Tiny Houses and Hermits


When I’m stressed, I like to read books about hermits: Thomas Merton, W. Paul Jones, Karen Karper, Sara Maitland

I’m becoming my mother, a notorious introvert, who likes nothing better than holing herself up at home and speaking to no one all day long. I used to think she was a bit silly and even a little tedious, needing to spend so much time alone. But now, I’ve realized I also need some solitude in my schedule to stay sane: silence, time to focus, space in my own head. Sometimes it seems very self-indulgent, but because of my mom I know I come by it honestly. And I understand her a little better, too.

When I read a “hermit book,” I feel like I’m inside that life, too, with a person living alone and entirely for God, or as Thoreau used to say: “to live deliberately…to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” It’s a life I used to wonder about for myself before I met Adam. I love my husband and my marriage, so if I ever did become a hermit it would have to be be a married sort of hermit (if such a thing is possible). But a solitary contemplative life, with a surrender to the rhythms of the daily office (daily prayers, said 4-9 times a day), focusing on God’s presence, holing up by yourself and not talking to anyone all day long, early to bed early to rise, speaks to something in me,  as an active priest who is also called to service out in the world, who also likes being in crowds and talking with lots of people. Many of whom, I imagine, think I’m an extrovert, since priests and pastors’ big day of the week, Sunday, is definitely a big extrovert day. But the wellspring of my love of people is my love of solitude.

Then, there are the little houses hermits live in – hermitages. Here’s Merton, in front of his:


One of my favorite parts of hermit books is reading about the little houses hermits live in. There’s something so essential and well, home-like, about them. There are lots of books about tiny houses and the people who build them, and I’ve devoured them all: Jay SchaferLou UrenekMichael Pollan.


Life compressed into the size of a room. I lived in a dorm room by myself for a semester at college and I loved it. One little room held my life, pretty much and it was cozy. Later,  over my two years at Gould Farm, I lived in two little cabins: both, heated by woodstove, with a tea kettle and hot plate (never used), an outdoor faucet in summer, no bathroom except the outdoors or a big jar in wintertime and the normal, plumbed bathroom of my friends, the Goldfarbs and Vlceks, down the hill for me to use whenever I liked, and no insulation! (My mom, introvert but not fond of roughing it, thought I was crazy.) Here’s me, with shockingly awful hair, in front of one of the cabins I lived in, called “Owen”: 


Adam and I talk about getting a Tumbleweed Tiny House someday, as a get away place. Sometimes we’d go together and sometimes we’d each go for some of our own hermit time. We both have eremetic tendencies.

As I’ve been learning how to be a priest, I’ve realized that for my own well-being I need to go away and stay by myself for a day or two every few months. That I need a day a month for just reading and prayer. That I need one work day a week without meetings. For my birthday last week, I spent the night at a hermitage at a retreat center south of here. Best present ever.

Solitude resets my brain and feeds something deep in my whole body. And reminds me that I’m becoming my mother.