The search for authentic eremitism in Western Christianity can be misleading. The Grandmontines were not true hermits at the beginning, except for the temperament of its founder, Stephen of Muret. Soon, that possibility was gone. Likewise the Camaldolese and Carthusians were never genuine hermits in the style of the desert fathers. They are too dependent on the formalities of ritual and sacrament to be true hermits. This, of course, is the pressure of the ecclesiastical authorities. This is not to say that their spirituality was essentially flawed. I dare not judge. But they were not hermits, and they did not live in solitude.
In searching for an apt self-descriptive phrase, I find James Cahill on the scholar-official or scholar-gentleman who comprised the ranks of the hermits of ancient China: “His position in society is anomalous, since his education has not been put to the normal use: he is learned and talented without possessing either wealth or rank.”
There is a felicitous passage by Shunryu Suzuki in the recent collection entitled Not Always So: “Although we have no actual communications from the world of emptiness, we have some hints or suggestions about what is going on in that world — and that is, you might say, enlightenment. When you see plum blossoms, or hear the sound of a small stone hitting bamboo, that is a letter from the world of emptiness.” If we can see every moment that way, we have all the communications we need.