The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Is the hermit lifestyle scriptural?

I have long desired to become a hermit. I am serious enough that I have been making trips to the Yukon, and buying supplies. However what are your thoughts on the topic? Is it healthy, and is it honouring to God? Since I believe Paul teaches that the ideal now is to be unmarried 1 Cor. 7, and our blessings are spiritual Eph. 1, it would seem permissable.

I think, Puddy, that you should do what God tells you to do. Only you can seek Him for those answers. It wouldn’t be a sin, if that’s what you mean (unless God tells you not to do it), but I don’t think He’s likely to lead you or anyone else to spend a whole life as a hermit. A period of time, yes. We do see that in scripture. But we don’t see any lifelong hermits, so no I don’t think it’s scriptural per se. Of course, neither is being a fireman if you go by that standard. You just have to do what He (not your own desires or fears) is leading you to do.

I could easily escape to a deserted tropical island :smiley: :sunglasses:

Hermits are still expected to help other people in various ways, so keep that in mind in your plans. They were also expected to be in at least occasional Lord’s Supper communion with a body of believers, too, and still usually lived under a certain amount of overarching and supportive human authority.

I don’t recall any evidence of hermetic life being scriptural in the NT, except in the special case exception of John the Baptist; but often prophets in the OT lived hermetic lives (JohnBapt being the last of the OT prophets in effect, thus the special case exception). Usually they didn’t live completely solitary lives, however, but lived as part of special prophetic communities (under the leadership of a head prophet), with families even: JohnBapt is another unusual exception (so far as we know) in that regard, although the Qumran community he is sometimes compared to would be a contemporary example of how the method was usually practiced. (I don’t recall that they had families present, but that wasn’t altogether usual for OT prophetic communities either. I’m not recommending all their practices, much less their Christologies, of course. :wink: )

Can it be honoring to God? Yes, very easily, and in several ways. Is it healthy? Eh, well, depends on how you go about it and/or whether you’re provided with supernatural support! (Or other hermetic support for that matter; or support from local communities.)

The main issue would be whether you’re helping other people by doing so. If you believe God is calling you to help other people (including as an evangelical witness) by being a hermit (apparently of the sort who lives outside of society, not of the sort who lives in society–there are different varieties), then do your best and go for it.

If “helping other people” hasn’t factored yet into your plans, or into God’s apparent call for you to do so, I recommend at least rethinking your plans and expectations, and maybe re-evaluating your apparent call to do so. Historically, the hermits were most pertinent and effective when they were able to help other people; when that wasn’t a focus (and sometimes even when it was), they became notorious for spiritual pride. Everything has its own special dangers, so count the costs and prepare accordingly (as it sounds like you’re doing. :slight_smile: )

God’s strength and peace to you, whichever way you go!

Hi Puddy –

If I was to become a hermit – something for which I have no vocation – I’d want to know more about the lives of others who have become hermits, the difficulties and the joys of their path and how they saw this as service to God.

The vocation of a hermit does not play a big part in evangelical Protestantism . I’m ecumenical in outlook – which you may or may not agree with – but I would recommend to you that you should at least take a glance at the writings of people from the wider Christian tradition who have actually lived as hermits – Tom Merton (Catholic) and Staretz Silouan (Orthodox) spring to mind. In these traditions the hermit has to test their sense of vocation first – to see that they are genuinely called to this life – and even if their vocation is genuine they are not simply left without support (for example hermits still have spiritual directors and a key function of a hermit to the wider community is often to act as a spiritual director in turn).

I’ve found this article by a Scottish Benedictine nun on the hermit’s life that may be of interest to you at -

The Depressed Hermit, or Holy ‘acedia’

The person with the hermit vocation has to find ways of dealing with the depression engendered by ongoing loneliness and isolation. This is so well known that there is even a special name for it – acedia. Just because hermits have to learn to cope with depression, however, does not mean that depressives should start lining up for the hermitage, as if it was a clinic! Au contraire, the hermit needs to be naturally optimistic, and have a good track record of digging themselves out of holes which would defeat less hardy souls. Note the words ‘digging themselves out.’

There has to be an internal mechanism, independent of others, which kicks in in times of depression. If, in times of depression, you regularly need others to push you through, the hermit life will open you up to all the dangers of depression and you will not be able to find a way out. In that case, you need to find your path in more supportive circumstances, whether in religious community or in the world, or you will almost inevitably lose your mental balance.

So -what is the basis of this internal mechanism for digging oneself out of depression? Quite simply, it is faith – faith of a particular kind. It is a belief that God wills to create change in the most negative situation and that one’s job as a hermit, is to find that ‘point of change’ – that avenue of hope – which is somewhere, even if it is totally hidden from one’s consciousness for many years. “Keep your heart in hell and despair not” said staretz Silouan.

So the place of a hermit’s inner stability must firstly be a place where no false hopes exist, and the ongoing experience of living without hope – often in the depths of depression – does not affect your core. It is akin to the experience felt by many prisoners in solitary confinement. At the same time, living without hope must not become an excuse for sourness. The main antidote to sourness lies in cultivating the ability to enjoy the small things of life – a robin bowing as you put the birdfeed out (yes! robins do bow!), the amazing dawn colours of water in puddles on tarmac and a host of small personal pleasures like washing up!

A second antidote to sourness lies in fidelity to your regular programme of Divine Office and prayer. Keep the space even if you cannot discharge your duties. If all you can do is stare at the words of the psalm but not say them because they hurt too much, offer the wordless agony to God, and when you have done all your soul can stand, work on a related discipline, such as supplementary reading or go for a walk and look for beauty. You have to use any means you can to orientate your soul into a friendly disposition towards life, the universe, and it!

If you normally sing as part of your office, then sing a section – maybe just one antiphon or do vocalese ( voice training). Concentrate on enjoying the voice for it’s own sake – as a kind of ‘recreation within prayer time’ to re-invigorate your enjoyment of singing the office. Gradually, among good days and bad days, the joy will occasionally return – but you have to keep building the bridges yourself in your own soul.

More often than not, you just sit, stand, walk or work through the day, trying again and again to pounce on chinks of light which will enable God to enter the vast abyss of depression – and hope that by doing your bit you will somehow find a chink in the armour of collective depression, which enshrouds the human soul, and by pioneering a ‘path out of the dungeon’ help others – on an invisible level ( which after all, is no more unbelievable than the internet) – to also find a ray of hope.

You have to maintain that inner attitude of belief that ‘conversion’ – change is possible, even when your heart is dead and hopeless, and all outer circumstances entrench that hopelessness. This requires a profound capacity to cope with a seemingly irreconcilable paradox. The whole of the Christian mystery is a training for this. The whole Christian mystery centres on the fact that the eternally perfect and immortal God becomes – over the course of thirty years – a dead corpse and, by an incomprehensible mystery, lives again. The whole secret of the hermit life is encapsulated in that corpse of God.

The mystery of the hermit is to find the rebirth in death. In a sense, the hermit walks into death with open eyes and that is why, when the hermit has undergone his passion, his prayer in solitude – or his teaching to the world ( as in the case of a Seraphim or Merton) – truly changes things for others

Well said, Dick! :sunglasses: Very good advice.

Interesting articles, and now I have lots to study. It seems you two have a particular interest in this way of life. You may enjoy learning about the life of Dick Proenneke. They should be showing his life to younger children to get them to appreciate nature and the wilderness.

Another great series is by Ray Mears called ‘Northern Wilderness’ You can purchase it at It is about the Canadian Wilderness, and the great explorers that opened up the Country. Very well done video. You can actually watch some of it on his site.

In February I will probably help out with the Yukon Quest. A 1000 mile dog sled race. You can follow the race online when it occurs.

Again great advice, thank you!
I will respond to some of your remarks at some point. Concerning loneliness, it almost seems different when you are far enough away from others that the other world does not exist. You enter a different realm of existence.

Puddy - if you get involved in the Yukon trek, I’ll follow it - I like a personal angle on these stories; it helps to know your mates are involved to keep your interest :slight_smile: The nearest I’ve ever been to this type of living was reading ‘White Fang’ by Jack London when I was a kid :laughing:

‘White Fang’ is a great book. However, we should not fear Wolves. Recently when I hiked an old ‘First Nations’ trail between two small towns in the Yukon, (maybe 50 km) a few of the townsfolk warned me about huge Wolf packs. I think they thought they were going to scare me from doing the hike. Popular culture has given us funny idea’s about a great animal.

It was during the winter, so the risk of Bear attack was reduced, but you have to worry about a starving Couger, and sometimes I would scan the top of a tree, in case of a lurking Wolverine. (Amazing, but reclusive animal) I was on the trail for almost two weeks, and the RCMP said they were a day away from going out to search for me. I found them to worry like a Mother.

I had planned on taking a trappers course this winter, but it will have to wait. I will be going up for just two weeks this time. (Feb 1-14) I am excited. I ordered a traditional style buck knife . I will be curious, to know how it performs. I am pulled into two directions. A large part of me wants to live in the real wilderness. I would use an arctic oven tent with woodstove.

I think this winter, I am just going to take my napsack, and sleep in a tiny, unheated tent. Maybe, I could find a wife that would like to live this lifestyle? Here is a short video showing a wolverine climbing a tree, and fighting a Bear. … J4tyowlVUM
I am kind of bored tonight, and so I am rambling.
thanks for listening

It’s quite interesting, thanks! Like Dick, I hope you keep us up to date!

Different wolfpacks in different areas behave differently toward humans (sometimes depending on circumstances). Farley Mowat found the wolves in the portion of Canada he was dropped into quite friendly–maybe because food in the region was plentiful. Other people, not so much.