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Guest post; Book review; The Hermits of Big Sur by Paula Huston

My guest today is Charles kruger, an arts practitioner from the San Francisco Bay Area, also known as “The Storming Bohemian”. As a “late emerging” artist, who began to pursue this career at the age of 50, Charles has a passion to encourage others to explore their artistic potential, while pursuing his own projects with enthusiasm. He writes, paints and organizes literary events among other “artistic” activities. He is a grateful Oblate of the New Camaldoli Monastery. Charles wrote his review and thoughts on Big Sur Hermits by Paula Huston.

Big Sur Hermits

A few years ago, I attended a retreat at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California. At the time, I was a lonely gay thirty-something, a college teacher, not very fortunately, in the small town of Lompoc, an alcoholic with a few precarious years of convalescence under my belt, with a thirst for spirituality.

I read somewhere on the Internet that a Catholic monk from Big Sur was going to host a spirituality retreat for gay people. Is such a thing possible, I wondered? I thought I knew something about the monks. After all, I had read “The Seven Storey Mountain” by Merton. The monks took an oath of silence, led a cloistered life, never left the monastery, prayed for hours every day and sometimes wrote books. They were asexual, mostly conservative, more than a little weird, and certainly had nothing to say to me as a gay. But I was desperate. And I thought to myself, what could I lose? I was alone and needed spiritual food. Maybe I could kill two birds with one stone? Make friends with other gay retreatants and have a taste of the saint over a long weekend? I definitely thought it was worth a try.

I contacted the monk / priest who was leading the retreat. He told me the weekend was full, but then offered to find me a spot. I was in it.

Introduction to Big Sur Hermits

Two weeks later, on a Friday evening, I embarked on the long and beautiful drive along the world famous cliffs of the Pacific Coast Highway and found my way to “Hermitage of the Immaculate Heart” better known today. ‘hui as the New Camaldoli, arriving at the entrance two miles above the boiling sea. I had been gone somehow my whole life. When I was 16, I had been a runaway teenager. In my late twenties, I began to heal from alcoholism. Shortly after, I obtained a teaching diploma. After a miserable first year of teaching in the dysfunctional Los Angeles Unified School District, I made my way to the much smaller Lompoc School District and became a lonely country boy. And now I had been to the cliffs of Big Sur to a Catholic monastery. I am a man who leaves, but rarely arrives. How was I to know that this time, after all my wandering on winding roads, I had come home?

But I was late. It was well after dark and I expected to arrive at least an hour early for the retreat’s opening session. I passed the entrance sign and followed the signs for the monastery bookstore where I pulled into a gravel parking lot. I sat there for a while, after driving for four hours, turned off the ignition and finished rolling the window down. It was unbelievably quiet. I could smell the Pacific Ocean and many other less familiar smells. There were several cypress trees visible along the parking lot, shadows against the starry sky. I could see more stars than I had ever seen in my life. There were a few other cars parked in the driveway. I must be the last to arrive. Have I ever been to a place as quiet as this? There was no sound from the freeway two miles below, nor from the sea. I knew the sea was there, I could see the glow of the flowing waters on the crashing waves reflecting the amazing light. stars. But I heard nothing. It was pleasantly cool. I was happy to wear my favorite green sweater which looked good with my brown eyes (hadn’t forgotten that I was hoping to meet other gay men). There was an empty M & Ms bag on the seat next to me, and on the floor I could see that I had dropped my school drawstring with the name tag attached. I removed the keys from the ignition, rolled the window and got out of the car.

I was surprised and momentarily embarrassed by the noise made when I slammed the car door, it was like a gunshot. But that embarrassment was nothing compared to how I felt when my car’s alarm suddenly went off, the siren blaring and the horn blaring: Honk! Horn! Horn! Horn!

Uh oh, I thought, and I tripped to reopen the car door and turn that damn thing off. Then I stood by the car, my heart pounding, thinking, “It was a mistake. I have no place here. They will certainly fire me for disturbing the calm.

Meet the hermits of Big Sur

I leaned into the car and silenced the alarm. I stood up and saw a monk in a white coat approach. He looked at me. “You must be Charles,” he said. I thought he looked amused, and I hoped he was.

– Uh, yes, I say. “Sorry about the car alarm.”

“Everything is fine,” he told me. “Please come with me. We have already started.

He led me to a room near the church. Two or three robed monks were there, as well as several men seated in a semicircle around a handsome young monk with a guitar.

“Hello,” he said. “Thanks for coming, please join us. “

Brother Musician spoke of his life before the monastery. Surprisingly, he spoke about sexuality and promiscuity. And how it was all going well and had never been a hindrance to spirituality. It was just another part of the search for God, he told us. Remember Saint Augustine. Then he tuned his guitar and began to sing a song he had composed, a setting to music of a poem by Rumi. He began, “There is a moon in my body. . . “

I was slapped. By the end of the weekend, I knew I would stay connected to the monastery forever and that’s exactly what happened. A few years later, in Berkeley, I was welcomed into the Camaldolese community as an oblate (lay associate) of the monastery.

Over time, I have learned through reading, conversation and first-hand experience that the Order of the Camaldolese (which is part of the Order of Saint Benedict) is the oldest continuous monastic community in the West dating back to the 11th century uninterrupted line. But I have often wondered how it came to be that this ancient Catholic religious order ended up with a monastery amid the hippies and counter-culturalists of Big Sur, counting yogis and Zen masters, progressive political activists, poets. , journalists, academics, cooks, charismatics, chemists, musicians, eccentrics, liturgical celebrities and modern anchorites (strict hermits who live in total isolation) among their fellowship.

I mean, who knew?

The story of the hermits of Big Sur

Now one of the community’s longtime Oblates, eminent novelist and spiritual essayist Paula huston, wrote a story, “Big Sur HermitsWhich tears the veil of the cloister to reveal how the community of New Camaldoli, born as a vision amid the political turmoil of World War II, and later manifested itself in the upheavals of Vatican II and the emergence from the counterculture of the 1960s, has come to find its unique path in our new millennium.

Originally, it was the intention of the Camaldolese to build a hermitage in the mountains of Big Sur. It would be a place completely removed from the world, as strict as possible. The monks were silent. They would live in isolated cells and only interact to pray together in chorus. There would be no visitors, no retirement home, no biographies, no public face. The monks of New Camaldoli had the mad ambition to be entirely unambitious. They would be sturdy, to say the least. Rumor has it that at least one of these founding monks wore a hairshirt and bleed himself while self-flagellating.

The story of how those rather extreme beginnings have grown over the years into a center of ecumenism, a welcoming retreat for thousands of visitors, a friend of hippies and New Age activists from Big Sur, a paradise for feminists, yogis, Zen priests, Protestant ministers and providers of the movement for a “new monasticism” among the laity, while fully respecting the monastic tradition and providing cells to hermits so that they fully engage in their calling, even in the midst of all this commotion (relatively speaking).

Read Big Sur Hermits

As Paula Huston recounts, the history of this monastery is one of international intrigue with, surprisingly, links to fascist spies, Jesuit diplomats, multiple popes, Mussolini, Californian millionaires, rock and roll, hippie hot tub, the Charismatic Renewal Movement, an Indian ashram and more.

Huston uses her impressive storytelling skills to bring events and characters to life. Among the monks are a rock and roll musician who eventually became a prior, two union activists, a chemist / scientist, an actor, the personal chef of an admiral, at least two artists and a composer / writer / linguist / liturgist. / theologian / former disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda / expert in Yoga / and aficionado of Esperanto. The last one mentioned may well be a candidate for a list in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not”.

Could these men really be dedicated monks in the oldest continuous monastic order in the West, dating from the 11th century? Indeed, they can.

The publisher’s blurb accurately describes this book as “the fascinating story of what takes place within this small idealistic community when medievalism must finally come to terms with modernism.”

This is exactly what the book offers.

Readers who believe in the Holy Spirit will be moved and amazed by the story of His seemingly miraculous manifestation in Big Sur, California.

Those who never believed can be made to think.

[Image by Paula Huston]

Greg richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with the Hermitage of New Camaldoli near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is [email protected]