Seeking God’s Face: The Restoring Face of God. Advent retreat part 3

The scripture texts for this session are: Isa. 61: 1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126, and Luke 1: 46-55.

Advent 2020
Session 3 ~ For Further Reflection: “The Restoring Face of God”

1) Are you experiencing God’s restoring face turned toward you? If so, describe how this feels, using heart language.

2) When have you experienced God restoration within you? Describe the experience. Now describe how this feels, using heart language.

3) When have you witnessed God restoring your neighborhood, your community? Ponder the answer that arises. Talk with God about the answer.

4) Spend time reflecting on your answers. What is being revealed? Is there an invitation emerging?

5) Offer this prayer:
Restoring God, I bring to you my concerns
(offer prayers of concern):
My broken relationships need mending—
With neighbors across the street and around the world.
My body needs healing, and my mind needs restoring.
My town (city or country) needs fresh vision and new hope.
I long for all people to rebuild the ancient ruins,
to create communities of justice and peace.
Restoring God, I look to you as my architect, my master rebuilder.

Restoring God, I bring to you my joys
(offer prayers of praise):
My home can be filled with laughter and love.
My community can be repaired and thrive.
Wars can cease and peace can reign.
Although I have cried many tears—for myself, for my friends,
and for those I hear about in the news,
you promise to bring me home with shouts of joy. AMEN
(Adapted from Leader Magazine, Fall 2008, MennoMedia)

6) Conclude with this blessing:
As you go, praise God!
Open your life to God’s restoring Spirit
and scatter seeds of healing and hope.
God will restore you.
God’s face will shine on you, and you will be saved.
(ibid)

Seeking God’s Face: The Comforting Face of God. Advent retreat part 2

Session 2~For Further Reflection: “The Comforting Face of God”


1) Are you experiencing God’s comforting face toward you? If so, describe how this feels, using heart language.


2) When have you experienced God comforting you? Describe the experience. Now describe how this feels, using heart language.


3) Can you truly trust God with yourself? Ponder the answer that arises. Talk with God about the answer.


4) Spend time reflecting on your answers. What is being revealed?


5) Offer this prayer:
Comforting God, I bring to you my concerns
(offer prayers of concern):
speak tenderly to me; speak to the fading and withered places;
speak comfort to broken bodies, minds, and relationships.
I long to see valleys lifted up and mountains made low
so I might walk on straight paths,
confident in your forgiveness,
and ready to hear your words of love and peace.
Comforting God, I bring to you my joys
(offer prayers of praise):
I revel in the joy of your embrace.
When I see good things spring up from the ground, I say,
“Here is my God!”
When I hear voices of comfort and wisdom, I say,
“Here is my God!”
I live in thankfulness, knowing that you walk with me. AMEN
(Adapted from Leader Magazine, Fall 2008, MennoMedia)


6) Conclude with this blessing:
As you go, know that God holds you securely and tenderly.
Live justly and seek the ways of peace.
God will restore you.
God’s face will shine on you, and you will be saved.
(ibid)

Seeking God’s Face: The Hidden Face of God. Advent retreat part 1

June is sharing an online Advent retreat with videos and reflection questions posted each Wednesday in Advent.

Questions For Further Reflection

1) Are you experiencing God’s face hidden from you? If so, describe how this feels, using heart language.

2) When have you experienced God’s “shining, shimmering face?” Describe the experience. Now describe how this feels, using heart language.

3) Or, would you rather remain hidden from God? If so, describe this desire and how does it impact your life?

4) Spend time reflecting on your answers. What is being revealed?

5) Offer this prayer:
Hidden God, I bring to you my concerns
(offer prayers of concern):
For the darkness of waiting,
Of not knowing what is to come,
Of staying ready and quiet and attentive,
I praise you, O God.

Hidden God, I bring to you my joys
(offer prayers of praise):
For the darkness of hoping
In a world which longs for you,
For the wrestling and laboring of all creation
For wholeness and justice and freedom,
I praise you, O God. AMEN
(adapted from Janet Morley, All Desires Known, pp. 58-59)

6) Conclude with this blessing:
As you go, know that God is faithful in your darkness.
God is as near to you as a loving parent
And molds you according to the divine purpose.
God will restore you.
God’s face will shine on you, and you will be saved.
(from Leader Magazine, Fall 2008, MennoMedia)

My Prayer Mat – by Kevin Driedger

I was in the kitchen the other morning preparing lunch for a guest and myself and in that space I encountered a moment of recognition and connection. At a pause in the work I found myself moving to stand on the mat by the sink and with my back to the sink I look out the window and pray. This has become a regular practice for me. While I am waiting for water to boil or onions to saute my feet often end up on the cushioned mat and I pray.

My prayers are the prayers that come to me throughout my day. They are simple two-line breath prayers that I slowly repeat. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, 
have mercy on me a sinner.

O God, come to my assistance,
make haste to help me.

Give me ears to hear the heavenly voice
and courage to answer the call.

Open the door of my heart,
that I might receive you this day.

That specific morning the recognition dawned on me – “Oh, this is my prayer mat.” 

I know that the use of a prayer mat is common in many traditions but I had given little thought to their use, or that I might be using one. With this recognition I now have an inkling of the experience of the prayer mat as a site of devotion and meeting with God. It demarcates a space that is a private temple where we go to talk with God. As a place where we put our feet it speaks to me being grounded and still. As someone who is nurtured by Benedictine spirituality my prayer mat in the kitchen speaks to me of the connection of work and prayer.

After our meal was complete, I stood on the same mat, this time turned around to face the dirty dishes and like Brother Lawrence I continued my ongoing little conversations with God.

Practice Hope-Practice Resurrection – by June Mears Driedger

yellow flower

In the poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” farmer, poet, Jesus-follower Wendell Berry writes: “…every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world …Love someone who does not deserve it …Practice resurrection,” he concludes.

Berry challenges us to respond anew to the challenges of our lives—to the challenges of the pandemic—to recognize that our faith makes claims on us and invites us to understand the world and our lives in ways very different than the culture around us.

We know all too well the practice of crucifixion. We are living in a kind of crucifixion. We see it daily in the news, social media, and in a culture that advocates, “Me first.” So, how can we practice resurrection? We can think of new ways to bring the power of Easter to this world—to embody this power daily. We must become conduits of God’s love and energy. We are to be everyday reminders to people that sickness and death—in all its forms—is not the final word. Rather, to remember each day that we are called to life, to love, and to each day “begin again.” We are called to love God and to love others. Isn’t this what we have experienced: the love of God who doesn’t insist that we deserve this love, doesn’t demand that we get everything right, doesn’t demand us to overcome our fears and anxieties, and doesn’t require us to be cleaned up and shiny for Easter morning?

We return each day to the practice of hope, the practice of resurrection. To remember “that is in God in whom we live and move and have our being,” (Acts 17:20). Continue returning to hope, returning to resurrection until our very beings are united with God.

Discipleship in Shorthand – by Biff Weidman

unlit lamp

(Originally published in the newsletter of the St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker House.)

Years ago, I spent eighteen months living and working at The Hermitage. I experienced a way of life that was “sane and simple”. I was nourished in solitude. I glimpsed a simplicity I’d never known before. Seemingly everything about the setting and our rhythm of life encouraged mindfulness, alertness to God’s presence. Again and again I was called back to Jesus’ words: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).

Each morning we gathered for prayer, reciting “The Hermitage Affirmation.” And these lines in the Affirmation have been written on my heart ever since:

“The call to us here today are these words of Jesus: ‘Come, all who are weary and whose load is heavy; I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble-hearted; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to wear, my load is light.”’ [Matthew 11:28-30]

These few verses, it seems to me, distill the way of Jesus— discipleship in shorthand:

Come to me
Remain with me
Learn from me
Rest in me

Come to me

On the eve of his death, Jesus assures his friends: “I will not leave you orphans. You will not be left alone. I will come to you.” [John 14:18] Daily we’re invited to rest in this promise: “You are not alone”. We’re called out of isolation and into communion. Jesus calls us to come to him, to live in him, and to set aside any thought that we can “live the Christian life” apart from him. As disciples, we’re to live our lives in the very same way that Jesus lived his. He lived by the indwelling life of the Father, doing nothing in his own strength, but “only what he saw the Father doing” (John 5:19). We’re not meant to weary ourselves trying to live by Jesus’ example. We’re meant to enjoy his presence, to be yoked to him, to participate in his life.

The call comes anew to us each morning: “Come to me. Journey with me. Listen to my voice. Let me show you the heart of the Father. Let me show you what I see.”

Remain with me/Take my yoke

We are bound to Christ, united with him. Yet how easily we turn our attention elsewhere. We can lose sight of the treasure of his presence. We can “wander into a far country”.

Jesus invites the “weary and heavy laden” to come to him. What leaves me “heavy laden”? So often I grow weary when I forget that “the Lord is near”, when I lean on myself rather than on Jesus, when I live “as if orphaned”. Theologian Geordie Ziegler suggests that “to be a Christian is to be—here and now—in the company of the risen Lord.”[i]

 And when I forget, I falter. And I begin to think that what’s needed is more earnest effort to “be Christlike,” to conform my life to Jesus’ example. Instead of staying close to Jesus, who is the way, I live as if Jesus was the way, but is no longer. The Christian life becomes a disheartening attempt to imitate Jesus’ exemplary life. And that’s a sure path to weariness and discouragement.

Learn from me

In Isaiah 50, the servant cries out: “Morning by morning the Lord God wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” The disciple is one who listens, who knows the Shepherd’s voice. As we daily turn to Christ, and are taught by him, we learn the mind of Christ. We come to have the “same mind that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). “Learn from me,” he says. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). What are we learning from him? How to rest in the Father’s love. How to act, to serve and to “be” in a God-centered way. This is Jesus’ word to us, theologian Chris Hall suggests:

“By the power of my Spirit enter into relationship with me and I will teach you how to live … I will teach you how to pray …. I’ll teach you how to study … I’ll teach you how to speak. I’ll teach you how to act. … I’ll teach you all these things … Come and watch, come and listen, come and rest. I will teach you.”[ii]

We are apprentices of Jesus. The hymn writer declares: “I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord.” This is surely true. We can turn to Jesus in every hour, and away from our anxious attempts to “live faithfully” out of our own resources. We can let go of the question “What would Jesus do?” and ask instead: “What do you want to show me?” “What do you want me to see?” “How are you present, Jesus … in this moment, in this conversation, in whatever this circumstance holds?”

Rest in Me

As we keep company with Jesus, and learn from him, we are promised rest. We will not be spared suffering or disappointment or loss. We will share in Christ’s sufferings. Yet the apostle Paul assures us that even in the midst of distress we will know “the comfort and encouragement of God” (2 Cor 1:3-7). He surely knew affliction. “We ourselves are like fragile clay jars,” Paul wrote. “We are pressed on every side by troubles … We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are… never abandoned by God” (2 Cor 4: 7-9).

Writing to the Philippians, Paul shares another glimpse of what it means to know Christ as our rest. “Do not worry over anything,” he says. “Let your requests be made known to God. Entrust every detail of your need in earnest and thankful prayer. And the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). In every circumstance, we can turn to Jesus, and enter into conversation with him.

Jesus was attuned to God, moment by moment. And in the same way, we are to be in communion with Jesus, allowing him to live his life in us. We can abandon every burdensome attempt to justify ourselves. We can come to him … remain with him… learn from him … and know him as our rest. We can entrust every detail of our lives to the Lord. We can turn our attention away from ourselves, and our designs, and listen to the voice of the One who shepherds us. “There is nothing we shall want.”

“Teach us, Jesus,
to hear you,
to come with the heavy loads we feel,
to be yoked with you,
to be taught by you,
to learn what things really matter,
and to receive in faith the gift of rest.”[iii]


[i] Geordie W. Ziegler, “Is it Time for a Reformation of Spiritual Formation? Recovering Ontology,” Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 11, no. 1 (2018): 81, available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1939790918758164

[ii] Chris Hall and Nathan Foster, hosts, “The Trinitarian Nature of Spiritual Formation”, Renovare Podcast , November 20, 2016, accessed June 17, 2020, https://renovare.org/podcast/episode-57-the-trinitarian-nature-of-spiritual-formation

[iii] A prayer from “The Hermitage Affirmation”

Contemplative photography/Visio Divina group

seed pods on brown landscape

We are planning to start an online Contemplative Photography/Visio Divina gathering lead by me (Kevin). I envision each gathering as a time of sharing, sitting, gazing, and reflecting. Participants will take turns sharing a photograph and we all will spend time in silence sitting, gazing, receiving the photograph and looking for what the image might be telling us. There will be time for the photographer and all participants to openly reflect on their experience of the picture. We can also spend some time at the end talking technique and tools but that is not our focus. (The shared photographs must be original to the person sharing them.)

These gatherings are open to everyone who can point a camera/phone and take a thoughtful picture. Don’t think you do not have enough skill. This is not an art critique. This is not a place to “show off” our amazing pictures. This is about contemplation, not competition. This is a time to share and encounter photographs that speak to us at a deeper level; pictures that may reveal deeper truths; pictures that may reveal something of the divine.

The gatherings will happen via Zoom the second Thursday of every month at 7 pm (EST) and will go no later than 8:30 pm. You must register to participate (see below). There is a $5-10/session recommended donation to The Hermitage to participate, but all will be welcome regardless. The gatherings will be limited to 8 participants.

If there is an abundance of interest, or the scheduled time doesn’t work for several people, I’ll consider additional/alternative gathering times. Contact Kevin Driedger with any questions.

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 4

wide waterfall

—a Meditation by Naomi Wenger, Lent 3, 2020

This meditation is based on the Lenten Retreat given at The Hermitage on March 7, using the scriptures for the third Sunday in Lent for 2020. It will be posted over four days this week, Monday (3/16), Tuesday (3/17), Thursday, (3/19), and Friday (3/20). Each day includes a meditation and suggestions for practice. In this time when the whole world is focused on a virus, my hope is that you will be encouraged to keep thirsting for Christ.

Quench

We come now to the end of the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. In this section of the story, the woman is gone. She’s in her home place testifying to Jesus’ gift of “living water,” (that is, acknowledging her own deep truth and living from that place into the forgiveness of God). What remains are two scenes, one with the puzzled disciples and one with the townspeople. Read the story in John 4:31-42.

Jesus refuses the food that the disciples have gotten in town. Rather, he insists that he has other food—doing the will of God. I wonder if you have ever experienced the loss of appetite after a particularly enriching experience. 

Jesus explains this experience by inviting the disciples to imagine. Imagine, he says, that all of these green fields are golden and dry, ready for harvest. Just so, the sower and the reaper can work together in one field in God’s agronomy. He then points to the lunch they brought, “see,” he says, you brought (reaped) what you did not sow. It is the work of all the people who bring in the harvest that you carry in your hands. Thus, you have entered into the labor, even though you did not do the work.”

This is amazing. Jesus is expanding the labor of one to include the labor of all. He is at the same time contracting seasonal growth, making all seasons compress into the harvest. Have you ever held an acorn in  your hand? If so, you have experienced this kind of compression. You have held a tree, possibly a house or furniture, perhaps the warmth of a fire or heat for cooking. In that one small nut, lies not only potential but all that will become real out of that nut. I think that is what Jesus is teaching here. He also describes the timelessness of eternity. When there is no time, that is no “beginning, middle and end” to the story of life, then all things happen simultaneously, out of time. The sowing and the reaping are done together, so that all may “rejoice together.” This is a picture of the eternal kin-dom of God in which all is joy and only joy.

Jesus’ thirst is fully quenched by the true living water he had to offer.

The woman’s thirst was fully quenched by owning her own truth and receiving the gift of life from Jesus’ acceptance.

The townspeople’s thirst was fully quenched by hearing the word for themselves.

The disciples remain puzzled and thirsty. They are thirsty and hungry. They are blessed. They will be filled.

The psalmist tells of this experience in a different voice.

Ps 42:7–11.
 
7     Deep calls to deep 
at the thunder of your cataracts; 
all your waves and your billows 
have gone over me. 
8     By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, 
and at night his song is with me, 
a prayer to the God of my life. 
9     I say to God, my rock, 
“Why have you forgotten me? 
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”
10   As with a deadly wound in my body, 
my adversaries taunt me, 
while they say to me continually, 
“Where is your God?” 
11   Why are you cast down, O my soul, 
and why are you disquieted within me? 
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, 
my help and my God. 

Remember at the beginning of the Psalm, the writer was asking for a sip of water. Here, he is bowled over by the cataracts, the waves, and the billows that wash over him. It is no wonder that he asks himself, “why are you cast down?” God’s provision is abundance. Rather than a drink, God comes in the fullness of the waterfall and the ocean swell. Notice that the poet’s self-reprimand elicits hope and help from God.

Practice: 

Read John 4:31-42. Having one’s thirst quenched is to be satisfied. What satisfies Jesus? Why does that baffle the disciples? Does it baffle you? Jesus turns the tables on his listeners by calling them to participate in a harvest that comes before lunch. Why do you think he does that? What do the disciples learn? How do the Samaritans respond? How do you respond?

Pray with the psalmist. From the beginning of this Psalm, we have stayed with this psalmist’s desire for a “small drink” of God. Here, we witness the overwhelming experience of being completely bowled over by the presence of God. Notice that the psalmist receives the sound of the “waves”  and the “thunder of cataracts” as the song of God. Is it hard for you to experience God’s fullness? What would God’s song to you sound like? Write your reflections.

Psalm 42:7-8
7     Deep calls to deep 
at the thunder of your cataracts; 
all your waves and your billows 
have gone over me. 
8     By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, 
and at night his song is with me, 
a prayer to the God of my life. 

Read the poem, “Solomon says.” How does this thought from Meister Eckhart help you embrace  your union with God? 

Solomon says

Solomon says
all streams run
to the sea
and return to
their source.
These waters are
like our souls
that run like streams
to the One
who is
drawing them
Home.

(Mark S. Burrows & Jon M. Sweeney, Meister Eckharts’ Book of Secrets: Meditations on Letting God and Finding True Freedom)

Breathe a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the natural way God is continually providing “living water” and “drawing” you Home.