There are not only hermits but hermitesses as well, although many people tend to forget this fact since the latter is a dangerous life and one often frowned upon by ecclesiastic and lay authorities. Yet from the beginning there were women who decided to live outside the din and chaos of the world in solitude, silence and recollection. And not enclosed in a monastery.
Their decision is not just a distant phenomenon of times past, but rather a way of life that is also practiced today, an important way of seeking a relationship with God for those who wish “to listen directly to the voice of the Holy Spirit”, as Antonella Lumini states in her interview with Lucetta Scaraffia, a listening that is all the more important since “women are more receptive, able to recognize the tenderness of God, transmit it, and tell of it”. Separating oneself from the world by devoting oneself solely to meditation and one’s relationship with God is a courageous choice. It is for men, and much more so for women for whom in times past it was often prohibited, so much so that it led them some to disguise themselves as men in order to retreat into a hermitage. Solitude was too risky, the decision to live protected only by faith in the woods and in caves was too radical for a woman. The convent was better, more secure, well-protected and disciplined by definite rules. Yet since the first centuries of Christianity there have been some who succeeded in surmounting the challenge, perhaps by choosing the city walls as the place of their retreat. Mario Sensi speaks of it in his article on the origins of this vocation, which re-flourished after the Second Vatican Council and which, as Giulia Galeotti recalls, in the 90s moved Adriana Zarria to retreat to the mountains of Piedmont where “she prays, gardens, tends animals, and welcomes all those who pass by”, and where nothing happens but life. Today - as many contemporary hermitesses explain - one can also choose solitude in the city, in the midst of daily life with its problems and cares. Any normal house, a normal apartment, can become a “poustina”, a desert place where one can recollect oneself in meditation and silence. Catherine de Hueck recreated a “poustina” in the Canadian woods and recounted her experience in a book by the same title. Madonna House in North America has spread in recent years. To reflect, meditate, detach oneself from the world and seek a relationship with God and with the deepest part of oneself is a valuable guide also for women today.
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