Exiting the Solitude

It has been about six days since I was at the hermitage in Glendalough and I’m still drawing upon the strength and wisdom I found there.

Most of my time was spent sitting quietly in my hermitage or hiking in the countryside. I have seen photographs of Ireland’s green spaces, but what I saw in person was far more beautiful (and greener) than what I expected. In Glendalough, two glistening lakes sit at the bottom of a sharply sloped valley and a rocky waterfall feeds the waters at the back.

At the entrance of the valley, a 6th century monastery sits in stoney grey ruins. A man named St. Kevin first traveled to the valley seeking solitude in order to commune closer with God. Eventually other pilgrims joined him and a small monastic city was constructed where the men lived in a cycle of prayer, physical labor and contemplation.

The monastic city was bursting with tourists and school groups during the day, so one morning I went at 5 am in order to feel the solitude the monks would have had.

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The nuns of St. Kevin’s Parish (a church in town that was built much later) run the Glendalough Hermitage and encourage guests to practice solitude while there. No internet. No music. Even reading is supposed to be kept to a minimum, only reading a few scriptures to contemplate. You’re even supposed to quiet the noise in your head. Just be present. Observe what is around you. And pray. (And eat, thank goodness.)

For the first time, I lit a candle while I prayed in my room. I like how it makes the prayer more purposeful. I also learned something about prayer.

I asked Sister Margaret if she could could talk with me for a bit and counsel me about faith. During our conversation, she asked what religious rituals I do. I said, “Pray.” 

She asked, “With words?”

“With words?” I thought. “Is that a real question? How else?”

She invited me to their Thursday night Centering Pray. She said learning this practice can nurture faith and help with my anxiety.

We all sat in a room, in chairs, with our eyes closed and a candle burning on the floor. A scripture is read, a gong sounds and we sit in silence for ten minutes. We aren’t meditating in the sense that we concentrate on something or repeat a mantra. We aren’t even “listening to God,” like how many Christians say your praying should also consist of listening. We are to gently release any thoughts that come to our minds and simply sit in the presence of God.

The gong sounds again and, in silence, we walk outside and around a small path, purposefully placing our feet heel to the ground first, then pressing the toe forward. Heel, toe, heel, toe, heel, toe, heel, toe – in the same quiet state.

We return to the room. The gong sounds and we sit again in ten more minutes of silence. Ten minutes of gently quieting our minds. Ten minutes of being in the presence of God.

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