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‘This is what we are doing’

Rachel Denton, a canonical hermit in the diocese of Hallam, shares insights from her life

‘This is what we are doing’

LIVE QUIETLY, and on my own, ‘staying
and returning insofar as duties permit’.
My life is primarily one of prayer, though
of course I have had to earn my own keep
through the years – calligraphy work,
writing, a little teaching. I have lived as a
hermit for 23 years, making my solemn
profession in 2006.
It had been a longing for many years. A
busy teaching career left little time for
solitude or silence. The bursts of adrenaline
and energy required in a
leadership role (both
loved and dreaded)
drained me and I spent
‘off’ time just recovering.
So my early days of
hermitage were spent relishing the quiet
and space. On occasional social events with
‘This is what we are doing’
Rachel Denton, a canonical hermit in the diocese of Hallam, shares insights from her life
family and close friends, I became much
more relaxed. Confident that I would be
returning shortly to my quiet and solitude,
I could give much more of myself in a
social milieu.
So what would I be returning to?
Hermitage is a very ordinary life. Due to an
increasing need to access services, I have
recently moved from the epicentre of
nowhere at the foot of the Lincolnshire
Wolds – fields and sky woven together by
narrow farm tracks and
ditches – to a scruffy,
crowded neighbourhood
tucked into the semiindustrial
landscape of a
busy northern city. By design
and good fortune, I also happen to live
very close to one of the city’s hospitals. I
used to long to live by the sea. Here, the
wave-beat of traffic, the shifting of
buses ferrying passengers to and fro
and ambulance sirens sounding like
ships in the night, might not look
much like the isolation of my previous
rural idyll, but still I am very much at home
and living hermitage.
One of the things that I have learnt over
these 23 years has been ’prayerful living’,
perhaps echoing methods of mindfulness
so popular now. My tendency to need to
'get things done’ can lead to a stressful
chaos of half-finished tasks, my mind
always on the next one. My version of
prayerful living uses a simple mantra: ‘This
is what we are doing.’ It keeps me centred
on the moment, fully involved in whatever
task – prayer, housework, gardening, DIY

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