Contemplative prayer is as much as anything a call to a life of interior solitude. It is solitude with God, of course - how could it be otherwise? - but it is solitude for God: an openness within which he can find us, a door closed (Matthew 6.6) against, at least for a moment, the world, our human appetites, and against enemy interference. It is not an easy way, really, though it is so simple.
What Karen and Paul Fredette write of the solitary life is true of a contemplative life lived in community, too, whether formally or informally:
Anyone taking the eremitic vocation seriously is bound to feel helpless, quite impotent, in fact. Hermits are determined to help, to make a positive difference, but how? What can one person do, hidden and alone? Sometimes, solitaries may feel blameworthy because they live lives which shelter them from much of the suffering that so harshly mars the existence of their brothers and sisters. Love and compassion well up in them... but is it enough? What should one do and how? This is where passionate intercessory prayer and supplication spontaneously arises. The challenge is to live a life given over to praying for others while accepting that one will seldom, if ever, see any results. No one will be able to ascertain how, or even if, their devoted prayers are efficacious for others. It is a terrible kind of poverty - to live dedicated to helping others, yet never know what good one may be doing. All that hermits can do is hope that they are doing no harm. Believers leave all results to the mercy of their God. Others rely on the interconnectedness of all humanity, trusting that what affects one, affects all. This is a form of intercession expressed less by words than by a way of life. A Camaldolese monk once wrote: "Prayer is not only speaking to God on behalf of humanity, it is also 'paying' for humanity." Suffering is part of the hermit's vocation. One of the most acute forms is to never know whether one's chosen lifestyle is worthwhile or has any value for others. Hermits enter into the darkness, the dusky cloud of unknowing, and walk without any light beyond that which is in their own hearts. Often, unbeknownst even to themselves, they have become beacons for others.
Karen Karper Fredette and Paul A. Fredette, Consider the Ravens: On Contemporary Hermit LifeOur question may be, though, how can we be sure that this is a vocation, that it is God who is calling us to this odd way of life? I don't think we can be certain, really, at least not before we begin. In John's Gospel Jesus says to his first disciples, "Come and see!" (John. 1.28-29) and later on in the same Gospel, the Samaritan woman Jesus meets at the well uses the same phrase, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" (John 4.29) It's all we can do, ourselves. Just begin. A year, twenty years, down the line you'll still be beginning. Each day, the sun rises, always beginning again. It always does. And so the heart opens, always from the beginning again. There is nothing else it can do, in prayer. Only God is the constant ground of our being, and his mercy is everlasting (Psalm 100.5).