The solitary life is seen as being lived within the fellowship of the Body of Christ, in which the solitary has an honoured place going back to St Antony of Egypt and the other Fathers and Mothers of the Egyptian desert.  In these islands this kind of life is represented by Celtic monks like Columba, Aidan and Chad.  In the Middle Ages there were countless anchorites and hermits scattered throughout Britain, of whom Julian of Norwich and Richard Rolle of Hampole are perhaps the best known. It was a commonplace then that many people, feeling a call to solitude, would go and live on the edge of their village in much the same way as Antony of Egypt did when he began. Such people supported themselves by their work, as the earliest monks did. Often such work involved public service such as repairing roads and bridges. They were accepted as those who were called to a life of prayer. Work and prayer have always gone hand in hand.

The degree of solitude and of involvement in the life of the local Christian community is something which each has to decide in the light of circumstances and at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  The solitary's prayer needs to be nourished by regular spiritual reading, in which Holy Scripture, the Psalms, and the writings and lives of the Desert Fathers and Mothers and others in the monastic tradition should find their place.  There are also many modern books on prayer and the spiritual life which can be read with profit.


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