News

The Hospitality of Silence – by Kevin Driedger

Posted by on Feb 15, 2019 in News | 0 comments

The Hospitality of Silence – by Kevin Driedger

Silence is a core practice, a core value, a core gift of The Hermitage. Silence welcomes us no matter our rank or status, no matter our theological or political preferences. Silence enfolds and embraces us no matter our desires or fears. But silence does not force itself upon us. Silence is there to be received, or not. It is ready to engage us in deep attentiveness, or just passing exploration.  The experience of silence draws many people to our retreat center, although not without trepidation for some. Our desire is that the silence of this place will be received as a welcoming space that receives each guest  When we introduce new retreatants to the Hermitage there are two things I try to mention: “We offer each other the gift of silence” and “We practice a gentle silence.”  We recognize that each retreatant is here to do their own work and be attentive to their relationship with God. We honor this by not intruding on their space with noise or conversation. When I greet guests who seem particularly anxious about the silence I offer the statement about the gentle silence. The silence at the Hermitage is not strident and absolute; it is not to be a source of fear. If you have a question, please ask it. If you have an insight needing to be shared, please share it.  One of our characteristic practices at is eating meals in silence. For people new to silence this particular experience of silence in community causes some people anxiety. Silence alone in your room is one thing, silence at a meal table, with a group of people is shockingly counter-cultural. And yet, once that initial unsettling settles down, the silence of communal meals can also be received as an expression of deep hospitality. In it, we all receive the other guests as they are without social expectations or demands. Silence welcomes us into a relationship with God free from noisy distractions. And in this silence we are open to turn the ear of our heart to listen to our welcoming...

Read More

Fairy Tale Praying – by Naomi Wenger

Posted by on Feb 8, 2019 in News | 0 comments

Fairy Tale Praying – by Naomi Wenger

Fairy stories tell about ordinary events in extra-ordinary ways. They begin with “Once upon a time…” and end with “happily ever after;” words that open possibilities, hopes, dreams, and unleash the imagination. These first and last lines set us up to believe what we might otherwise consider foolish. The shifts in a fairy story invite us to be open to the possibility that hovels can become castles, poor girls can marry the prince, and horrible beasts can turn into handsome consorts. Prayer is also about shifts in events or people that need to happen in ways that are sometimes not readily apparent.  We pray for the fantastic leaps from illness to wellness, from bondage to freedom, from scarcity to abundance. We visualize connections between polar opposites and hold together what is split apart as we pray. Like in a fairy tale, the change we seek is not always the change that takes place. Sometimes, the change is not in our circumstance but in ourselves; not in the direction we perceive as best but toward a better or, perhaps, more mysterious resolution. In prayer, we open ourselves to change and we are changed. Fairy stories can show us how this change works. Let’s look at a tale from the Brothers Grimm, “King Thrushbeard” to help us understand. In this story, a king’s beautiful but proud daughter will not accept any of the princes who come to court her. None of them is handsome enough for her. She mocks them, even calling attention to one prince who has a crooked chin by calling him “King Thrushbeard.” Finally, her father is exasperated and tells her that as she cannot be satisfied with the royal suitors, he will marry her to the next beggar who comes to the door. The next week, a fiddler comes to play beneath the windows of the castle hoping for some alms. The king invites him in and insists that he marry the princess. They are wedded on the spot, after which the king declares that as she is now a beggar-woman, she is no longer welcome in his house and sends her on her way with the beggar.             She goes away with the fiddler and things go from bad to worse. She tries to cook dinner and can’t light a fire. She tries to weave baskets and spin thread but only hurts her hands. She tries to sell pots in the market and that works well until a soldier rides his horse through her pots, breaking all of them. Finally, the fiddler/beggar sends her to work in the king’s kitchen. (The king of that region is Thrushbeard’s father.) At a wedding banquet prepared for the king’s son, the princess/beggar-woman escapes from the kitchen to gaze on the festivities. The king’s son sees her in the doorway and tries to coax her to join the party. She flees. He follows, catches her and says to her kindly,       “Do not be afraid, I and the fiddler who has been living with you in that wretched hovel are one. For love of you I disguised myself so; and I also was the soldier who rode through your crockery. This was all done to humble your proud spirit, and to punish you for the insolence with which you mocked me.”       Then she wept bitterly and said, “I have done great wrong, and am not worthy to be your wife.” But he said, “Be comforted, the evil days are past; now we will celebrate our wedding.”             The king’s daughter in this story is beautiful. We are supposed see...

Read More

Working Contemplatively – by David Wenger

Posted by on Feb 2, 2019 in News | 3 comments

Working Contemplatively – by David Wenger

For many years I’ve pondered the idea of working comtemplatively; what does it mean, what does it look like, what does it feel like? These questions bring to mind Jim Schwartz, the carpenter who renovated St. Joseph’s Barn in the late 1980’s. I wasn’t here when he was doing that work but I did observe him many years later doing repairs here. Jim worked with a smile and a song. He took his time, working ever so carefully and thoughtfully. He stopped working every day to eat lunch. As quitting time approached, he cleaned up his work site and headed home. He came back the next day and the next until the job was finished. Jim didn’t work to be done with his work, he worked because it is a worthwhile part of life. Through pondering, noticing and practicing, I have identified three qualities that begin to define for me what it means to work contemplatively, presence, care and perseverance.  First is being present to the work with a singular focus. This means releasing all the other wonderful things that I could be, and perhaps would rather be, doing. Indeed, these things will have their time of attention, but not right now. Second, is exercising great care with the task at hand. This usually requires the elimination of hurry. I recall wiping the kitchen counter while cleaning up after a meal and I was moving so fast that I bumped the peanut butter jar and sent it flying across the room. Now my work increased; I had a much bigger mess to clean up (and more peanut butter to buy). Third, is persevering in a task instead of quitting along the way for something more enticing. There’s an ancient Rabbinic saying that goes, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” This suggests to me that getting the job done is not the goal, rather doing the work is the goal. And in doing the work we will most often come around to getting the job done. In the early years of my being at The Hermitage I had the thought that work could be likened to what Jesus said about the poor, “the poor you will always have with you.” Work we will always have with us. What an abundance of opportunities we have to practice working contemplatively....

Read More

Going Silent

Posted by on Jan 25, 2019 in News | 1 comment

Going Silent

(I wrote this reflection awhile ago before I joined the Hermitage Community. I share it to provide a glimpse into how silent retreats might be experienced.) The road sign into The Hermitage property in Three Rivers, Michigan (USA), says, “Begin to drive slowly.”  It is a safety request but it is also a sign of what is to come while I stay at the contemplative prayer retreat facility. My desire is to slow down, to stop pushing, to cease striving, to go silent.  My desire is to pray, to listen, to quiet my inner noise. Often, when I first arrive at The Hermitage, I go to the library and check out several books that I foolishly think I am going to read during my retreat. It is a frenetic reading, quickly trying to grab information to enable me to find the inner peace and quiet I need and want. Rather than simply getting quiet, I skim the books and continue to feel restless and fidgety. After a few hours of my arrival, I begin to relax. It is like I have an inner coil that has been overly wound and the coil begins to ease the tension. I allow my shoulders to drop and become conscious of my breathing, inhaling deeper then slowly exhaling. The silence of The Hermitage begins to seep into me as I am only distracted by the wind and the birds. At last, I grow quiet and enter into a deep silence. Prayer undergirds life at The Hermitage—silent prayers, meal prayers, communal prayers.  The mission statement for The Hermitage is, “Creating an environment of attentiveness to God” and this is my primary purpose as well. I want to be attentive to God. I want to see God in the beauty of the landscape and to see God’s loving face in the faces of the staff. My favorite activity while on retreat is the daily morning prayers with the staff and other guests. Although we come from different locales and denominations, we join together to pray, confess, affirm, intercede, and bless. The Holy Spirit moves in us and amongst us as pray. Near the conclusion of the morning prayer, we bless one another with these words: “____, you are the bearer of God’s infinite life.”  Each person around the circle states their name and we repeat: “David, you are the bearer of God’s infinite life.” Some people look at one another as we bless them while other people look away as if this blessing is too intimate, too wonderful to receive from strangers. At my turn, I state my name and as everyone else says, “June, …” I say with them, “I, am the bearer of God’s infinite life.” I claim this blessing as a fact even if I am not feeling particularly holy or godly. As I become more attentive to God, I begin to write prayers in my journal. Or, I begin to pray what is known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me.” Or, if I am trying to discern a decision, I might write about the decision within a spirit of prayer, asking God to reveal to me which way to go. I resist demanding a quick answer to my prayers as I demand when I am anxious and frantic. Instead, I can be with God, waiting quietly, like sitting alongside loved ones, waiting for God to speak. In deep silence, I become more attentive to God. When I am in deep prayer, I can let God be God and me be me.  When I am...

Read More

What Sustains the Hermitage

Posted by on Jan 18, 2019 in News | 3 comments

My relationship with The Hermitage through the last nearly 20 years has been as volunteer, retreatant, board member, and now resident community/staff. In each of these four roles I have noticed different things that sustain The Hermitage. In the fall of 1999 my wife and I lived at The Hermitage for three months as volunteers when Gene and Mary Herr were here as directors. The Hermitage had a history of young people, and others volunteering for extended times. I saw the crucial role these volunteers played in sustaining this place. As a retreatant I was most aware of the hard work and attention to detail that the Herrs, and then David and Naomi Wenger brought to The Hermitage. The Hermitage was sustained though their ability and perseverance. I was like most guests who experience my time here as effortless, but know that this only happens through the dedicated sustaining work of the staff. As I grew into my role on the board my attention toward sustaining The Hermitage was often viewed through the lens of finances. The work of running a retreat center costs money and sustaining The Hermitage required the influx of money through payment for retreats, spiritual direction, and charitable contributions. So many have given so much to support the ministry of The Hermitage. And now my wife and I are part of the resident community/staff and I have been delighted to encounter a new vision for what sustains The Hermitage – it is all our guests, past, present, and future, and their prayers. Without the presence of these guests and their prayers, this space is just a lovely physical environment. I have been struck by how reliant this place is on individuals and groups spending time here attending to their relationships with God. Their presence and prayers sustain this place in ways I never would have imagined. I am deeply grateful for all that sustains The Hermitage, the volunteers, staff, financial support, the prayerful presence of our guests, and ultimately the generous and abundant love of our God. Kevin Driedger...

Read More

Prairie Prayer Gardens – Praying Counter to the Flow

Posted by on Jan 11, 2019 in News | Comments Off on Prairie Prayer Gardens – Praying Counter to the Flow

While walking the trails at The Hermitage, you may come across two seating areas, each with a bench and a single chair, nestled into the edge of the woodland overlooking a short-grass Prairie. The grasses, sedges and abundant wildflowers in the Prairie provide a home to butterflies and other insects, birds, and small mammals. Deer and other larger animals find forage and prey in this verdant place. The first Prayer Garden is dedicated to the memory of Gertrude Bailey Ruder, whose life of prayer and careful concern for living things we honor by this placement of a bench and chair, plantings of bulbs, flowering shrubs and the gathering of nut trees in this natural clearing on the edge of what was once the middle of a wooded area. The second garden sits on a hill overlooking the trails and much of the wildlife that has come to call this prairie home. This area also has a bench and a single chair situated under the shading branches of a white oak that will hopefully become the dominant tree on this forest edge. What you cannot see under the Prairie are three fossil fuel pipelines. The first, was initially constructed in 1968. This pipeline was retired in 2014 after a massive rupture in 2010 dumping over 800,000 barrels of crude oil into the tributaries of the Kalamazoo River. The second pipe, carrying natural gas, was installed in 1999. The gas runs at a rapid rate through this 4-foot diameter pipe. Friction inside the pipe heats the surrounding soil so that the snow melts first here each winter often leaving a stripe of bare land. The third pipe is actually a “replacement” for the first pipe. The new pipe, is two times the size of the first pipeline, carrying millions of gallons of the Athabasca oil sand’s diluted bitumen (dilbit) to the refineries. As part of our “protest” against both our own way of life and the oil company’s placement of a poison stream under the earth’s surface we planted the Prairie. We also created the two prayer gardens flanking the Prairie. The placement of these two gardens across from each other, counters the flow of oil and gas through the pipelines. As folks pause to pray, to listen, to watch and learn, they participate in the hope we have for this land: that someday, it will no longer be needed to transport toxic materials to support our unsustainable lifestyles of ease and injustice toward the world’s poor and marginalized. We hope that the Prairie symbolizes our trust that the land will be returned to its more productive use of sustaining all kinds of life. As we pray “across” and “against the flow” may we find what actions we can do in our own lives to send the message to international oil and gas companies that this pipeline is not “needed.” Naomi...

Read More