'To be human now is the reason we follow the star....'
W H Auden
A Modern Anchorite Life
The model of religious life that best describes solitary religious life, is that of the anchorite or anchoress.
Perhaps the most familiar example of an anchoress or anchorite is Julian of Norwich who lived in the fourteenth century, in Norwich, walled within a small cell, or anchorhold, attached to a church.
The traditional picture of the anchorite’s cell had three windows: a window onto the Church, where the anchorite could receive the Sacrament, a window onto the world where people came for counsel, and a window or door for use of the servant who took care of the needs of the individual.
If it is possible to look beyond that picture of the medieval cell, there are some helpful ideas as to how the life might be translated into modern day life:
Although the medieval picture of an achoress may not be helpful, the image of the three windows within the cell reflects the idea of there being three facets to the journey of life:
The three strands of the journey reflect the threefold nature of the Trinity, the threefold nature of Baptismal vows and the threefold nature of vows as a religious.
Thus my life is based upon the traditions of Monastic Life, Benedictine Life and Anchorite Life.
The journey into the mystery of God
The journey into the mystery of Creation
The journey into the mystery of my Being
These help to define the life as distinct from both traditional religious life and hermit life.
St Benedict says in the first chapter of his rule when speaking of different types of religious:
‘Second there are the Anchorites or Hermits, who have come through the test of living in a monastery for a long time, and have passed beyond the first fervor of monastic life. Thanks to the help and guidance of many, they are now trained to fight against the devil. They have built up their strength and go from the battle line in the ranks of their brethren to the single combat of the desert. Self-reliant now, without the support of another, they are ready with God’s help to grapple single-handed with the vices of body and mind…’
A life lived with a degree of withdrawal from people around, but not an absolute solitude.
A life literally ‘anchored’ within the local community
A life of prayer governed by a rule of life
A life with very definite points of contact with the world for service
A life that is part of the genre of religious life