Giving Tuesday Letter to Readers: Please Support Little Portion Hermitage

Dear Readers:

The newish tradition of Giving Tuesday, coming after the consumer shopping over-indulgences of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is a fitting way to take a step back from all of the seasonal excess and let others know about needs that are close to one’s heart. In this case, I’m asking for your support for the Friends of Little Portion Hermitage (FLPH), a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization which I have been honored to be a part of for several years now. I personally want to invite and encourage my readers to take a look at the Giving Tuesday post on the FLPH Facebook page, or on the FLPH website, to see how you can get involved. I also encourage you to share this post, whether it comes to you via email subscription or if you read it online, with anyone whom you think may be interested or in a position to help.

The overall goal of FLPH is to promote the eremitic life inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, Christ-centered solitude, contemplative silence, intercessory prayer and the spiritual works of mercy. Our more specific goal is to establish a permanent Little Portion Hermitage, named for the spot where the Franciscan movement began, with the help of our hermit friend Brother Rex Anthony Norris, a consecrated Franciscan hermit who is under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Portland, Maine.  A dear friend and wise counsel to me and to many others, Brother Rex provides encouragement, insight, and prayer to those who seek him out [he also welcomes your prayer requests and inquiries via the FLPH website.] Brother Rex lives his spiritual vocation every day in a way that most of us, caught up in the demands and distractions of the everyday, material world, cannot.

So in the spirit of St. Francis, I beg you to consider if you’re able to help out materially if possible, and through prayer for the success of this campaign regardless of your means. Your deductions are tax-deductible, and you can donate through Facebook, via the FLPH website, or the traditional pen-and-paper way by sending your check made out to “Friends of Little Portion Hermitage” to:

Friends of Little Portion Hermitage

Post Office Box 15

Auburn ME, 04210

 Thank you, dear readers, and many blessings to you and yours.

Kind regards,

The Courtier

francesco

 

 

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Hooray For Hermits: Art Celebrating The Eremitic Life

While many subjects depicted by the Old Masters portray events from long-ago days, or people engaged in activities which seem incredibly remote to contemporary eyes, there is one area of human endeavor as depicted in the arts which has changed very little over the last 2,000 years: eremitic life. In Christian practice an eremitic (or “hermit” as we usually call them) is someone who has chosen to remove themselves from the world, in order to deepen their spiritual life and their relationship with God. The solitary aspects of their lives have fascinated artists for centuries, but such lifestyles are not a thing of the past. In fact, many hermits still live among us today.

As regular readers know, for several years now I’ve served on the Board of the Friends of Little Portion Hermitage, which support the establishment of a permanent hermitage in the Diocese of Portland, Maine. At the moment we’re still raising funds for the actual hermitage, but we do have a hermit: our dear Franciscan friend, Brother Rex Anthony Norris, who is also the Chaplain of the Coming Home Network International. Brother Rex was recently interviewed by the Catholic News Agency, and I think you’ll enjoy the article – and not just for the great picture of him with a chicken.

Rex

People are often surprised to learn that, yes, there are still hermits among us in this day and age, including right here in the United States. As Brother Rex mentions in the article, he’s aware of a half-dozen or so just in Maine alone! The degree to which those called to this intense form of spiritual life interact with the world depends on various factors, such as the particular religious order which they join. There are, for example, men and women religious who live in solitude, like the wonderful Sister Veronica Paul – whom you should follow on Twitter along with Brother Rex, even if you don’t belong to any particular form of religion – who still manage to engage with the rest of us for periods of time before returning to their solitude.

In art history, there are many depictions of Christians who chose to follow the path to eremitic life. Sometimes these men and women lived in their form of isolation for their entire adult lives, while others did so only for a period of time. The degree to which they removed themselves from day-to-day concerns, and how they chose to live out their vocations, can vary greatly.

A typical example of what most of us think of, when we hear the word, “hermit”, is this work from 1670 by the Dutch Baroque artist, Gerrit Dou (1613-1675), now in the National Gallery here in Washington. In it, we see an anonymous Franciscan hermit on his knees at prayer, meditating on a crucifix amidst the ruins where he has chosen to live. Dou was one of the most successful Dutch painters of the second half of the 17th century, and toward the end of his career he seems to have become somewhat enthralled by the subject of the eremitic life, for there are several other works by him depicting hermits “in action” as it were, such as this example at the MIA in Minneapolis and another at the Wallace Collection in London.

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Among the more famous women in history who lived the eremitic life is St. Mary of Egypt. (c.344-421), who simultaneously felt drawn to changing her way of life and indulging her love of sex. In fact, she is said to have made her way on pilgrimage from the Egyptian city of Alexandria to Jerusalem by offering her services to others who were traveling to the Holy City as well. There, she underwent a conversion experience, and retired to the deserts in what is now modern Jordan, to spend her life in solitary fasting and prayer.

Although also revered in the West, she is particularly admired in the East. Icons such as this one, recounting the story of her life, have always been very popular in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. She has also, albeit less frequently, been the subject of Western art, such as in this copy of a 15th century Gothic sculpture at Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois in Paris (the original is preserved inside the church), or in this c. 1660 painting by the Spanish Baroque artist José Claudio Antolinez (1635-1675), now in – ironically enough – the collection of The Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Antolinez

To close however, I want to show an example of a scene that is touching but rare in Western art. It is said that Zosimus, a monk living near the Jordan River, used to take time to wander the Judean desert by himself for 40 days during Lent. One day he stumbled across St. Mary of Egypt, who was living in a cave, and she told him her life story. She asked him to return the following year on Holy Thursday, so that she might receive the Eucharist, and he promised to do so; the painting below, by a follower of the Flemish artist David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) depicts that return visit the following year. When Zosimus returned to bring St. Mary communion the next year, he discovered that she had died in her cave, so he went about giving her a Christian burial.

Teniers

Perhaps the takeaway here is that, like all hermits who came before and after her, even though this woman gave up everything to follow her call to the eremitic life, at the end of her earthly life she lacked for nothing. We are lucky, gentle reader, that such individuals still live among us, to advocate on our behalf, and that of the whole world. Please support them, as you are able.

An Urgent Call: Helping The Hermit

I have something of a pressing need for your help, gentle reader:

Regular readers know that I’m part of a non-profit group trying to raise funds to establish a permanent hermitage up in Maine, where Brother Rex Anthony Norris is serving his vocation as a Franciscan hermit.  You can read more about what we’re trying to do over on the Friends of Little Portion Hermitage site, and you can also follow Brother Rex’s daily postings on the FLPH Twitter account and Facebook page. We recently received 501(c)(3) status, so any donations you make are tax-deductible.

However we have a more immediate concern, which is that Brother Rex is about to lose his home.  He has been renting an apartment in a house which is going up for sale very soon.  He hasn’t received an eviction notice yet, but it could come any day now, and he is having difficulty finding new rental accommodation that he can afford in the Portland area, where he must stay because he is under the canonical jurisdiction of that Diocese.  Of course, if any of my readers are in so fortunate a position as to have a small fortune sitting around in search of a worthy project such as this, please let me know.  For most of us average folk however, meeting Brother Rex’ immediate need is a better way to go.

If any of you are in the Portland area and in a position to rent an apartment, little house, or chicken coop to Brother Rex and his kitty Clare, please get in touch with me using the Contact form on this site.  If you can’t help but know someone who might be able to, or who might know someone who could, please share this blog post with them and let them know that I would be glad to put them in touch with Brother Rex.  Time is really of the essence in this situation, and since Brother Rex spends most of his day in prayer, those of us who care about him are left to try to help with many of the mundane things which we lay people can often do much more easily, given our resources.

Thank you for your charity, and God bless!

Detail of St. Clare and St. Francis from a processional banner from Assisi by Niccolo Alunno (c. 1470) Der Priesterhaus, Kevelaer, Germany

Detail of St. Clare and St. Francis from a processional banner from Assisi by Niccolo Alunno (c. 1470)
Der Priesterhaus, Kevelaer, Germany