Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
―T. S. Eliot, "East Coker"
In many parishes there are a number of people who share in the Eucharist who are members of or associated with various religious orders and communities. They are part of what's called the religious life.
Members of these monasteries, convents, and Christian communities have lives of obedience to a common spiritual discipline (Rule) and take a promise or vows for life or for a set number of years.
Many ways of living religious life may be represented in a parish—professed members of Christian Communities, a solitary anchorite, and a number of affiliates, associates, and Oblates attached to various orders and communities.
In the Anglican Communion there are approximately 165 religious orders and communities for men and/or women. Around 35 are in the United States. Some live in residential community as brothers and sisters, others are dispersed communities that gather from time to time for retreat, community life, and learning. Some provide retreat houses and individual spiritual guidance. Each community has a rule of life and is committed to a life of common prayer and service.
The Episcopal Church also has women and men who have taken such vows as anchorites, hermits, and as solitaries. The 3rd and 4th centuries saw large numbers of men and women living in the Egyptian desert as solitaries. St. Anthony may be the most famous. This was the beginning of the vowed religious life in the church. In time it took communal and solitary expressions.
Fr. Martin Thornton, saw the first "glorious flowering" of English spirituality arising out of the solitary life in the 14th century. Evelyn Underhill wrote along the same lines that it was through expressions of the solitary life that mystical activity rose "to its highest point in the 14th century." The most famous of the 14th century solitaries is Julian of Norwich.
Religious Orders and Communities
“Hermit of the Heart” is an article by Paul O’Donnell in New York Magazine. “With no convent but the city itself, one woman finds a prayerful solitude as a contemplative order of one.” It’s the story of Martha Ainsworth’s defining of her religious vocation as a solitary in New York City.
The Still Heart is the blog of solitary Sister Mary Paul. She teaches classical piano in her hermitage.
A blog publishing new and old writings of the Anglican Solitary and author Maggie Ross.