Wednesday, June 04, 2014

A rule for anchoresses: cats allowed

I'm trying to put together a piece on the eremetic life - a long essay in which I see the seeds of a book.  This morning, I'm trying to dig into the introduction of the piece, I feel as if I have a thousand threads I could grab to follow into the writing, but no good way to figure out which one to choose.

John Howard Griffin, Thomas Merton's long-time friend and biographer, spent six months living in Merton's hermitage after his death, reading his diaries and notes, soaking in solitude both internally and externally, using the solitude as a lens to see more deeply into Merton's life.

I'm outside today in the hermitage that is my back yard, alone until tonight, trying to use the solitude and stillness of the day as a lens to pick through the many threads and find one compelling enough to bring someone else into the "immense silence."

"You shall not possess any beast, my dear sisters, except only a cat." — from the Ancrene Wisse, Part 8: Of Domestic Matters [228]

I've been re-reading the Ancrene Wisse - a handbook for novice anchoresses written in the late 14th century, which talks about the inner rule which must be always kept, and the outer rule, which helped foster the inner rule, but ultimately falls away.  The advice about cats (and cows) is part of the outer rule!

I have Fluffy. Who proudly brought me a garden pest, then caterwauled when I declined to write with it at my feet.  No cows.

1 comment:

  1. Ancrene Wisse always makes me giggle a bit as it's the textual source for the recent, lovely, Julian with a cat icon tradition which has no roots whatever in her own writings or her brief mentions elsewhere (e.g. Margery Kempe). When singing a beautiful anthem taken from Showings at my Dayton Episcopal church the guest conductor pointed us all to the equally beautiful window and confidently and baselessly asserted "Julian was known to be a cat person"!