Recently I added Sister Laurel O’Neal’s blog Notes from Stillsong Hermitage to our list of Blogs by Catholic Nuns. Sister Laurel graciously responded to some questions I had for her about what it is like to be a hermit. I’ll post these in three segments starting with this one.

NL: How did you know God was calling you to become a hermit?

Sister Laurel o'NealSister Laurel: Although formerly involved active apostolates (hospital chaplaincy, clinical lab, religious ed, etc), chronic illness made those difficult, and in some ways my life just didn’t quite “make sense”.

I was struggling against myself so to speak. I needed to find a context which would allow ALL of my life to makes sense, not just the gifts, but the weakness and brokenness as well.

In 1983 canon 603 was published. It piqued my interest but did not capture my imagination. After all, weren’t hermits a dead breed and wasn’t contemplative life sort of a waste??? Shortly thereafter I read Thomas Merton’s Contemplation in a World of Action; in this book is a long defense of the eremitical life. Now THAT completely captured my imagination.

The short version is, I began living the life on a trial basis and found that everything came together with a kind of coherence it had not had before: writing, directing, prayer, illness, education, and a need to truly love others all worked together within an eremitical context. I discovered for the first time, a real sense of mission — which, as you know, is different from just a sense of purpose.

The eremitical life is one that I have always loved reading about (mostly the Desert Fathers and Mothers), but one that I have never personally experienced. I’ve never really explored what it means to be a hermit as a life choice. My thanks to Sister Laurel for her blog and for responding to my questions.

Be sure to visit Sister Laurel’s blog — she recently responded to the question How do you know you are staying on track? and shows how this applies not only to an urban hermit but to all of us who try to keep on track amidst life’s many distractions, responsibilities, etc.

UPDATE: check out the next two segments of the interview at Interview with a Hermit – loneliness and community and Interview with a Hermit – on being a hermit.