People who are caught off-guard by current events are sometimes asked if they have been living in a hole. For almost 1 1/2 years, a woman in Spain has been doing just that. Like the ultimate groundhog, Spaniard athlete Beatriz Flamini recently emerged after spending 500 days living in a hole (or more specifically, a cave).
The question that begs to be asked is … why? There was the scientific part, with a team of scientists studying the effects of extreme isolation on the human body and mind. The circadian rhythms and sleep cycles were also a main interest in the experiment, as living without clocks or not knowing when it’s day or night must have had a significant impact on Flamini’s physical and mental state.
There was also the public relations part, as she had a camera with her the whole time. I suspect a National Geographic Channel or Showtime special cannot be far behind. Photos of Flamini emerging from her isolation seemed to show a sound state of both body and mind.
She had no contact with the outside world other than an impersonal contact system to deliver food, supplies and monitor her health and security. She received no news of the outside world, and it was only when she emerged that she learned of such global events as the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the Russia-Ukraine war.
It was reported that Flamini kept herself occupied by reading 60 books, writing in a journal, and knitting. I wonder if one of the books she read was the Bible. I wonder what she wrote in her journal. I wonder how big that sweater is that she knitted.
Solitude is not necessarily a terrible thing. For millennia, monks and hermits have been using it as a means to get closer to God, blotting out worldly distractions and focusing like a laser beam on the existential. I am sure a few desert hermits emerged from caves surprised by news of the First Crusade.
Accounts of Flamini’s 500 subterranean days did not relay any spiritual aspect of her experiment. A cursory look at this event suggests the main goal of living underground for 500 days was to see if someone could live underground for 500 days. Maybe it will all be explained on the National Geographic Channel special to come.
God was explicit with the way he wanted things to go even before the fall. “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). That Bible reading may not go over well at Greenpeace meetings, but a lot of Scripture these days might get you booed off the stage. But living in a hole for 500 days and not having it be a form of self-denial, sacrifice, or attached to a higher motive of communion with God is just somebody living in a hole no matter how many books they read or how many sweaters they knit.
There is a place of solitude for those of us without 500 days to spare. Maybe not as isolated as a hermit’s cave or a hole in the ground, but a place nonetheless where the world is left behind and one can bask in silence.
These places can be found all over the world. They are rife in our own archdiocese as well. They have better lighting than a hole in the ground and the spiritual light emanating from such places can be transcendent.
At a time when we are to refocus ourselves on the Eucharist, I cannot think of a better place of solitude than in front of a tabernacle where we are reminded we are never really alone in the first place.