Posts Tagged ‘National Gallery of Art DC’


A New Age of Hermits

Not since the 11th century have so many people opted to become hermits.  Back then hermitages and communities of solitaries dotted the landscape of Europe.  Today, however, we have whole cities of hermits, and suburbs are filled with single people living in homes designed for families.  The result?  For some it’s unintended isolation.  For others it’s loneliness

I’m not the one to explain all of this, but sociologists note the changes, at least in America.  The fact is, people have been retreating into the safety of their dens for decades.  Fewer people join clubs and other social organizations.  Church attendance is down; malls close for lack of customers; and people would crawl into their laptops and cell phones if they could.  And when they do participate in something, it’s something big, like massive sporting events or mega churches.  In such places it’s much easier to protect their anonymity.

95799A87-C199-4C66-B4DE-948FB58DB632In light of all this,  I do offer one observation.  It puts a strain on our ability to develop social skills.  Those, after all, require practice if they are going to blossom and flourish.

In his Rule for Monks Saint Benedict allowed that the best kind of monk is the hermit.  But when we read the entirety of his Rule it’s clear that he pushes in the opposite direction.  He skews everything toward the creation of a healthy and vibrant community.  All is geared toward the respect and nurture of neighbor.  It’s the neighbor that brings out the best — and the worst — in us; and without the presence of that neighbor personal growth is much harder.

In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says that our light must shine before others, and obviously that requires some sort of community.  But of even greater significance is this:  the gifts God gives us ought not be stashed away or placed under a basket.  When we hide our talents no one benefits, and that includes the owner of the talents.  Rather, gifts given to one are gifts meant to be shared.  Only then will we grow.

45B503C8-1293-400D-8F11-B4DFB52F3B0ASharing gifts and talents requires effort on our part.  It takes gumption to show up regularly for activities that build relationships and communities.  It takes initiative to reach out to others.  For some it requires real effort to overcome the urge to live totally private lives.

Ironically, we only fool ourselves if we think we can live totally private lives.  If we rely on others for food, for safety, or for any sort of emotional support, then we owe all those people a debt of gratitude.  We in fact live in community with them.

The words of Jesus offer us a challenge.  Will our experience of community be minimalist — one in which neither we nor others see what gifts we have to offer?  Or will we take any sort of risk to reach out to others?

Jesus commanded the paralytic to pick up his mat and walk.  In less elegant language he asks each of us to get up off our bottoms and make some little difference in our community.


+On February 5th former president of Colombia and Nobel Peace Prize winner Juan Manuel Santos arrived at Saint John’s for a two-day residence.  In the course of his visit he delivered the 13th annual Eugene J. McCarthy Lecture, and he met with faculty, staff and students at various luncheons and receptions.

+On February 7th I met with Novice Felix for the first of a series of classes that will address the history of the Benedictine tradition.  In this first class we reviewed The Saint John’s Bible — a project I’ve been involved in for what seems like forever.

+Later that day I drove to LaCrosse, WI, with one of my colleagues, where we attended a vigil service for the mother of one of our alumni.

+While in Washington DC recently I had the opportunity to visit one of my favorite haunts, The National Gallery.  There I saw an amazing exhibit of the work of Alonso Berruguete, a 16th-century sculptor who worked in Castile.  Son of an artist, a visit to Italy where he saw the work of Michelangelo was pivotal in his development.  The works on display are part of a retable that Berruguete created for the Benedictine abbey of San Benito Real in Valladolid, Spain.  I find his work just amazing in its originality and emotion, particularly the figure of Jesus at top.  Below that is the figure of Abraham, about to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Tap on the photo to enlarge and savor the anguish on the face of Abraham.  Next comes John the Baptist, and at bottom is a section of his Adoration of the Magi.


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