Archive for April, 2014

“Come with me into the desert”

Posted in Uncategorized on April 29, 2014 by citydesert

“One of my favorite writers is Carlo Carretto, a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community of desert contemplatives. In his book Letters from the Desert, Carretto recounts the fruitfulness of his ten years in the African Sahara. He relates how he found his vocation to live in the desert, and what this experience meant for his life as a Christian.
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While working for the Catholic Action movement in Italy, Carretto felt a strong desire to lead a contemplative life and served others in the spirit of Charles de Foucauld. He felt God’s call in the depth of his being, “Leave everything and come with me into the desert. It is not your acts and deeds that I want; I want your prayer, your love.” As a contemplative, Carretto recognized that the desert was the most challenging experience of his life, but also the most fruitful, for the desert ignites the purification of the senses, thoughts, soul, mind, and heart.
Wandering in the desert, Carretto often pondered on the experience of Jesus in the wilderness, how “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, where he remained forty days and was tempted by Satan” (Mk. 1:12). In the wilderness, both Jesus and Carretto experienced the God of life, the presence always present that stirs us to love and service.

Just as it happened to Jesus and to Carretto, the Spirit drives us to retreat to the desert—to our desert. When we think of a desert, our minds might first go to the geographical deserts of the world—long stretches of sand with clumps of date trees in oases scattered here and there. Most of us are not blessed with that experience; we are invited to experience the spiritual desert of our lives. For Jesus, going to the desert was a period of preparation before he began his ministry. There, he faced temptations to power, prestige, and pleasure. For most of us, the desert is a place away from the pace of our busy life where we can connect more deeply with the God of life. The desert is a place to meet God, a place to be vulnerable and powerless, and a place of yearning, silence, and prayer.

The Spirit drives us to that place where we can empty ourselves in order to tell Jesus: fill me with Yourself alone. In the desert of our lives, the Spirit of Love moves us to take time for prayer, penance, and reconciliation. In the wilderness, God invites us to remove those aspects of our lives that keep us from living life to the fullest. Like peeling the layers of an onion, we remove all that makes us prisoners of sin and confines us to the expectations that the world places upon us. As we peel each layer, the heart, the essence of our being, is revealed. The desert is a place of self-abandonment, where our entire self can breathe Jesus—and Jesus alone.

In the desert, the Spirit of Love prompts us to get rid of those aspects of our lives that separate us from God, from others, and from ourselves. The practices of penance, fasting, prayer, and silence allow us to experience the freedom that moves us to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need. The desert experience purifies us to live our baptism more actively—to be missionary disciples.”
Santi Rodriguez, S.J.
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“Carlo Carretto (1910 – 1988) was a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, an order inspired by the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld. He was born in northern Italy and wanted to become a teacher. But his plans were upended by the rise of fascism in his country, and he joined Catholic Action, a movement that aimed to mobilize the laity in promoting the religious and social message of the church.
Carreto spent 20 years working with this organization and then in 1954, decided to become a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community of desert contemplatives. He led a contemplative life and served others in the spirit of Charles de Foucauld and Francis of Assisi. He lived in the Saharan desert of Algeria for 10 years and 20 years later wrote Letters from the Desert. It became very popular, especially with those who yearned for a new kind of contemplative life in the world. He went on to publish a dozen other books.”

Matta El Maskeen: The Desert

Posted in Uncategorized on April 29, 2014 by citydesert

“To Saint Antony, the desert represented leaving the world, including father, mother, brother, sister, wife, possessions, land, and money. This also means emptying a man of all the human factors which hamper the shift from a life after the flesh to a life after the Spirit. It means moving from what is human to what is divine. Characteristic of Saint Antony, it is a spontaneous simplicity, flinging oneself into God’s arms.
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The desert, as I have lived it out, has two faces: a hard, desolate, deadly face which appears when God’s face hides, and a face of paradise which is like the Garden of Eden with its joys that gratify the soul and comfort it. Man lifts his heart and eyes from earth to heaven and feels the presence of God. The awe of God overwhelms him, and he forgets himself, his existence, and the whole world.

Being alone and unarmed, when the night descends and darkness covers the whole surrounding sphere in awesome silence, the natural thought of the flesh is to imagine the wild beasts. Trembling fills the entire body, but just as soon, the sense of faith appears, faith upheld by grace and preserving power, and dispels any signs of darkness from within and from without. Nothing brings man through this inevitable and repeated conflict except resorting to the vigil of the night in prayer. In this, the nature of prayer differs greatly from every other kind of prayer performed within closed doors and under the safety of roofs. It begins in the spirit of crying to God for help. Then grace takes the soul in quiet confidence, assuring it that it is kept by the hand of the Almighty. Immediately, the soul breaks out in praise and gladness as it feels sustaining power, as if man is surrounded by an army of angels. In this prayer, the soul is greatly lifted up and continually soars as it gazes upon the gracious favors of God to all the saints who have preceded it in the way. Eventually, the soul loses all feeling of terror, fear and illusions, and enjoys the feeling of closeness to God, resting like a weaned child on its mother’s breast.
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The negative element decreases as the experience is repeated night after night. After a while, man moves from terror to the feeling of closeness to God as he spends all night, whether in fervent prayer, singing and rejoicing, contemplation or writing. Finally, all effort is spent, and the body reclines to take its share of rest.

If man ever comes back out of the desert, he comes out with a rich experience. He has experienced life with God, delved deeply into prayer, discovered the secrets of the gospel as he lived them in full spiritual awareness and tasted what it means to cling to God. The wilderness is the school of the spirit. Its pruning of the soul is tremendous, and the riches of its fruit are infinite.”

From Father Matta El Maskeen “The Divine Foundation upon which Coptic Monasticism was Built”:
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The site is an excellent resource for on-line access to the writings of Father Matta.

Ascetical Theology and Christian Psychology

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2014 by citydesert

“Ascetical theology is the study of the spiritual life or the study of the way of perfection. Classically, it traces its roots to the early fathers and mothers (desert and otherwise), but has been practiced by Christians of different stripes since the beginning. It could be said that our Lord Himself outlined the foundation principles of ascetical theology in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Here Jesus makes it plain that the spiritual life cannot be limited to outward behavioral conformity, but must include a transformation of an individual’s inward disposition. Murder and adultery can – spiritually speaking – be committed in the heart, with words, as well as in the body (Matthew 5:22-3, 28). Ascetical theology, like modern expressions of Christian psychology, takes seriously the notion that our inward and outer lives matter to God and that by the power of the Holy Spirit, each can of us can be transformed, inside and out (Romans 12:1-2).
These early pioneers of authentic Christian psychology lacked our modern worldview, insights, and technology. Yet, they possessed an entirely God-shaped anthropology of the human being and approached human pathology through a sacramental grid that measured human well-being against the image of Jesus Christ. Their practice of soul-care was not isolated to predetermined counseling appointments, though many of the fathers received “clients” for what we might call “therapeutic encounters.” For example, take this encounter between two desert fathers or abbas as presented in John Chryssavgis’ classic, Into the Heart of the Desert:
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Abba Isaac came to see Abba Poemen and found him washing his feet. As he enjoyed freedom of speech with the old man, he asked: “How is it that others practice austerity and treat their bodies harshly?” Abba Poemen replied: “We have not been taught to kill our bodies, but to kill our passions.”

Ascetical theology is deeply concerned with the removal of the passions, such as those enumerated by the Apostle Paul (Galatians 5:19-26). The ascetical theologians were almost always pastoral in their orientation, meaning their writing and their work was reflective of practical experience with struggling Christians. The progress of the Christian from immaturity to Christ-likeness was generally understood to be a slow process. God’s grace was essential to its development, while human cooperation could facilitate or hinder this development. Another example, from the same text:

Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he prayed to God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man about this: “I find myself in peace, without an enemy,” he said. The old man said to him: “Go, beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have. For, it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.” So he besought God, and when the warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but he said: “Lord, give me strength for the fight.””

From “Ascetical Theology and Christian Psychology” by Kevin Goodrich, O.P. at
The Rev’d Canon Dr. Kevin Goodrich, O.P., is the Third Master of the Anglican Order of Preachers (Dominicans).

Ignatius Brianchaninov, Bishop of the Church of Russia and Ascetical Writer

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2014 by citydesert

April 30 is the Commemmoration of Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov (1807-1867), Bishop of the Church of Russia and ascetical writer.
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“St. Ignatius Brianchaninov was born Dimitri Alexandrovich Brianchaninov (Дмитрий Александрович Брянчанинов), on the February 15, 1807, in the province of Vologda, the son of an aristocratic landowner. Intellectually gifted, peaceful and reflective by character, from early childhood he was drawn to a life of prayer and stillness. However, his father planned a military career for Dimitri, and so, when Dimitri was 15 years of age, his father enrolled him in the Imperial School of Military Engineers in St. Petersburg…. In 1826, Dimitri fell gravely ill, but nonetheless graduated first among all candidates at the School of Engineers and received his commission. Immediately, Dimitri attempted to resign this commission, but his resignation was refused on orders of Tsar Nicholas. However, in 1827, Dimtri became critically ill once more, and this time his resignation was accepted by the imperial authorities.

During the next four years, Dimitri lived as a novice in various monasteries, without settling permanently in any of them, partly because of ill health, and partly because he failed to find a spiritual father in whom he could place unreserved trust. For the remainder of his life, St. Ignatius would lament the scarcity of true spirit-bearing elders in his day. Finally, in 1831, Dimitri was professed monk by the ruling hierarch of his home province, Bishop Stephen of Vologda, and he received the monastic name of “Ignatius.” Shortly after that Monk Ignatius was ordained deacon, then priest. All this took place without the approval of his parents. In 1832, Hieromonk Ignatius was appointed superior of a small monastery in the Vologda diocese. However, the damp climate brought about ill-health which quickly forced his resignation.

Then, in autumn of 1833, the most unexpected thing happened. Tsar Nicholas, during a trip to the School of Military Engineers in St. Petersburg, enquired into what had become of the promising student Dimitri Alexandrovich. Upon learning of his monastic profession and hieratic ordination, the tsar ordered Hieromonk Ignatius to return to the imperial capital, where, aged 26, he was raised to the rank of Archimandrite and made igumen of the St. Sergius Monastery, one of the most important in St. Petersburg, and one which enjoyed great imperial patronage. Tsar Nicholas entrusted Archimandrite Ignatius with the task of transforming this monastery into a model community, where visitors to the Imperial Court could see monasticism as it should be.
In 1857 Archimandrite Ignatius was elevated to the episcopacy, to serve as Bishop of the Caucasus and Black Sea. After four years of episcopal service, Bp. Ignatius submitted his resignation in 1861. The resignation was accepted, and Bp. Ignatius was allowed to retire to spend the remaining six years of his life in seclusion at the Nicolo-Babaevsky Monastery of the Kostroma diocese, where he devoted his time to writing and a wide correspondence with spiritual children. He reposed in the Lord on April 30, 1867.
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A refined adornment of Orthodox monasticism, Bishop Ignatius taught about the monastic life not only in his ascetical-theological writings, but by his very life which presented a wondrous picture of self-denial and struggle with sins, sorrows, and sicknesses. His numerous written works include “Experiences from the Ascetic Life” (5 Volumes) “Patericon”, “A Word an Death” and others. The hierarch himself acknowledged: “The source of my writings is to be found in the Fathers; they belong to the Fathers of the Orthodox Church…”
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Experiences from the Ascetic Life is a work of singular importance. “This is not my work,” affirms the hierarch, “that is why I am able to talk about it so freely. I was only the instrument of God’s mercy towards contemporary Orthodox Christians in desperate need of a clear exposition of the principles of Christian struggle”… Experiences may be read in place of the Philoka1ia as being more understandable.

Patristic teachings have always corresponded to the level of those to whom they are directed. The Fathers of the Church never wrote “just for the sake of it” or “for science.” Many of their counsels, directed at ascetics of high contemplative life and even to so-called beginners, no longer even remotely correspond to the spiritual strength of the modern Christian. Furthermore, the variety, ambiguity, and at times even contradictoriness of these counsels that naturally occur due to the varying spiritual levels of those who seek them can disorient the inexperienced. It is very difficult to avoid these dangers when studying the Holy Fathers without knowing at least the more important principles of spiritual life. On the other hand, a correct spiritual life is unthinkable without patristic guidance. Before this seemingly insurmountable impasse, we can see the full significance of the spiritual inheritance of those fathers, most of whom are closer to us in time, who “restated” this earlier patristic experience of spiritual life in a language more accessible to a modern man little acquainted with this life, who usually has neither a capable guide nor sufficient strength.

The works of Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov are among the best of these “restatements,” which provide an impeccably reliable “key” to understanding the teachings of great laborers in the science of sciences—the ascetics.
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See also:

The best known English translation of a work by Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov is that on the Jesus Prayer: “On the Prayer of Jesus”. This has gone through and remains available in many editions.
jesus prayer
For a summary by the Saint, see:
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For more on the Jesus Prayer, see:

Endelienta, Hermit of Cornwall

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2014 by citydesert

April 29 is the Feast of Saint Endelienta, Hermit of Cornwall
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“Saint Endelienta (also Endelient, Edellienta or Endellion) was a Cornish saint of the 5th and 6th century. She is believed to be a daughter of the Welsh King Brychan, and a native of South Wales who travelled to North Cornwall to join her siblings in converting the locals to Christianity. Legend says that she was a goddaughter of King Arthur, and that she lived as a hermit at Trentinney where she subsisted on the milk of a cow. The saint is commemorated in the church and village of St Endellion which bear her name; Endellion being an Anglicised version of her name. Her feast day is 29 April.”
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St. Endelienta (Born c.AD 470)
(Welsh: Cynheiddon; Latin: Endelienta; English: Endellion)
“ St. Endelienta was one of the many daughters of King & Saint Brychan of Brycheiniog. She may be identical to his daughter called Cynheiddon or Cenheidlon in Welsh records. This latter lady lived at Llangynheiddon in the parish of Llandyfaelog near Cydweli (Kidwelly). From South Wales, Endelienta crossed the Bristol Channel to join her siblings in evangelising North Cornwall. Endelienta probably landed first on Lundy Island, where she founded a small chapel (later mistakenly rededicated to St. Helen), before moving on to stay with her brother, St. Nectan, at Hartland. She chose to settle at a place called Trenteny, just south-west of St. Endellion, but still used Lundy as a retreat for meditation. Up until the 16th century, a chapel dedicated to her survived at Trenteny and it was in an adjoining hermitage that she lived a very austere life, with only a cow for company and its milk and the water from her two wells for sustenance. Her sister, St. Dilic, did, however, come to live at nearby St. Illich and the two would often meet along a certain path whose grass would ever afterwards grow greener than elsewhere.

St. Endelienta’s unfortunate cow was eventually killed by the Lord of Trenteny when it strayed onto his land. Word of this injustice soon reached the ears of Endelienta’s godfather, King Arthur, and he immediately sent his men to exact revenge from the reckless lord. Trenteny was killed, but Endelienta was not altogether pleased that a man should be murdered in her name and she miraculously restored him to life.
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Years later, St. Endelienta had a vision of her impending death. So she called her friends together and instructed them in her last wishes. She asked that, after her death, her body be lain on a cart, yoked to two unguided bullocks and that they be left to take her wherever they liked. St. Endelienta died, apparently martyred – perhaps by Saxon pirates – on 29th April, sometime in the mid-6th century. The young beasts were set to work as she had instructed and they brought her body to rest amid a quagmire on the top of a nearby hill. There, she was buried and a fine church built over her grave, where the church of St. Endellion now stands.

St. Endelienta’s shrine was a draw to pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages but, like all others in England, was destroyed during the Reformation. However, its base has survived and can still be seen in St. Endellion Church.”
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“Endelienta (5th or 6th century) lived as a hermit in Cornwall. Her father was King Brychan of Brecknock, and her brother was St. Nectan of Hartland (Devonshire). Edelienta had a beloved cow, whose milk provided her only food. One day the cow (whose name is not remembered) strayed onto a nobleman’s property, and the nobleman, Lord Trentinney or Tregony or something, killed it. He paid for it with his life when Edelienta’s godfather (who may have been King Arthur) found out. Edelienta was so upset to hear that a man was killed on behalf of her cow that she restored them both to life. When she knew her death was approaching, she asked that her body be placed on an ox-cart, and buried wherever the oxen stopped. The Church of St. Endellion (a variant of her name) stands on that spot, and the village of St. Endellion surrounds it.”
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Collegiate Church of St Endelienta (St Endellion), Endellion, North Cornwall. The parish takes its name from Saint Endelienta, who is said to have evangelized the district in the fifth century and to have been one of the children of King Brychan. Two wells near the village are named after her.

Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed

Posted in Uncategorized on April 27, 2014 by citydesert

“Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed is a Roman Catholic Hermitage; a little dwelling adjoining a chapel, in which a hermit (a solitary monk) lives. Since 2001, this hermitage has been located in the old heart of the Groninger village of Warfhuizen, in the far north of the Province of Groningen.
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Daily life in the hermitage is in many ways similar to that of monks and sisters (‘nuns’) in monasteries. Such a life always consists of alternating work and prayer. Multiple set prayer times dictate the rhythm of the day. Often there are eight of these: Matins at night, Lauds and Prime in the morning, Terce, Sext and None during the day, Vespers in the early evening and Compline before bedtime. In Warfhuizen the somewhat older format of St. John Cassian is used. There are long vigils in the morning and evening, and the other hours are prayed in silence by the brother and concluded with a sung prayer (a so-called ‘litany’). The purpose if these prayer hours is to consecrate the various times or hours of the day to God. That is why it is called the Liturgy of the Hours.

Such a religious existence of prayer and reflection is also called contemplative, in contrast to religious who have the primary duty of pastoral care, care for the sick or education, who are called active religious.
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The word ‘hermit’ derives from the Greek word ἔρημος, which means solitude, desert and alone. A male or female hermit is therefore a monk or monastic who lives alone, outside of a monastery. The first hermits found that silence, solitude and moderation in food and drink formed a good basis for prayer. By distancing themselves from the affairs of every day they were able to better direct themselves to God.

Unlike a standard Catholic church building the chapel of the hermitage is divided in two by a so-called cloister fence. This fence divides the space of the church in a public part, the chapel, and a separate section, the actual hermitage, Behind this fence the hermit leads a sequestered life of prayer, study and manual work.
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Since a hermitage is also a place in the world, but at the same time somewhat outside it, people have been going to these places since the very first hermitages appeared. That is why pilgrimage sites developed near many hermitages, although the ideal of a life in a solitude got watered down a bit because of it. Since the 17th century, hermits often take care of remote chapels which attract pilgrimages. A similar situation has developed around the hermitage of Warfhuizen and the statue of the weeping Mary is at the heart of it. “Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed” is a typical Baroque processional statue from Seville. In the south of Spain it is usual to carry such statues through the street in the week before Easter. In Warfhuizen the statue found a place above the left side altar in 2003. Since that time an increasing number of people from far and near come to Warfhuizen to pray. For one reason or another they feel comforted in their own concerns and sorrows by the image of Mary’s compassion. The so-called ‘miracle of Warfhuizen’ refers to the coming of these people, especially without any apparitions of miraculous events having taken place.”
For the Hermitage’s excellent website, see:
Postbus 70116    9704  AC  Groningen telefoon:  050-4032204 mobiel  06-22234558 e-mail:
“Brother Hugo was born in 1976, in a family from Drenthe. In 2001 he began his heremitical life in Warfhuizen, with the express intention of continuing the spirituality of the old Dutch hermits. He received his philosophical and theological education at the St. John’s Centre in ’s-Hertogenbosch and the Catholic University of Louvain. On 18 November 2012 he made his perpetual vows as a hermit in the hands of the bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden, Msgr. Gerard de Korte.”
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See further:

Position Vacant…..Hermit

Posted in Uncategorized on April 27, 2014 by citydesert

“The community of Solothurn has placed a job advertisement for a local hermit to continue a 600-year-old tradition. But this time, they are looking for someone who’s sociable enough to get along with curious tourists and locals.

“Are you an idealistic, religious person who gets joy out of meeting people?” asks the notice in the regional Protestant Press publication advertising the position.

While those criteria may not seem to meet those of a typical hermit, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper reports that hermits who previously occupied the position were often overwhelmed by the number of hikers and visitors coming by their house in the Verena Gorge near Solothurn.

So, the community is now seeking a more sociable person who doesn’t mind greeting visitors or hosting events like weddings and baptisms that take place in a nearby chapel.
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The most recent hermit, the first-ever woman to take the job in its nearly 600-year history, announced her departure in March following five years of living in the gorge and caring for the house. She moved to a retirement facility citing health reasons, according to the Solothurner Zeitung newspaper.

During her time as a hermit, she had expressed difficulty in dealing with the hype surrounding her role and retreated to a nearby monastery for one day each week.

The Verena Gorge is one of the places in Switzerland believed by some to hold mystical powers related to its geography. The first records of a hermit in the gorge date back to 1442.” and agencies
April 16, 2014 – 19:44
verena hermit
Accommodation (as shown in photograph) provided…

See also

“North of the city of Solothurn Switzerland, in the tranquility of the Verena gorge, lives a hermit. The gorge is luscious with ferns and moss blanketing the majestic boulders … and in the winter, blanketed in quiet snow.

A mountain stream cuts through the landscape, and a secluded path leads you toward caves and coves that make it possible for you to believe in fairies. Although, this isn’t really a stretch. You have believed in fairies since the age of four—but this magical spot emphasizes your belief like an exclamation point.

You fantasize about becoming a hermit yourself someday. However, this isn’t a stretch either. Ever since you heard the news about Martha Stewart going to prison, you have imagined jail as some sort of dreamy, far-away refuge meant only for the most privileged. In prison, you imagine … you would have simplicity: One bed. One book. One pen. You would have uninterrupted time to think, and write and dream. You would have hours of solitude. Nobody would expect anything from you, because you would be in prison. Social obligations? No longer an issue—not when you are behind bars. You would be left alone.
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However, now that you have seen prison reality shows, you have changed your tune. One show featured a female inmate fashioning a maxi-pad across her eyes like a sleep mask … “Because they never turn the lights off on the inside,” she said. And Rod Blagojevich’s fifteen-year separation from his family doesn’t exactly seem like the stuff dreams are made of. Plus, now that you know ‘hermit’ is a viable option—all the better.

In order to be a hermit in Solothurn Switzerland, you must first endure a rigorous application process. The potential hermit must have some sort of resume that highlights qualifications for hermitage. You wonder what these requirements are.

“Does not play well with others,” or “Likes to spend long hours prostrate in prayer,” are likely traits.

Certainly a girl who repeatedly got, “She’s a good student but she talks too much,” on her report card would be disqualified. Especially since the last Solothurn hermit was chastised by the townspeople for, “Having too many visitors.”

Word has it that the Solothurn hermit must have a skill, craft or trade … something he or she can do to help pay room and board. This skill must be useful, like candle-making, yet it cannot involve too much human interaction. The town’s current hermit is the first-ever female. You are proud of her … “GIRL POWER” and all that. She makes soap and sells it at a shop in town. You suppose an online business would be too robust according to the rigid, Swiss townspeople. You also suppose the hermit doesn’t have wireless. Heck. She may not even have electricity. Maybe this hermit thing isn’t so terrific after all.

You know, deep down, that if you were better about clearing the clutter out of your life … and about setting boundaries … and about not over-booking, over-planning and over-cramming … you wouldn’t feel the need for prison, or hermitage or any other sort of enforced solitude. If you reserved more time for yourself to simply think, sit, meditate, dream, write, and create … you would be freer on the outside, where you belong.”