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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 God.

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 something of value in her. But her character is flawed; she is proud, mean, haughty and uncaring. In the course of the story, her rejected suitor becomes her savior not because she deserves it, in fact, she repeatedly proves she does not deserve the kind king, but because he loves her. He loves her enough to test her and give her opportunity to change. She can become a beautiful person both inside and out. She is eventually humbled and confesses herself undeserving of such a kind king. He, however, has already forgiven her fault. He planned her redemption, hoping that she would change. In the end, she is clothed in beautiful clothes to match her beautiful self and celebrates her wedding to this kindest of kings in royal style.

So, how is this fairy story like prayer? In prayer we meet ourselves as we are. At the same time, God discovers and loves us. In prayer we find that the possibility to change lies in us. And we find that we are able to receive life as it is given not as we suppose it should be. The king’s beautiful daughter had already imagined a particular kind of husband. None of her suitors met her very limited expectations. But, in the end, she was able to see that her standards were far too narrow. A good husband is much more than handsome. He loves unreservedly. No more mention is made of his physical deficiency. That has become incidental to his generosity and love.

Like the fairy tale, “King Thrushbeard,” the parable of the friend at midnight in Luke 11:5-13, tells a story about an unwarranted change of heart. A man with unexpected guests goes to a friend’s house and asks for three loaves of bread. Now this number, three, indicates a real need. He does not just need some bread for back-up. He needs a whole meal; he has nothing. His friend is his last hope. He begs. His friend is in bed. He cajoles. His friend is already asleep. He promises. He whines. He invokes all past favors. His friend finally gets up and gives him bread. Prayer works like that. It changes intentions, it changes the will, and it softens the heart.

Then comes the fairy tale lesson. “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” Here’s a promise that we don’t take seriously because it sounds too good to be true, like a fairy tale. It sounds something like “make three wishes.” We may not understand the full implication of this promise. It is highly likely that our expectations must be simplified, our detection purified and our vision clarified. We may not necessarily get what we request. God is able to do more than you imagine with much less than you hope for. The promise is that everything that comes from God is good. The “unanswered prayer” may simply indicate that we are not yet ready for the good gifts God is giving. Fairy tale prayer is always an opportunity to change in order to receive God’s goodness. “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?”(Luke 11:13). And the Holy Spirit at work in us will change us.

Remember the king’s beautiful daughter? She did not think being married to a poor fiddler was a great idea, but it left her in a far better situation than she would have chosen for herself. Fairy tale praying is not for petulant, willful children, but for any childlike person who says a complete and simple, “yes,” to what God wants to do, who is willing to be changed and who believes that God is “able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”

Naomi R. Wenger, 2019

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.

 

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 deep in prayer, I am my truest self with God.

The sign on the road out of The Hermitage says, “Return Slowly.” Again, it is a safety message as one can’t easily see down the road to turn on to. But it is also a message to create silence whenever possible in order to live intentionally in deep prayer, as a contemplative in the world longs to do.

June Mears Driedger

What Sustains the Hermitage

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

oil lam and tree tapestry

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

 

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

prayer garden

Prayer Garden

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 Wenger

Clay/Straw Building Workshop June 1-2: THIS WEEKEND!

Posted by on May 27, 2018 in News | Comments Off on Clay/Straw Building Workshop June 1-2: THIS WEEKEND!

Click here for full information

Join us this weekend, June 1-2,  for the clay/straw building workshop with Thomas Hirsch of Bungalow Builders. Thomas has years of experience building with natural materials and creating earth-friendly and spirit-enhancing homes. He will help us build a small meditation shelter. This will be our “trial-run” for building a home for community staff. We encourage you to consider participating in one of the following ways:

  1. Come for the entire workshop, 9:00 am, Friday,  June 1 through 5:00pm, Saturday, June 2
  2. Come for Thomas’ presentation on Friday evening at 7:00
  3. Come for one day or part of a day, get dirty and have some fun in the mud
  4. Come to see what we are doing, heckle the workers, and be glad you are not so dirty

Most of all, come. We’d love to see you. Your presence is valuable to us. Don’t let the cost of the workshop be a hindrance to you. Consider making a donation toward the cost of building the structure and Thomas’ time.

Let us know if you will be here for a meal: lunches at 12:30 and suppers at 5:30. Meal reservations should be made before Wednesday, May 30. We still have a few rooms available for overnight stay. Contact us to reserve a room or bring your tent and camp with Jay.

 

Taizé Evensong on Hiatus for 2018

Posted by on Dec 14, 2017 in News | Comments Off on Taizé Evensong on Hiatus for 2018

Sunlight on snowy pines

We held our final Taizé Evensong service on December 10, 2017. The candles were all lit and the gathered voices ended with “Gloria, gloria, in excelsis deo” to the ringing of the bell.

We are grateful to have hosted this sung prayer service for 14 years on the second Sunday of each month (excepting August) for groups from 2-25. We give thanks for the faithful musicians who have given years of service: Jeffrey Keefer, Beverly Schmitt, Verna Troyer, Elisabeth Wenger, Margaret Wenger, Emily Wenger, John Mark Wenger, Karla Kauffman, Pat Farris, Bob Reetz, Zac Bowman Cooke, Naomi Wenger, and David Wenger.

May we all continue to be blessed with a perpetual song in our hearts that sings when we forget to.

Annual Letter from The Hermitage Board

Posted by on Dec 14, 2017 in News | Comments Off on Annual Letter from The Hermitage Board

Deanna Risser, Hermitage Board President, has written a letter to all friends of The Hermitage. Please read it here: 2017 Annual Appeal.

Spiritual Exercises, 19th Annotation Retreat Offered

Posted by on Jul 17, 2017 in News | Comments Off on Spiritual Exercises, 19th Annotation Retreat Offered

Spiritual Exercises: 9-Month Retreat

September 30, 2017 – June 2, 2018

Every person in the world is so put together that by praising, revering, and living according to the will of God our Lord, he or she can safely reach the Reign of God. This is the original purpose of each human life.

This statement frames the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius’ life-long project, to introduce people to a method of following Jesus that engaged them in looking for God in all things, resulted in what we know as the Spiritual Exercises. While his original design was for a person to complete the exercises in 30 days, he recognized that many people would not be able to leave their work and families for that extended time. So, he also encouraged an adaptation of the exercises that spans approximately 30 weeks rather than 30 days.

We are forming a small cohort of folks (limit 6) who wish to embark on the Exercises together using this expanded format. Participation will involve monthly meetings (2.5 hours) with the group and a monthly one-on-one meeting (1 hour) with Naomi Wenger, the Director of the retreat. Persons who want to participate should be able to commit to an hour of prayer and meditation each day for the duration of the retreat and to attend the group and private meetings. Cost for the retreat is $600. A deposit of $120 is due (by July 31) to reserve your place in the group.

The initial meeting will be September 30 beginning at 9 am. Subsequent meetings will be scheduled at that time. If you are interested in being part of this group, please contact Naomi Wenger (Naomi@hermitagecommunity.org or 269-244-8696) by July 30.