Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Hermits: The Insights of Solitude by Peter France

Hermits: The Insights of Solitude by Peter France, takes a long, lingering look at religious and philosophical recluses through the ages. He picks examples that are, no doubt, close to his heart.  There are chapters on the Desert Fathers of early Christianity, the Startsy of Russia’s northern forests, Thoreau, Ramakrishna, Merton, and the poet Robert Lax, among others.

The central problem facing all these hermits is the tension between isolation and society.  Overall, these men chose to live alone not from misanthropy, but from an overriding sense that solitude is the only way to achieve direct access to G-d.  Yet, there is the other pull, toward society.  Often, ironically, people seek hermits; because of their purported purity, they have always been sought to give advice about matters they have no direct knowledge of: like marriage and child-rearing. Some hermits became so popular, they had to leave their huts and seek solitude in new locations!

France’s book is an approachable to a topic that really is close to the human experience: who does not seek solitude, while at the same time, yearns for company?  This is a dichotomy are the very heart of what we are. 

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