I found it very interesting when Thomas Merton, the famous Benedictine monk, applied to become a hermit and it was met with resistance for years. Merton felt the Abbot was resisting Merton’s request for personal reasons. That battle is quite a read!
The resistance to Merton’s request wasn’t without merit. Even Merton knew the dangers of living out one’s spirituality in isolation. That’s what I’m up against. I no longer am a part of a local church community. Neither are many of you! In a way, we are like Merton who are living as kind of hermits out in the world, many of us in isolation from other Christians and church communities.
Here are some dangers I’ve noticed in my own hermitage:
- loneliness: Sometimes it is so severe that it can lead to depression, especially if your loneliness becomes chronic. It is important to make new friends, especially friends who recognize their spiritual side and aren’t afraid to talk about it. They make interesting company and can become good friends.
- error: I’m not a heresy hunter. But I am heresy hunted. There is some theology out there that is wrong and harmless. But there is also some theology out there that is wrong and harmful… harmful to the self and others. Without accountability some theology can run off the tracks for the unprepared.
- craziness: I’ve met some hermits in the past… religious and non-religious ones. Some of them I met had a slight scent of crazy about them. Their minds were unhooked. Isolation can do that to you if you aren’t mature enough to handle it.
- depression: Being around others was a source of joy for me. They helped me through difficult times and raised my spirits. Now I have to self-soothe. That’s a skill few people learn. But it’s not impossible. I’m learning. Slowly.
- gratitude: When I went to church, worshiping, praising and expressing gratitude was a habit. When you are removed from the community, you alone are responsible to nourish your attitude of gratitude. There are no schedules for you to follow, no group to pull you into it. You have to initiate your gratitude yourself.
- learning: I’ve known some people who’ve left the church and never opened their bibles again, never read another book on spirituality, never even thought again of spiritual matters. I’m not sure it was always healthy. Even worse, some stopped reading altogether. Stopped learning. It’s almost like they decided in their hearts, “If that’s not true, then nothing’s true. So why bother?“
- reactionary: I don’t think anyone who’s left the church hasn’t reacted to some extent. I did. But I want to guard myself against what I’ve seen some do: reject everything about all of it. Baby with the bathwater kind of stuff. I always hope one day people might see some of the value of their religious history, that is if there was any value to it.
- rebound: Some people feel like they have to belong to some kind of organized religious group. They feel safer. Or they feel this new group offers what they’ve always been looking for. They leave the church and quickly join another group like Buddhist or Yoga or something. I sometimes wonder if it’s better to wait for a while before jumping into something else. It’s okay to go Buddhist or whatever, but I don’t want to do it on the rebound. We know how long those relationships last.
- morality: I’ve been away from the church for 2 years. I must admit to you that this last year has been the most disturbing for me. I’ve gone through enormous ordeal by fire. The shifting in my mind and heart has been continental in scope. I struggled with some serious issues. Very serious. It almost cost me my sanity, Lisa and my family. I’m just coming out the other side now. I have a counselor I talk to on a regular basis that I’m thankful for. She’s helped me through it. But I have to warn you: without a trusted group of friends around you who aren’t afraid to call you on your stuff, you will have to find your own path. Be prepared to slip and fall, sometimes in significant ways.
- ________________: This one is blank. What would you put in here?
You might be thinking it is far more dangerous in the church than out. That’s true for many! Every church is different. Each of our reasons for leaving is different. I’m just sharing what some of the dangers are for me. Yours could be totally different. Probably are! Bottom line: there can be dangers and we need to be aware of them.
Just a friendly warning. Enjoy your new spiritual life as a hermit!