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Considering a Solitary Life
A Journal which Contemplates becoming a Contemplative Solitary
Written, Illustrated, and Photographed by
Michael D. Purvis
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From the Prologue to this book…
There was a time in my life when I was a young man, and very earnestly searching for God. It was a very lonely time for me, and the church, with its monastic traditions, eremitic traditions, contemplative tradition, prayer life, sacramentals, great saints and contemplatives appealed to me and comforted me a great deal. They still do.

I am on a broader, more universal spiritual path now, and decidedly not a solitary one. And yet, I feel that the journals I recorded during this period are of value to me and to those who might be on their own journey, wrestling with a life of contemplation, eremeticism, prayer or priesthood.

And so, I offer them humbly, to serve whatever positive purpose they might offer to seekers. Of course, you will find them highly influenced by Thomas Merton, for I had read, during this period in my life, his Seven Story Mountain, and other books by and about him. I made a trip to Gethsemene Monastery, where he lived and had his hermitage, which I was blessed to see and visit.

I wish you, dear reader, all the fruit that your journey into the life of the spirit might offer. I bless and affirm your spiritual process, and know for you that it will create a life of peace, service and fulfillment, if you do your wrestling, praying, contemplating and growing, as seekers must do. In truth, all humans must do this, for we are all seekers, whether we are aware of it or not! Peace and love to each of you. "All shall be well," as the famous mystic has said. Go with God.
               -The author

 

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Excerpt from Book:

Prologue

There was a time in my life, when in my very earnest search for God, I considered becoming either a priest, or a solitary contemplative, or both.

I was returning to my Catholic roots, and was very much in love with the mystical and poetic parts of the Catholic faith. I loved them so very much, and still do. I appreciated and was comforted by the beautiful mystical quality of the angels, the saints, the Blessed Mother, the great festivals of the church, its devotional tradition, its beautiful cathedrals, frescoes, statues, and stained glass windows.

Oh how I loved all of it, and still do in so many ways!

It was a very lonely time in my life, and the church, with its monastic traditions, eremitic traditions, contemplative tradition, prayer life, sacramentals, great saints and contemplatives appealed to me very much.

They still do.

I am now, after much prayer and discernment, on a broader, more universal spiritual path, and decidedly not a solitary one. And yet, I feel that the journals I recorded during this period are of value to me and to those who might be on their own journey, wrestling with a possible life of contemplation, eremeticism, prayer or priesthood.

And so, I offer them humbly, to serve whatever positive purpose they might offer to seekers.

Of course, you will find them highly influenced by Thomas Merton, for I had read, during this period in my life, his Seven Story Mountain, and other books by and about him. I made a trip to Gethsemene Monastery, where he lived and had his hermitage, which I was blessed to see and visit.

I wish you, dear reader, all the fruit that your journey into the life of the spirit might offer. I bless and affirm your spiritual process. I know for you that it will create a life of peace, service and fulfillment, if you do your wrestling, praying, contemplating and growing, as all seekers must do.

In truth, all humans must do this, for whether we are aware of it or not, we are all seekers.

Peace and love to each of you. "All shall be well," as the famous mystic has said.

Go with God, as you experience and perceive of God.

The author

 

1.

Journal Entry
January 25th, 1996


More and more I feel called to solitude as well as action in the world. I have found myself contemplating the possibility of a Hermitage for myself, praying for it, imagining it, how it would look, and what I would do in it. I am praying for God to teach me how to pray, to teach me how to make my life a prayer. I would like simple work, simple being, and simple living.

More and more I want less and less. I have given up television for Lent and find this a gift. I am attempting to make weekends a time of solitude, meditation and prayer. My boss, hounding me to come into work over the weekend (even though I was sick, and despite our agreement that I will not work on weekends) has prompted me to consider turning off the phone and answering machine over the weekend.

I, of course, am greatly inspired by the large Merton biography I am reading. This is an influence in that I am feeling called more and more to solitude, though I have felt this call before. I think back to my visit to the House of Prayer Retreat House at the Tipton convent, where I first read Carlo Caretto's Letters to the Desert. I think of Caretto's call to solitude and his eventual decision to be solitary part of the year and activist part of the year. Perhaps I am to do this during the course of a week: four intensive days of work and prayer, three days of solitude and prayer?

I asked the Holy Spirit to give me some wisdom on this subject in Merton's No Man is an Island. The spirit gave me, amazingly, chapter 7, page 117, "Being and Doing," all about the balance of activity and non-activity, and how necessary both are. It spoke of the importance of silence, rest and non-activity. With these things in our lives, our work and our activity both become blessed.

I also think of what I read last night in the new little Merton biography. What I gleaned from it is that in being a hermit is difficult and must be done well, or it will destroy a person.

Lord, what are you are calling me to do:
to be a priest, a religious, a religious hermit,
a priest who is also a hermit,
or a secular hermit?…
or to continue my current work/ministry
and be a hermit part of the week?

I am unsure, but I think I am sensing the right possibilities for myself.

Make it clear, God. And say it loudly, please. I'm at rather hard of hearing sometimes, as you know!


(Above: The author)
Photos © 2003 Michael D. Purvis, all original or public domain material

2.

Journal Entry
February 29th, 1996


I realized in the last few days that my current desire for a hermitage and solitude in my life not only goes back to when I went to the House of Prayer ten years ago and read Letters from the Desert by Father Carlo Carretto, but to the vision of a house I have been picturing and dreaming of. It has a garden (as Merton had a Zen Garden at his monastery) and is appropriate for solitude.

I saw such a house and boarded up on a wooded lot today. What a contrast this would be to my current home in the middle of the city, surrounded by concrete and apartment buildings. I do enjoy of the wonderful 1920s ambiance of my apartment! I love opening its leaded glass windows and looking across the city-scape to see the beautiful old cathedral which sits across the street and frames itself beautifully in my living room window. 0n cloudy days the church looks like a ghost ship moored in a foggy sea, and at night, lit up against the midnight blue sky it is incredibly beautiful.

Up here on the third floor, at the top of the building in its corner, facing the church, my apartment is a kind of retreat. The oriental rugs, the comfortable furniture, the statues I have painted, the antique icons and religious portraits I have collected make it a beautiful space to relax, meditate and pray in. It is rather like praying and living at the Bishop's residence!

I suppose its not very hermit-like! It's not a model of austerity or simplicity, but we have to start somewhere, right?!?


(My Apartment, which I have jokingly called "The Bishop's Residence!":
a beautiful space to relax, meditate and pray in.)

Photos © 2003 Michael D. Purvis, all original or public domain material

(Top: the view of the cathedral from my apartment window on Meridian Street in Indianapolis. Middle: Some of the devotional, sacred statues which I painted. Bottom: My French antique print of the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Sorrows)

Photos © 2003 Michael D. Purvis, all original or public domain material

 

2003, Michael D. Purvis

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