VANCOUVER, Canada (CCN/The B.C. Catholic) – Most people at one time or another fantasize about saying goodbye to family and friends and leaving behind the demands of daily life to focus on connecting to the spiritual.
WEBMASTER TO SEEK ‘DESERT’ – Paul Marquis, webmaster of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, will trade in computer servers in October for the solitude of a hermit’s "desert" experience in a simple shelter on a remote, forested piece of land. "I want to put an end to all desires, attachments and self, and dwell directly in the unfiltered presence of the Lord,” he said. (CCN/The B.C. Catholic)
While few accomplish such a journey, in October, Paul Marquis, webmaster for the Vancouver Archdiocese, will say goodbye to all personal and technological connections to embrace the ascetic solitude of an "eremite," a hermit who seeks God.
After months of considering various locations, he said he expects this "desert" experience will be in a simple shelter on a remote, forested piece of land, maybe on an island somewhere off the west coast of Canada.
Accompanied by the most basic necessities, a Bible and other spiritual reading, Marquis will be completely dependent on God and His goodness.
Already the 38-year old single Catholic has given away most of his belongings and, when he leaves, will own virtually nothing.
From webmaster to hermit?
Renunciation, detachment, however it's described, the St. Thomas More College class of 1986 valedictorian has encountered many a blank stare as people try to wrap their mind around the idea of forsaking the Internet, cellphones, reality television and fast food.
Constant prayer and the practice of self denial, he said, are concepts alien to a culture which espouses the maxim, "He who dies with the most toys wins."
He believes having silence as your goal is almost impossible in a world "bombarded with noise, hyper-connectivity, convenience, and consumerism."
The self-taught, award-winning Web designer, who launched the archdiocesan site in 1998 and oversaw delivery of what may have been the first electronic edition of any Catholic newspaper in North America, said the desire to relinquish a life of relative ease, although "a long time coming," grew stronger during contemplation and spiritual reading on the ferry back and forth to his home in Gibsons, B.C., last year.
With every beautiful beach sunset, the desire increased until he came to believe that only complete surrender of his whole being to God's will at every moment could bring a deeper union with the divine.
"I began to see the immense value of letting go of everything, every convenience and every comfort, in order to make room for God,” he said.
"There is this terrible stranglehold of a cerebral relationship to Christ in our practice of the faith that, though instructive and useful, is ultimately hollow and dead, as I see it," he explained.
While he doesn't have a call to monastic life or a vocation to the priesthood, Marquis is drawn to the examples of St. Antony and the Desert Fathers and Mothers, early third and fourth Century Christians who fled persecution and the excesses of the Roman Empire to surrender completely to God.
"I want to put an end to all desires, attachments and self, and dwell directly in the unfiltered presence of the Lord. It is about be-ing rather than do-ing: being in prayer rather than just praying," he said.
Marquis, who walked all the way from Vancouver to World Youth Day in Denver, Colo., in 1993 and bicycled almost all the way to the Toronto World Youth Day four years ago, has trained in various forms of holistic healing and strongly believes in meditation and connecting to nature as two ways of listening to the Lord.
Each experience of solitude, he said, has been filled with grace and blessed with an amazingly expanded prayer life and deeper union with God.
"The closer I come to silence, the more I recognize how very far our society has strayed from him,” he said. “What I am choosing to do sounds crazy and extreme to almost everyone despite the fact that only in this and the last century would it be considered abnormal."
The first hermit documentation seems to appear in writings called the Aranyakas (meditations for Hindu forest hermits) about 700 B.C. Many cultures and faiths apart from Christianity have well-established legends of people seeking to "come away."
In the Christian tradition, John the Baptist was a desert hermit, and Jesus began his ministry only after a period in solitude in the Judean desert, where he aligned himself with his father's purpose and cast off the false promises of the devil.
Later, some of those who spent time in the North African desert went on to become important figures in the church and society of the fourth and fifth century, such as Athanasius of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, John Cassian and Augustine of Hippo.
The last two emphasized ascent to God through periods of purgation and illumination that led to unity with the divine and ultimately affected the spirituality of the Western church.
Probably the most well known modern Catholic hermit is Father Thomas Merton, the contemplative Trappist monk, poet, painter and photographer who has deeply influenced both Christians and non-Christians.
One source of inspiration for Marquis came from The Way of the Mystics, a book by John Michael Talbot, a singer and songwriter who founded the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, a community in Arkansas for celibates, singles and families.
Part of his experience, Marquis believes, is placing no restrictions on how his journey will unfold, including no time limits.
"I'm leaving it up to God. It may be a year; it may be the rest of my life. I believe he will light my path, and my part will be to follow it. After so many years in the world of computers, I look forward to the freedom I know I'll find in God's presence."
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Canadian Catholic News Service.
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