This is about an urban hermit; Martha Ainsworth is a New Yorker who has formally petitioned the Bishop to be a solitary. She has chosen for herself a life of solitude and silent prayer, but not the usual sort we are used to:
But unlike a cloistered monk, who shares chores and helps generate a common income by making cheese or fruitcakes, Martha will arrange her prayer life around a schedule that looks from the outside like any other citizen’s. Week after week, she will encounter the din of the city. She will keep her apartment, shop for groceries, answer her phone, and earn a paycheck. She’ll have no abbot or abbess, and no sisters, owing her obedience only to the bishop. Martha will become, in effect, a contemplative order of one.
We have often assumed a city life is unsuited for the spiritual life. But here is someone who has challenged that assumption. I love what Martha Ainsworth has to say about prayer:
Most of us think of prayer as asking God for something: Let the surgery go okay, keep the kids safe, let Matsui get on for Posada. We’re praying for peace of mind; it’s a means to an end. But what if we prayed until we couldn’t think of anything else to ask for—and then prayed some more? Contemplatives attempt to reverse the direction of prayer’s flow, to listen instead of ask. If you approach prayer this way (and pray enough), Martha explains, it leaves the dimension of words altogether, and the distractions—even the unceasing stimuli of New York City—drop away.
To listen instead of ask. This is what silence truly means: Not merely to not speak -- instead, it is an active listening.