I’m not sure I should have bought the book. I was seduced by the cover and the publisher’s blurb: the experience of a woman who spent 25 years as a hermit.
Within two long tram rides I had extracted all I wanted. A third of the book is devoted to the history of monasticism, which I already know. I was glad of the description of Bardsey Island (the ‘Island of 20,000 saints') off the NW Welsh coast, which I have not yet been able to visit. But the core of the book, the eremitic experience proper, left me strangely cold.
I think for two reasons:
There comes a stage in the Christian journey, I suspect, where you have to stop reading other people’s experiences, however exalted, and start out on your own 'lonely road’, however prosaic and unglamorous.
Second, this is a woman's experience. I am not sure, from the very little I have to go on, that male and female experiences at this level of intimacy with God are the same. Yes, there is the same stripping, the same loss of ego, but beyond I am not sure whether the process of becoming- through-unbecoming is the same or not? Does a male hermit become more deeply male, or do, as some suggest, the male and female in him (if we accept the idea of a man having a hidden 'female' side) come together. Does a man at this level of transformation become ‘word’ in a way a woman does not? A pure, limpid word, like St John of the Cross or St Seraphim of Sarov, for those who need it.Seduced...