Chris McDonnell: Hermitage


There is a stillness and solitude in the hour before dawn. In that darkness there is a time when we can open ourselves to listening to the Lord. No words, but the space between words where our confusion and weakness can experience a gentle healing. Prayer is about being there, it is about patiently listening and waiting. It is never easy. 

Photo Thomas Merton

In a journal entry for December 5th, 1964, Thomas Merton wrote of his early days in the hermitage. “In the hermitage, one must pray or go to seed. The pretence of prayer will not suffice. Just sitting will not suffice. It has to be real. Yet, what can one do? Solitude puts you with your back to the wall, or your face to it, and this is good. So you pray to learn how to pray.

Our prayer life sustains us, gives vibrancy to our being. That is why we should nurture it day by day, alive to God’s presence, dependent on his care and forgiveness.

After reading the account of his hermitage years, I wrote these few lines some years ago.


Morning darkness
the other side of night

      the monk by his fire

      reading the Word

watching the wandering flame.

Morning stillness
the other side of movement  

       the monk by his door

praying the psalms

    greeting the day of the Lord

Morning silence

the other side of sound  

      the monk by his pond

still and silent

      in the darkness before dawn.

Each of us needs to cultivate our edgeland, the place, the point that encourages prayer, the time when we remember others who have asked for our prayers. There will come a time when our edgeland is overgrown through our own neglect and circumstance. It is then that we will come to depend on the prayer time of others.                  

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