Of What Use is a Hermit?

A review by local writer and poet Alan Martin of Karen Karper’s book Where God Begins To Be

Of what use is a hermit, and what compels some people to embark on a course that can be fraught with physical and psychological difficulties? Karen Karper, in her book Where God Begins To Be, attempts to answer those questions through her own contemplations.

Her vocational drive was beyond doubt. She had entered a Poor Clares monastery in 1959, aged 17, but after 30 years she wanted more seclusion. The church is very careful about giving its charges permission for such an uncertain venture, but allowed Karen a three-month trial period and when that was successful, granted full approval.

She found what she described as a charming shack in a wooded West Virginia valley. It needed a wood stove among several other essentials before winter set in. Temperatures in that area can fall to –30C, and a glimpse of the great outdoors could be viewed through gaps in its single-board walls.

One of the maim themes of her account was the miraculous way in which help appeared just in time when she really needed it. Her vow of poverty had been interpreted as an abandonment of the idea that we can fix the future alone by our egocentric endeavours. She had faith in divine providence and, despite all the horrendous difficulties she encountered, she was convinced that she was in the right place.

There are a couple of points in the text where I thought her conclusions could usefully be applied to my own life. Her ability to lighten her simple routine through mindfulness, well before the idea became trendy, was impressive, but I also found that this true and honest story was interesting and entertaining.

NB: Mindfulness should only be taught by someone qualified to do so.

Alan Martin is a Pembrokeshire native who has worked in several UK locations as an engineering inspector. He now lives on a smallholding in mid-county with his wife and son.

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