The Mystery of Hiddenness

Society today calls someone a hermit who just doesn’t want to be with people all the time — someone who draws strength from being alone and actually loses energy by being in the middle of a crowd. I guess a hermit could also be someone like the uni-bomber who lives in the mountains all alone and thinks of ways to destroy life. That’s creepy.

Still, I do relate to large chunks of time that offers solitude and quiet — a few days at home alone, not answering the phone or the door, in front of the fire or outside on the patio in the summer by the fountain refreshes me like nothing else. No conversation. No questions to answer. No dressing up. No one to impress. Just. Time. To. Think. Time to reflect on God and his ways. Just oceans and oceans of alone.

Conversely, a weekend at a Christian or secular conference packed with people and activities drains me completely dry. — even if the worship and teaching are amazing. I have literally run out of meeting centers where retreats and seminars have taken place just to breathe some alone air — to get refreshed away from the oppression of the crowd. I feel smothered, stifled, trapped with all those people.

I saw this as a weakness — was told it was a weakness — and I repented of it over and over. I still confess it as sin when it comes up in my life.

Some time ago, my husband and I took a drive to the Dead Sea area. The arid, desert mountains where life is extreme and severe and the area filled with caves that sheltered the lives of hermits through the ages. Some didn’t flee there for solitude and spiritual strength, they sought refuge from their enemies in those dry, craggy mountains, like David fleeing Saul. But many came there willingly just to be alone, so they could be close to God.

After the resurrection of Jesus, a hermitage movement flourished; and those men became known as the Desert Fathers. Their stories are amazing and inspiring.

My hubby and I were in the desert just a short time, and my imagination ran wild considering the ample solitude, strength, and spiritual insight the ancient hermits found in those dry and severe places on earth like the Negev and Egyptian desert.

One interesting fact about hermits is that they actually did not live completely isolated. Although they had their own “cells” or caves and certainly some of them started out alone, others became part of a family of hermits that helped each other and learned to love and serve in community.

The one commandment that became supreme to them was “to love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” They realized that love could not be found or expressed alone, although they deeply yearned for solitude — even needed aloneness to show their devotion to God. They saw that one cannot “love his neighbor as himself” without having a neighbor. So hermit clusters formed in the desert. These men’s lives became so inspirational that outsiders would come to hear their wisdom and witness their lifestyles. If a woman was interested, she had to dress like a man to approach the community.

The severity of their surroundings shaped their lives, and they found comfort and delight, not in things, rather the Maker of things — God himself. Reading some of the history and mystical writings of those hermits, the great Desert Fathers, as they are considered now in some circles, makes me wonder if this “sin” I have been repenting of all my life is really a gift.

With the approach of Good Friday, it is good to reflect upon the godly work of hiddenness. So much of the kingdom of God remains unseen. The crucifix alone is a very good example. There were moments when the disciples, friends, and family of Jesus thought the world had come to an end. Hidden from their eyes at that moment was the glorious outcome of the work on the cross — the blood that was shed through his stripes and piercings that accounts for sin and heals our bodies and the power to become bold with the gospel message when the Holy Spirit would come.

During personal times of barrenness I felt like I was walking through the desert and living in a cage, yet the divine plan of God was at work. As I was abiding in him and yielding to his word, all the goodness was hidden from my eyes at that moment. The outcome and fruit of pruning and hiddenness was unseen. In time, it would be revealed. Even to this day I must remind myself never to underestimate God’s unseen world and the power of hiddenness. God will bring all to light soon and I will arise with new strength and the same resurrection power that raised Christ from the dead. This is God’s promise to me. Embrace the goodness of my life by faith! God is at work in the secret place.

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.”Hosea 2:14