon the House Top, and like a Pelican in the Wilderness” – Thomas Traherne (1636-1674), “Centuries of Meditations”, The Fourth Century (13).
Pelican 1
“A Pelican in the Wilderness: Hermits, Solitaries and Recluses”
Isabel Colegate
284pp, HarperCollins, 2002; 2nd edition 2010

From a review by Blake Morrison, “The Guardian”, Saturday 16 February 2002

“”Le grand malheur, de ne pouvoir être seul”: the great sickness, said La Bruyère, is the inability to be alone. Solitude was once counted a virtue. These days, recluses are regarded with suspicion. “Loner” is a word reserved for paedophiles and serial killers. Only a special few are allowed to retreat from society: those, like monks and nuns, wearing the proper uniform. The rest of us are expected to surround ourselves with company; only then can we keep the infinite spaces at bay. Even the solitary stroll, traditionally a cure for most things (solvitur ambulando: it is solved by walking), has been abolished, thanks to the personal stereo and mobile phone.

Yet hermits have been around since the first cave. In every culture they can be found heading into the wilderness and living off roots and berries…

Colegate’s interest in the subject stems from a 15-acre wood she used to trespass in and now owns. The wood was planted 200 years ago and originally included a hermit’s cell, that great fashion accessory of the Augustan age. Intrigued, she began to excavate the site, and gradually restored the hermitage to its pristinely ruined state. Had she been living in the 18th century, she’d have gone further and installed a hermit. Many a landowner did so: Charles Hamilton, for instance, advertised for a hermit who’d stick around for seven years, in return for which he’d provide food, water, a Bible and, at the end, 700 guineas. The successful applicant lasted only three weeks before being spotted sneaking off to the local pub.

This is the sillier end of the recluse business. Colegate is more interested in the solid majority of hermits, with their spiritual yearning, straggly beards and love of nature. Her subjects range from Thoreau, who claimed to have built his hut by Walden Pond for $28.12, to Krishnamurti and Swami Abhishiktananda. Her travels take her from Dumfriesshire, where there is a thriving Buddhist retreat, to the Syrian desert, home of St Simeon, the most famous of the stylites. Stylites are hermits who dwell on the tops of pillars, and aren’t to be confused with dendrites, who live in trees. Among the latter was Mrs Pobjoy, Beau Nash’s last mistress, who after his death in 1761 moved into a hollow trunk and stayed there.
Hermits come and go, like everyone else. They were common in the middle ages, and again in the early 19th century, when the myth of the noble savage gave them a new lease of life. After the first world war, many of Britain’s hermits were trench survivors suffering from shell shock; the late Richard Cobb reported that there were five living in the Tunbridge Wells of his childhood. The backwoods of the US filled up with hippies and outlaws after Vietnam. Mount Athos, in Macedonia, was a similar magnet after the collapse of communism. In the 1960s, the average age of monks there was 80; in 1991, it was 34.
It seems that hermits are far less solitary than legend suggests. St Anthony, prototype for Christian hermits, had hundreds of followers living near him in huts and cells, and crowds would flock to hear him. Hermits may withdraw from the world, but they’re also expected to give something back – whether herbal cures, honey from their hives or sermons on how to live. Nor are hermits always male: among the women Colegate talks to is Sister Maximilian, who rides a motorbike and supports herself by heraldic painting. She also cites cases of nuns living in celibate union with monks. There’s a word for this – syneisaktism – just as there is for the neurosis many recluses suffer from: scopophobia, the fear of being looked at.

Neurosis is a risk for those who live in isolation. Sensible hermits keep themselves busy communing with God and cultivating their gardens, but as well as the ecstatic self-transcendence achieved through meditation, there’s also the prison of solipsism. “Woe to him that is alone when he falleth,” says the Bible, “for he hath not another to help him up.” Colegate cites the cases of three poets – Cowper, Clare and Gurney – whose solitude led to the madhouse. Other hermits have simply been frauds.

Her book isn’t short on literary examples, and she cites the case of JD Salinger, who turned his back on the world at the peak of worldly success…

The best passages are those where Colegate describes places she has visited and people she has met. Elsewhere, she seems shy of self-exposure (this is her first work of non-fiction), and in her enthusiasm for the subject bombards us with bitty character sketches and historical anecdotes. The book is full of fascinating detail, but a sharper focus would have made it less fragmentary.

Today the city hermit has things easier than his country cousin. The weirdo in the woods will be removed by social services, whereas the crusty in cardboard city is tossed the odd coin and left alone. You don’t get to live alongside deer and finches, but there’s nowhere more isolated than a city street.”
pelican 2
From a review by Richard North, “The Independent”, Monday 11 March 2002

“This is a delicious book, not least because it has a brisk, even secular, approach to a subject too often approached in a spirit of gushing awe. Not credulous, but not cynical either, Isabel Colegate begins with speculation about a ruined 18th-century hermitage in her own garden. She takes us deep into the Enlightenment, when cultured people – notably sociable, most of them – thrilled themselves with the idea of the craggy unsociability of the hermit….

Colegate has travelled the world looking for hermits, and brings back meetings with contemporary Christians, Hindus and Buddhists without crowing about her exploits. She is never the story, which is refreshing.

Partly because there are fewer of them than ever, but also because of the lives they lead, not many of us have ever met a hermit. Yet, oddly, it takes a book like this to remind us that the full-time, full-on hermit is merely a professional version of what any of us needs (and most of us manage, more or less) to be on an amateur and part-time basis. Isabel Colegate says that “elected silence” cleanses “the doors of perception”. Like most of us, she probably believes that there is a deficiency in individuals who can’t handle being alone, quiet and unentertained.

The idea of the wilderness is crucial. As Colegate notes, people tended to seek out the lonely wild when their civilisation adopted and corrupted their religion. Historians seem to agree that’s why Saints Paul (and a little later) Antony decamped into the bleak Egyptian hills. Then there is the recurring theme that hermits can do something to heal the fallen world and its rift with the natural state.
egyptian desert 2
Hermits were routinely succoured by wild animals and birds as they battled demons in the waste. No wonder the hermit and the wilderness have remained a potent combination: as Colegate notes, the 19th-century back-to-nature movement (and our own greens and mountaineers) saw that solitude in wildness had become therapeutic in an industrial age, in much the way it had been redemptive in a religious one.

Colegate only lightly touches on an idea which is common in monastic conversations. Maybe any of us should and can cultivate what has often been called “the desert within”. Indeed, the image of the hermit as a loner in the wild can obscure the way that the real work of the hermit can be done in public, or in the city. Most monks live a life which combines the solitary with a horrible absence of privacy: Mother Julian of Norwich was holed up in a church in Norwich. Any of us can construct a virtual hermitage in a personal wilderness. Indeed, this may be what the cult of minimalism is about.
There are all sorts of solitaries who are not hermits. Tramps and lone sailors are not sufficiently deliberate in their spirituality (if any) to qualify. Neither is the castaway’s solitariness. Robinson Crusoe rationalised that he had been shipwrecked to atone for the crime of abandoning his father, while a religious anchorite is on a deliberate pilgrimage away from family, and towards God.

Colegate never gives us psychobabble. She is adding to a select literature of spiritual tourism (most of which she usefully cites) among pilgrims engaged on “the solitary voyage of the practised mind into the void”. Of course, we are not much the wiser, though we are likely to be intrigued. As outsiders, we can’t know whether any particular hermit is actually spiritual. Not for nothing have established religions been wary of these loners. An appetite for loneliness is often a sign of mental illness, and it is hard to know (or check) what is being achieved by people doing their own thing.

Yet Isabel Colegate is surely right to be impressed by the toughness of mind and body of her hermits. Any weaker vessels – in the manner of one 18th-century hermit she cites – would have legged it down to the pub, and out of the annals.”–by-isabel-colegate-653523.html

From a review by Frank Kermode in “The New York Times”, April 21, 2002

“ISABEL COLEGATE’S 12 novels include ”The Shooting Party,” which was made into an interesting movie. Her first nonfiction book is a series of meditations on solitude in its more extreme forms. The title is borrowed from the 17th-century poet Thomas Traherne, a man said to have led a ”single and devout life,” and one who also achieved posthumous seclusion, for his writings evaded serious public notice until, in 1897, a browser at a London bookstall acquired for a few pennies a manuscript, previously unknown, of his beautiful meditations. One of them now provides Colegate with her title and a fanciful epigraph: ”A man that Studies Happiness must sit alone like a Sparrow upon the House Top, and like a Pelican in the Wilderness.”

This observation might suggest that the attainment of felicity requires one to be not merely alone but elevated, in which case the happiest of hermits were the stylites, so named because they perched on pillars in the wilderness (Greek: stylos, a pillar). The most celebrated of the stylites was Simeon, a fifth-century saint who lived for 36 years in a hut on top of a pillar 60 feet high, emerging from time to time to harangue the crowds and entertain them by performing up to a thousand consecutive genuflections, very likely still a record.
Colegate indeed does, in her own good time, deal pleasantly with St. Simeon and other stylites, incidentally pointing out that they were not true hermits, since hermits do not have crowds of fans. Still, they were in a real sense solitaries, and deserve to be counted along with solitaries of many other varieties, men and, occasionally, women who secluded themselves with more or less rigor all over the world….

Her pace is civilized and leisurely, but she covers much ground and has clearly done a good deal of research and travel, some of it arduous. But the style is always well tempered, and the transitions smooth….

Some spiritualities do not travel well. The asceticism of Russian hermits and the weird behavior of Russian ”fools for Christ” offer more examples of this failure, though Colegate treats them with her habitual consideration.

The life of the hermit is often undertaken by people who deplore the lack of spirituality in whatever culture they belong to, but this renunciation is far from guaranteeing exemption from the temptations of the flesh. The third-century St. Anthony of Egypt, ”prototype of all Christian hermits,” retreated from city to desert, and despite his celebrated supernatural torments was joined there by many other world-haters. There are always some around, though nowadays usually in communities that favor silence. It seems that a monk or nun wishing to be a hermit now has to seek permission from higher ecclesiastic authority.

A lot of information is quietly dispensed in this book. It touches on the English medieval mystics (Richard Rolle, Juliana of Norwich) and stretches to include ”mad” 18th-century poets like Cowper and eccentrics like William Beckford, who spent his enormous wealth on a fantastic Gothic abbey with a tower, five times as high as Simeon’s pillar, that fell down. He lived (sometimes) in seclusion, surrounded by curios and works of art. Not perhaps a true hermit, but one who holds the attention.
Another upper-class English eccentric was Lady Hester Stanhope, a forceful woman who was the niece of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and had a career as a political hostess, but at the age of 38 retired to the Lebanon, where she lived, unveiled, in Oriental splendor, with some 30 personal attendants. Again it stretches a point to call her a solitary, but she certainly fled the city for the desert.

Like the world at large, the idea of the hermit was progressively secularized. Nothing could be less like the agonies of St. Anthony, or even the ostentatious retreats of Beckford and Stanhope, than the mild Romantic variety loved by Wordsworth, who communed with nature and conversed with stray solitaries but was rarely alone. America has its own version of this compromise: Thoreau was ”quite a sociable hermit.” However, it also invented the modern celebrity hermit, for instance J. D. Salinger; and of course there was Howard Hughes.

That name is a reminder that some seek solitude for reasons more pathological than religious. They may be suffering from what is here called scopophobia, a fear of being looked at…

Preferring holiness to pathology, Colegate enjoys her wanderings but returns in the end to the place where she started. On a visit to an Anglican convent she meets a nun whose need for solitude had taken her to an abandoned cabin on a cliff. Having repaired it, she lived there for 18 years, not quite alone because people brought their troubles to her. Unlike the Duke of Portland, Howard Hughes or Beckford, she believed that the responsibility of the solitary was ”to stand at the intersection between the love of God and suffering humanity.” Colegate finds this attitude admirable….

Unhappy and unwilling hermits serve as warnings of the dangers of solitariness. Its virtues are exemplified by the American monk Thomas Merton and by the donor of Colegate’s title, Thomas Traherne, who spoke of the way to felicity as solitary; but this felicity is not the solitude of the abandoned or the disgruntled. It is rather an ”elected silence” — the expression is Gerard Manley Hopkins’s — that gives us the possibility of cleansing the doors of our perception, so that we might even see the world as Traherne did, ”saluted and surrounded by innumerable joys.”

Here, then, is a collection of hermits, all shapes and sizes. Colegate’s tone, unobtrusively religious rather than pious, is pleasantly qualified by moments of straight-faced irony, and when you consider the extremes of conduct it describes, her book is remarkably peaceful and agreeable.”
pelican 3
Isabel Diana Colegate (born 10 September 1931) is a British author and literary agent. Her novel “The Shooting Party” (1980) was adapted as an award-winning film of the same name, released in 1985 by Castle Hill Productions Inc
See also

Saint Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by citydesert

Saint Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer is a diocesan hermitage in Canada where both men and women are welcomed to live the eremitic life.
hermitage canada 2
The hermits make a simple vow to live the eremitic life which has been a tradition in the Christian Community since third century.

The eremitic life:
• is rooted in the experience of being captivated by the Mystery and is a response to this experience.
• is a gift in and for the world.
• is solitary and simple.
• is a journey of interiority.

In 1958, Margaret MacKinnon willed her family property to the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. George’s, (now known as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador) to establish a monastic presence. In July 1990, to honor her desire, St. Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer was established.
st marys
Sheila O’Handley and Nick O’Keeffe have made public commitment in the Church to live the hermit life, supporting themselves through weaving, pottery, and gardening.
In the Fall of 2004, an Association of Friends of Saint Mary’s was established, consisting of individuals and couples who wished to support the contemplative ministry of the hermitage. In October 2005, the association became incorporated and is now legally known as Association of Friends of St. Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer Inc.

The vision of St Mary’s is:
To witness the primacy of the Sacred in all of life.
To create for guests an environment which is welcoming and nurturing.
To offer a limited ministry:
• Spiritual Direction
• Retreats
• Workshops for Spiritual Growth and Development

st mary's 2
St. Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer, in the Codroy Valley in southwestern Newfoundland, recently had extensive upgrading done on its residential buildings, thanks to the generosity of Catholic Missions In Canada. This work has made the buildings fully winterized.
The history of St. Mary’s goes back to 1958 when Margaret MacKinnon willed her family property to the Diocese of St. George’s (now the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador) to establish a monastic presence. In 1990, to honour her desire, St. Mary’s was established.
St. Mary’s recognizes the need for contemplative and spiritual reflection in the lives of all persons.
Two guest hermitages are available year-round for individuals, couples, and all who seek to listen to the heart in solitude and reflection in this peaceful and aesthetically beautiful setting. There are no community activities at St. Mary’s. If, however, a guest would wish to have some spiritual reflection, counseling, or a directed retreat with one of the hermits, this may be arranged. On the property, Sheila O’Handley and Nick O’Keeffe live the hermit life, supporting themselves through weaving, pottery and gardening.
Nick O’Keeffe was ordained a priest in 1965; he served in Nigeria (1966-1975) and in Newfoundland (1975-1987). Nick holds degrees in the arts, philosophy and theology, a diploma in community development, and a masters in pastoral counseling.
From 1987 to 1989 Nick apprenticed to the Canadian potter Jack Ouellette at his studio in Arichat, Nova Scotia. Nick experienced a call to the hermit life in 1983. In 1989 his diocese in Newfoundland decided to establish a hermitage called Saint Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer and he has lived there ever since as a diocesan hermit supporting himself as a potter.
In 1958, Sheila O’Handley entered the Sisters of Saint Martha, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada. Having experienced a persistent call to the solitary life she came to Saint Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer, Doyles, Newfoundland, Canada, in 1993. She holds a Masters in Christian Community Development, a Masters of Divinity and a Bachelor of Sacred Theology. Sheila is a self taught weaver. she works with a variety of materials: cotton, silk, chenille, wool and linen; creating jackets, scarves, shawls , table and altar clothes, runners and so on.

The Hermit Juan Maria Agostiniani

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by citydesert

“One of the most mysterious and at the same time pathetic figures that ever appeared upon the Santa Fe Trail was a gentle, saintly, self-sacrificing priest, familiarly known as “El Solitario”, who for several years lived in a cave in the Rincon range of mountains. N. M. [New Mexico] and in his honor the Mexicans have christened the highest peak “El Cumbre del Solitario” –the hermit’s mountain.
hermit nm
He was always reticent about himself and seldom spoke of his past life, but allowed it to be known that his exile and self-denial were not involuntary, and that his sacrifices for his fellow men were to expiate some great crime. He was of Italian birth and his name was Father Matteo. Many romantic tales of his early life were in circulation. Most of them were inventions or speculations to account for his presence in the mountains. It was generally understood among the frontiersmen that he had fought with Garibaldi and had fled from Italy under the curse of the pope. He was also the hero of a romantic love story, and his tragic death was attributed to the brother of a girl in Naples. But whatever his former life may have been there was no doubt of his penitence and he lived like a saint, administering consolation and suffering hope to the unhappy, binding up wounds and healing the sick in body as well as in soul.
The fact that he maintained no relations with other priests and was never known to communicate with Bishop Lamy at Santa Fe, who was himself a conspicuous and picturesque character of long experience upon the frontier was accepted as evidence that Padre Matteo had been deposed and perhaps excommunicated. But that made no difference with his ministrations, and even increased his popularity. His profound sorrow, his unremitting zeal, his complete sincerity were enough to satisfy the rough hunters and herdsmen to whom he ministered and the suspicion that the church had refused him absolution aroused sympathy for a fellow sinner.
Father Matteo was highly educated. He spoke all languages. He had a knowledge of all literature. No foreigner ever came into the Rincon country but the priest could talk to him of his home in his own language. Besides his prayer book and his rosary, the only article that seemed to be associated with his past life was a much battered mandolin, upon which he played both secular and religious airs, to the great enjoyment of his parishioners. He was a master of the instrument, and it was the only diversion this gentle man of sorrow ever indulged in.
His familiar and beloved form had been missed from its usual haunts for a week or ten days when a party of miners found his lifeless body lying on the rugged trail that led to his cave. A poisoned dagger of unusual design and evidently of Italian manufacture had been driven between his shoulders into his heart. The assassin had attacked him from behind, and apparently had escaped without meeting his eyes. His rosary, that always hung about his neck, was firmly clasped in his fingers, and the expression upon his face was one of holy resignation. No trace of the assassin was ever found, but it was the general impression that the murder was committed by one of a large gang of Italian railroad hands, and was the result of a vendetta.
On the walls of his cave, the miners carved an inscription which read: Matteo Boccalina. Jesu Maria.
The humble Mexican herders, who idolized the priest, erected a semi-cycle of crosses before the entrance, twelve in number, typical of the twelve apostles whom he so faithfully served. On the anniversary of St Matthew, who was his patron saint, the natives always visit the cave, and for the lack of any other methods of expressing their regret and remembrance build a big fire. The Indians and the miners also reverence his memory. He was well known along the Santa Fe trail from the Missouri river to the Rio Grande.” —Wm. E. Curtis in the Chicago Record
hermit nm 2
An account of the Hermit is found in “Legends of a Hermit” by Elba Cabeza de Baca y Gallegos (1918-2010) (for whom see ), Los Vegas NM, author, n.d. The book is a collection of local legends of the Italian hermit Giovanni Maria Agostiniani who inhabited Hermit’s Peak (El Cerro) near Las Vegas, New Mexico from 1863 to 1868.

Simple Gifts

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by citydesert

Few songs reflect the spirit of the Hermit with such plain simplicity as the Shaker song, “Simple Gifts”. Although the Shakers did not live as Hermits, and placed great importance on the concept of community, their principles of simplicity, plain living and self-sufficiency resonate with the eremitical tradition.
shakers 2
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right
simple gifts ms
“The tune was written by Joseph Brackett (1797–1882) in 1848. Brackett, a lifelong resident of Maine, first joined the Shakers at Gorham, Maine, when his father’s farm helped to form the nucleus of a new Shaker settlement. It was first published in “The Gift to be Simple: Shaker Rituals and Songs”. “Simple Gifts” was a work song sung by the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (more commonly called the Shakers).
simple gifts 2
The song was largely unknown outside Shaker communities until Aaron Copland used its melody for the score of Martha Graham’s ballet “Appalachian Spring”, first performed in 1944. Copland used “Simple Gifts” a second time in 1950 in his first set of “Old American Songs” for voice and piano, which was later orchestrated. Many people thought that the tune of “Simple Gifts” was a traditional Celtic one but both the music and original lyrics are actually the compositions of Brackett. “Simple Gifts” has been adapted or arranged many times since by folksingers and composers.

The Carter lyrics were adapted, in ignorance of the actual origins, without authorization or acknowledgments by Ronan Hardiman for Michael Flatley’s dance musical “Lord of the Dance”, which opened in 1996. The melody is used at various points throughout the show, including the piece titled “Lord of the Dance.” “

Various additional verses, not part of the original or written by Shakers, can be found and are often added in modern versions of the song.
Simple Gifts
See Roger L. Hall “The Story of ‘Simple Gifts’ – Joseph Brackett’s Shaker Dance Song”, PineTree Press, (2006/revised edition, 2010).

See for a fascinating and detailed study of the song and its history, and links to other relevant sites.
For the Shakers, see

For the song sung by members and friends of United Society of Shakers at Sabbath Lake, see
sabbath lake 2
For the Sabbath Lake community, see
sabbath lake

Living Alone

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by citydesert

“Living Alone. The Inward Journey to Fellowship” by Martin Israel (New Library of Pastoral Care) SPCK/Sheldon Press1982
living alone 1
“Living alone is a very individual experience. Each one treads it according to his own gifts, insights and temperament. But one fact stands out: until one has come to terms with one’s own personality and has attained an inner rest in the silence of aloneness amid the outer turmoil of the world all one’s gifts are inadequate to assuage the loneliness, indeed the meaninglessness, of one’s present existence. This book explores the inner life of a person with special reference to living on one’s own. It outlines the path to awareness that finds its end in the direct encounter with God. It is to this end that man was fashioned. It is first glimpsed in the silence of aloneness, but it is finally consummated in a truly communal life that is the fruit of a period of living alone well spent and fully used.”

“…it must be emphasized that, although the experience of living alone is crucial for the development of a authentic personality, by which I mean a personality that can communicate in depth with the world and all its creatures, it is nevertheless equally true that man was not meant to be alone, as we have already seen in the Genesis myth. There is a great difference between living alone and being alone. The first is, as I have already stated, a necessary experience for coming to true maturity. The second is a tragedy which, if unrelieved, will end in death. Indeed it would not be inappropriate to define hell as an atmosphere of complete aloneness where there is an absence of communication with any other being. In such a state the comfort of God is not available; although he is most certainly present everywhere, his presence cannot be appreciated by those unfortunate persons immersed in the negative field of hell. But perhaps even the experience of hell on earth is a necessary precursor for the ultimate knowledge of God.”

“To summarize the situation: living alone is a certain way towards integrity, for in the silence no secret can remain hidden from our gaze. When we are cleansed of all that separates us from God and man by the winnowing fire of self-revelation, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit who binds us into a new community. The source and end of this community is God, and as we work within it, so we are raised to the stature of sons of God following the path of the Son of God who is Christ. He is the supreme person.”

The full text of the book is available at
living alone 2
Martin Israel (30 April 1927 – 23 October 2007) was an English pathologist, Anglican priest, spiritual director, and author of numerous books on Christian life and teaching.

“The Reverend Dr Martin Israel, a distinguished pathologist, former lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons, and a priest in the Church of England, has been described as “one of the most sought after spiritual guides in this country”. He is deeply involved in healing, counselling and spiritual direction.
Dr Israel has long been concerned about the spiritual component of human nature, as is witnessed in the lives of the world’s great mystics and religious geniuses. In the current trend towards scientific materialism, with a growing danger that the inner life may be disregarded and brushed aside, he has been active in propagating a view of humanity that pays due regard to the spirit without denigrating man’s animal inheritance. He has lectured widely on this theme, and is an active member of a number of societies that are attempting to bridge the gulf between scientific objectivity and religious faith. He believes that a full life cannot disregard the spiritual quest after reality, and that an enlightened return to the great principles that have illuminated the world’s higher religions can alone bring peace to a distracted humanity.”

For his obituary, see