Building update

We have had a whirlwind of weeks working on the new House Built of Sky at The Hermitage. From soggy spring footings in March to hot dry stuffing days in June and hotter days for framing in July, the building is now being readied for roof construction. 

Over the two weeks of wall stuffing (June 9-20) we hosted two groups of volunteers, nine Guiding Light men, working two days, and 11 *cino Staff, along with 28 individuals. Some came for multiple days, and some for a single day, so we numbered 44 people stuffing the walls, giving 70 days of work. We were aiming to have 50 folks here for this project and we are so grateful for the people who worked so hard on each of the days. We were led by Thomas Hirsch of Bungalow Builders in  Benzonia, Michigan. Thomas’ gentle spirit, never-quit energy, encouraging talks and jokes just at the right time in the work day, kept the teams moving every day toward completion. What initially looked like a daunting task, became lighter work when shared by the assembled teams.  

We began each day with a “Builders Circle” sharing our favorite stretches to get our bodies ready for the work day. Each group was invited to write blessings for the house and its future occupants on the framing. Several blessings are now hidden in the walls. The blessing for this house, introduced at the groundbreaking last August, was read to the assembled workers. Our prayer is that this be a formational blessing for all who work on this project and who one day come to live in this House Built of Sky. The blessing is by John O’Donohue from his book, Eternal Echoes.

“Blessed be the longing that brought you here and that quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to befriend your eternal longing.
May you succumb to the danger of growth.
May you live in the neighborhood of wonder.
May you belong to love with the wildness of dance.
May you know that you are ever-embraced in the kind circle of God.”

Our hearty thanks goes to: Dan Truesdale, Margaret Wenger, Greg Lehman, Jay Budde, Joe Kreider, Maristela Zell, the Guiding Light group, Mary Catherine McDonald, Chuck Pieri, Linda Pieri, Karry Hostetler, Lisa Hostetler, the*cino group, Jeff Miller, Tim Lind, Janna Hunter-Bowman, Addie Hunter-Bowman, Nicole Bauman, Kristi Holmstrom, Dennis Gable, Ken Srdjak, Deanna Risser, Mary Asmonga-Knapp, Willard Fenton-Miller, Biff Weidman, Margie Pfeil, Jane Stoltzfus-Buller. David & Naomi Wenger worked alongside Thomas each day and we were served hearty meals by Ursula Hess, Kevin Driedger, Joel Hogan, Patty Hogan, and Verna Troyer. 

To see a photo essay of the house work so far.

Lament on Holy Saturday 2020 – by Naomi R. Wenger

(This essay is the second of two that together present some of the information that was to have been part of a day-long retreat on Holy Saturday, 2020, entitled “God in Deep Time: Showing Mercy to the Thousandth Generation.” This retreat was cancelled due to the Corona virus pandemic and related shelter-in-place order. It has since been recast as an online retreat experience. Both of these essays are available on the Hermitage Community Blog. This essay essay includes a confession and lament for Earth and the first,“Have you not heard? God in Deep Time,” provides some background on “deep time.”)


This year, when we have suspended our normal daily operations for a pandemic that is affecting millions world-wide and ending in death for thousands, we gather in absentia to mourn for Earth. While it seems like we have more immediate concerns, the viral pandemic we are facing is part of a continual roll-out of disasters due to human mishandling of our planetary island. While the arguments are too complex to spell out here (see here for more information), ecologically, the planet is poised on a knife-edge.

It does not take much imagination to take us into a downward spiral of disasters that end with much life on our planet wiped out. We are already aware of the massive extinctions of animal and plant species on Earth. We know about the immense challenges to the world-wide freshwater supply. We grieve with the continued burning of forests, both from natural and human-greed causes. We are concerned about the bleaching of coral reefs, the diminishing catch in the world’s fisheries, salinization of soils, and the effect of removal mining, fracking and oil extraction on the quality of all life on Earth. And yet, we still live our lives in comfortable bubbles. Perhaps the biggest symbol of “bubble living” is the buying of drinking water in plastic bottles that end up in our bloodstreams as microplastic residue and play havoc with our health. And that plastic which is so convenient for everything from shopping bags to house siding, is toxic waste of a greater magnitude than all the nuclear waste from our power plants. And where is God in all of this?

Today, on this day when nothing happens in the Christian church year – the day between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection – we wait to see if Christ’s death counts for anything. We wait with hope but without knowledge. We wait in darkness, hopefully the kind of darkness that makes us long for more of God. We wait. And we grieve. We wait. And we beat our fists against our chests – ah me! – how can we change our lives to endure this catastrophe? And, we must change our lives. There is no endurance without change. Just as the early disciples found that the Resurrection made all the difference in the world and they left their nets and places of business to spread the Good News, so we must leave our safety nets and find the good news that is ours to spread. And that may just cost us our lives.

Here, at The Hermitage, we have focused our attention on the issues of sustainable energy because of the gas and oil pipelines that cross this land. We are directly implicated in that industry, both unwillingly and willingly. But a healthy future of Earth depends on the sustainable production and consumption of energy, food, water, and air—all necessary supports to life.

If we continue to pursue the same kind of life we are all used to living, then the trajectory of what happens to Earth and all life is quite predictable. At some point in the future, great poverty will overcome a huge swath of human population. Then, the already-compromised food production and distribution channels will be beyond repair and the poor will be hungry. Already, the quality of water available to rich and poor alike is contaminated. And our air quality is now part of our “weather” forecasts as we daily determine if it is safe to be outside our homes or safer to stay inside. At some point in the future, but visible now, the biodiversity of the planet will be diminished to the point of impoverishing every ecosystem creating ever greater swings in the cycles of disease and death.

Environmental educator, Mitchell Thomashow, in an article entitled, “Environmental Learning and Covid-19” writes, “We don’t need lifeboats. We need resilient communities that can work together to provide essential needs as environmental contingencies impact our communities,” [Accessed 4/8/2020]. Here is a call to be part of just such a resilient community. Will you join in confessing your complicity, lamenting with Earth and pledging to make a change in your life for the next year? Will you come again on Holy Saturday in 2021 to see if the the death that you are asked to die—the small death to will and comfort—has borne fruit in you and for Earth? Please come, even if you fail, we need each other more than ever to learn from one another, to strengthen our resolves, to become the kind of people who show by how they live, how they love one another and the whole Earth.


Picture, if you can imagine it, a dump truck that is two stories high. Imagine an earth moving machine made to fill that truck. Multiply that vision by hundreds and watch as the boreal forest  in an area the size of the state of Florida is first clear-cut and then the land is scraped with the earth moving machine and dumped into the house-sized trucks for tranport to a processing area. Can you see the processing area with huge vats where the scraped earth is mixed with toxic chemicals and spun like a giant washing machine to release oil residue from the earth. Imagine the waste from these spinning vats being dumped into vast lakes, covering more than 85 square miles, about 1/10 the size of Lake Erie, containing more than 317 million gallons of contaminated water. Imagine the effects of this network of foul water on the fresh water of Alberta. Now, imagine that the bitumen, produced in this fashion is further diluted by naphtha, a flammable derivative of Natural Gas drilling that is a known carcinogen and, if released, a dangerous airway irritant.

This diluted bitumen, or diluted crude oil, is what flows in the pipeline under our feet at The Hermitage. In its natural state, it is harmful to the environment in which it is mined. The mining process further contaminates large areas of Alberta. And, when the pipelines rupture, as in the spill into the Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010, the oil contaminates other ecosystems as well. Imagine, too, that we have not yet discovered a clean way to burn fossil fuels. Every bit of the oil and gas used as fuel ends up contaminating our air, our waterways, and the ocean and weakening the life of every plant and animal alive on the planet.

If all of life is harmed by the mining and use of this fuel, why do we mine it? It is worth trillions of dollars for the oil companies which produce the fuel. While relatively cheap for the consumer to use, it creates enormous wealth for a very few and consequent power for those same few. And we consumers of this resource are left wanting more. Because we can have it. Because our way of life depends on it.

Can you imagine life without fossil fuels? You would have to go back to the days before kerosene lamps, before coal-burning furnaces, before gas stoves. And we don’t want to go back. Life was harder, then. People then could not travel the great distances we can each day, now. So much of life depends on fuel. And that’s just the way the oil companies like it. Pollute all they will, we will still clamber for more and more because that’s the way life is. Technology even runs on fossil fuels. Electricity is overwhelmingly produced by the burning of coal, natural gas and oil. Can we live without technology? Can we live without oil? Will we?

You are invited to use the following “Confession and Lament” as a guide for your confession this Holy Saturday.

Confession of complicity

from The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry

“The difficulty with mechanically extractable energy is that so far we have been unable to make it available without serious geological and ecological damage, or to effectively restrain its use, or to use or even neutralize its wastes. From birth, right now, we are carrying the physical and the moral poisons produced by our crude and ignorant use of this sort of energy. And the more abundant the energy of this sort that we use, the more abounding must be the consequences.” (p.84)

Psalm 51:3-9

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.”

Confession Litany:

For each item in the Litany, pause to identify and name your personal complicit involvement.

•We have tended to use the earth rather than live with it. Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have often abused the land and its resources rather than treasure them Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

This “use and abuse” attitude has consequences; infertility, disease, weakness and now, a massive and measurable change in our atmosphere causing dangerous and drastic weather around the globe  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have sacrificed creativity for production and linked excess to prosperity  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have shared in pushing companies to provide cheap goods to assuage our voracious hunger for more; this has taken jobs away from workers here and created unjust work elsewhere in the world  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have acted to remake a landscape to serve our needs rather than recognize the work of the Creator in placing us in the just landscape for which we long  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have arrogantly argued that since we are better off, the earth must be as well  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have used our feeling of prosperity as the measure of our right to exploit the land, and contaminate air and water around the globe  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have lied to ourselves that if we preserve small areas of wilderness, the rest of the biosphere can be developed, stripped of resources and left to rejuvenate without recognizing that the natural process that gave us these resources takes thousands of years to repeat  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have willingly deprived ourselves of the spiritual richness of place by being so readily uprooted by the possibility of personal gain  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We believe the lie that more and bigger is always better, though we experience the degraded quality of life that comes as a result  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have tended toward conservatism—doing what we have always done—rather than conservation—working to reverse the negative flow of misuse and waste of earth resources  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have left lights on, heat high, cars running, air conditioning low, water dripping  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have thrown away when there is no “away”   Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have hoarded what could be useful to others  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have simply lived for ourselves while others go wanting   Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

Give us courage to use less, demand creative change and care deeply for what is already here. AMEN.


          We lament that our abuse of creation
Has brought lasting damage
To the world we have been given:
          To the world we have been given:
          Polluting streams and soil,
          Poisoning the air,
          Altering the climate, and damaging the earth.
          We commit ourselves
          To honor all living things
          And to protect them from abuse and extinction,
          For our world belongs to God.

From Our World Belongs to God: a contemporary testimony

Act out your lament. Choose one of these actions or one of your own devising.

  • Write your heartache for the planet on a paper and bury or burn it.
  • Go outside, lift up your hands, and keen. Keening is an ancient form of expressing grief by wailing high and loud.
  • Wrap your arms around a tree and hold its sadness.
  • Weep.
  • Lie face down on the earth with outstretched arms, listening for its heartbeat. Make it your intention to care for what you are embracing.

Declaration of Hope

We believe that the act of constructing a pipeline is not the last word for this land.
We believe in restoration.
We believe that the use of limited fuel from the earth will end.
We believe the wisdom of the earth will prevail.
We believe there is good work for Enbridge to do.
We believe in transformation.
We will work together to protect the earth.
We will be mindful of the generations to come.
We will change our lives so that what we do supports sustainable life on earth.


In a podcast on the Emergence magazine website, science writer David Quamman speaks of  the current viral crisis as an opportunity. He says: “I am not an optimist by disposition, but I’m stubborn when it comes to hope. I think that hope is not a psychological condition. Hope is an act of will. And therefore I think we have a responsibility to be hopeful that we can do things that will make the final result at least not quite as bad as it might have been otherwise.

Quamman continues: “And with this … hideous pandemic that we’re in right now, this scary thing that may take many, many lives, but in the meantime is also destroying people’s jobs, disrupting cultures and economies around the world, it’s a bad thing. The former mayor of Chicago, …Rahm Emanuel, … famously said, “We should let no crisis go to waste.” There’s wisdom in that, and I think that’s the case here. We should not let this crisis go to waste. We should use it as an opportunity to demand from ourselves and demand from our leaders substantive change, real, drastic change in the way we live on this planet, while we still have time.” [accessed 4/8/2020]

The insertion of this pipeline into the earth, the viral pandemic, and all catastrophes we may yet face in the coming year are possible catalysts for real change – change in our behaviors and change in the public sphere. May we all share this hope. For this is God’s world. It always has been. It will continue to be. It is not ours to use as we like. It is our place to tend this earth, to care for its creatures, to enjoy its wonders. Let us stop poisoning the land and our future by finding ways to let go of our way of life and embrace the way of life we find in the risen Christ—a life lived Godward and not toward self-fulfillment.

Hear the voice of the hymn writer, Carl P. Daw as you move through the darkness of this day to the hope of tomorrow.

How shallow former shadows seem beside this great reverse,
as darkness swallows up the light of all the universe.
Creation shivers at the shock, the temple rends its veil.
A pallid stillness stifles time and nature’s motions fail.
This is no midday fantasy, no flight of fevered brain,
With vengeance awful, grim, and real, chaos is come again.
The hands that formed us from the soil are nailed upon the cross.
The Word that gave us life and breath expires in utter loss.
Yet deep within this darkness lives a Love so fierce and free,
that arcs all voids and — risk supreme! — embraces agony.
Its perfect testament is etched in iron, blood and wood,
With awe we glimpse its true import and dare to call it good.

May you wake tomorrow renewed in body and spirit, when the “Alleluias!” resound.

Have you not known? God in Deep Time – by Naomi R. Wenger

(This essay is the first of two that together present some of the information that was to have been part of a day-long retreat on Holy Saturday, 2020, entitled “God in Deep Time: Showing Mercy to the Thousandth Generation.” This retreat was cancelled due to the Corona virus pandemic and related shelter-in-place order. It has since been recast as an online retreat experience. Both of these essays are available on the Hermitage Community Blog. This essay provides some background on “deep time” and the second essay, “Lament on Holy Saturday 2020” includes a confession and lament for Earth.)


As I was working on this essay, a children’s song kept going through my head.

My God is so BIG, so strong and so mighty,
there’s nothing my God cannot do.
My God is so BIG, so strong and so mighty,
there’s nothing my God cannot do .
         The mountains are God’s the valleys are God’s
          the stars are God’s handiwork, too.
God is so BIG, so strong and so mighty,
there’s nothing my God cannot do.

God in Deep Time We are going to focus on this “so BIG” God. If we understand the context of our lives in what scientists call “Deep Time,” we will begin to recognize that we no longer accept the Biblical writer’s, cosmology (what we sometimes refer to as “worldview,” though that term is too narrow when we talk about the universe). Rather, we all already have a cosmological consciousness that takes us outside what the Bible presents us. So, we will begin by looking at the conception of the universe that is presented in our Bibles. Then we will look at the cosmological picture of Deep Time. Finally, we will return to a text from Isaiah 40 to see if Deep Time can help us set our understanding of Isaiah’s words in our current context. The text from Isaiah is fruitful for reminding us that God is so much “bigger” than we usually picture God.


God in Deep Time

The Bible was written during a time when the earth was perceived as flat, bounded above by the heavens—where God dwells above among the sun, moon and stars—and below by the underworld— the place of the dead. This three-tier universe, limited on each side by the distances that humans had traveled by land, form the boundaries of what was known as “the ends of the earth,” in the mind of the Ancient Near Eastern writer. But, early in the second century after the birth of Christ, Ptolemy proved that Earth and the heavens were spherical and in motion. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Copernicus took up the idea again and proved mathematically, that Earth rotated around the Sun and not the other way around, as was assumed by the daily experience of seeing the “sun rise and set.” Declared heretical by the Church, which had finally been convinced of the “round earth” only after the great sea explorers of the 15th century ran into unexpected continents while trying to sail to China from Portugal, traveling westward. In another hundred years Galileo and Tyco Brahe assisted by Johannes Kepler reasserted Copernicus’ calculations and improved on them by actually observing the movement of the “heavenly bodies” through their newly improved telescopes. Then the Church finally, but reluctantly, capitulated by making space for scientific observation and inquiry but still holding fast to the worldview of the Scripture in its doctrines. This created a rupture between religion and science that has continued hemorrhaging to this day.

Unfortunately for us, those old ideas of the three tier universe, the centrality of Earth in the universe, the sun “rising and setting,” persist because of a theology that depends on these ideas as captured in Scripture. We find it hard to rid ourselves of the ideas that heaven is “up,” that we are at the center of the universe, or that what we can see is all there is. We are afraid of the mystery, of the sheer immensity, of what we cannot understand. And the ancient scriptures, based on an outdated worldview, echo our fears.

Pastor Paul R. Smith wrote a book entitled, Is your God big enough? close enough? you enough? Jesus and the three faces of God, a reimagining of the trinity through the lens of Jesus’ relationship with a God Jesus called “Father.” While I do not expect your views of God to change in an instant, I hope to open in you some different and maybe new ways of imagining God in deep time, or more properly, in eternity. We will be tackling only one-third of Rev. Smith’s project, “Is your God big enough?”by going on a tour of what scientists, theologians and artists show us about the cosmos and deep time, and then coming back to reflect on a passage from Isaiah.


Scientists tell us that the universe, or the multi-verse, or what I am calling today the cosmos, began 13.8 billion years ago with a “big bang.” Though they don’t completely understand how this happened, they can see and describe the detritus of that explosion in what we call the universe with its galaxies, novas, super-novas, nebulae, comets, solar systems, black holes, black matter and speckles of light. Details of the formation of the cosmos are scarce and difficult for non-scientists to understand. So, we rely on models and metaphors to help us understand what this theory means for “life on earth.”

God in Deep Time

Ilia Delio, the Franciscan nun, scientist, and theologian upon whom I will rely for most of my scientific information here, gives an illustration of the human being in this context using a picture of a set of encyclopedias – a 30 volume set she calls The Encyclopedia of Life. Imagine, she says, that you have just such a set of books, lined up on a shelf. Each volume of the 30-volume set contains 450 pages. Each page represents 1 million years. The front cover of volume 1 is the Big Bang – the Beginning. Somewhere in the middle of volume 21, Earth has coalesced into a ball of molten minerals and is cooling into its present form of molten core, mantle, crust, and a gaseous envelope of atmosphere around the planet. In volume 22, life, in the form of micro-organisms, begins on Earth. About volume 29 (and remember, the set, so far, has 30 volumes), we enter Earth’s Cambrian Period. This is the period of Earth history when the single land mass surrounded by a single ocean begins breaking up to form our present-day continents and when the first complex animals burst onto the scene in the ocean, in the forms of sea sponges, trilobites, and tube worms. Life continues to complexify through volume 29. Finally, in volume 30 on page 385 of our 450- page book, in the end of the Jurassic period, dinosaurs go extinct. Mammals, the most complex life form so-far, first begin to appear on page 390. Finally, on the last line of page 450 of volume 30 of The Encyclopedia of Life, the final two words are “human beings.”

Yes, the cosmos has been around for a long time. Humans, the most complex and self-reflexive of the life forms on Earth are such new-comers that our whole history takes up only the final two words in a 30 volume set of 450-page-long books, with each page representing 1 million years. Now, our understanding of God as eternal, without beginning or end. This means that God was there, at or in, the Big Bang, in Deep Time. Yes, God is that BIG!

Physicists are only beginning to understand how this universe is put together. One of the recent (20th century) findings is that the universe does not exist in a flat plane. That is, those planetary models of the solar system, that flat spinning dinner plate with marbles affixed on it, is most likely an anomaly in the cosmos. With clouds of gas and intersecting wave-like time/space formations, the universe looks more like Gene Roddenberry’s vision in Star-Trek, with time tunnels and worm holes connecting vast portions of the universe so that if you find the precise “doorway” you will move light-years in a single nano-second.

And what really knocks our socks off is that matter, the stuff of the universe, is really nothing but energy. Those points of light we see in the night sky, the emanations from other suns millions of miles from earth, are as “real” as the chair you are sitting upon. Because the chair is just light and energy held together in such a way that it can bear a load of other light and energy—You! You’ve probably heard the famous quote from Carl Sagan that you are made of star-stuff. This idea has been around for awhile. Take the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1970 hit, “Woodstock,” (written by Joni Mitchell) that keeps returning to this chorus:

            We are stardust, we are golden,
         We are billion year old carbon,
    And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

And, of course, the idea is older than 1970.

What bothers us and feeds our fears, is that what we’ve counted on as real keeps eluding our grasp. And theology has not been left out of this ephemeral soup.  Paul Tillich in the early 20th century, articulated the idea that God is “precisely nothing.” Now, this is a technical definition since the word “nothing” contains the word “thing.” Tillich was simply reminding us what the theologians throughout the ages had already said, that God is not material, is not “made of” stuff. While this is a true assertion about the nature of God, it has always been a dangerous assertion. Just saying, “God is nothing” set John of the Cross at odds with the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century and shut down the possibility of that truth finding its way into the hearth of our hearts.

We like to think of God with hands, a lap, a heart, able to carry us and comfort us with human-like touch. But, this, in fact, reduces God to being conceived in our image rather than the other way around. Bearing God’s image does not necessarily mean that God “looks like” us, but rather that we are imbued with an ungraspable “God-ness.” In that, lies our greatness and the mystery that we can never, ever, appropriate God, but that, at the same time, God is entangled in our being (the technical term here is “interpenetration”). We humans are not great on our own, but only as God-bearers, do we have a measure of significance. (This is an essential point to grasp when we come to the next essay dealing with how we care for our Earth home. Our significance is derivative, not normative: that is, we only exist to mirror God not to be god-like in our power and use and abuse of Earth.)

At The Hermitage, every day and for each guest who comes, we affirm by name, that each one is the “bearer of God’s infinite life.” This simple assertion serves to remind everyone both that they are significantly known and that they are significantly dependent. I challenge you to look in the mirror each morning and call yourself by name followed by the assertion that you are the bearer of God’s infinite life. It may change the way you go through your day.


Now let’s read the scripture from Isaiah 40:21-31 and see if our new understanding of deep time can help us read the text for our time. I think Isaiah had and inkling of just how big God is.

Isaiah 40:21–31 (NRSV)

21Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

The prophet begins with a series of questions designed to elicit wonder in the hearer. “What is going on here? Of what is the prophet speaking?” It is also an insistence that the hearers remember. This is a natural knowledge, not a learned knowledge, one that has been passed down from the “foundations of the earth.”The prophet is asking, “What do you know in your deep-down place of instinct and intuition, about God?”

22It is [God] who sits above the circle of the earth,
that] its inhabitants [appear]  like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
and spreads them like a tent to live in;

In this verse, we clearly see the three story universe with God way up so high that people look like grasshoppers. If we read the old “three-story universe cosmology” into this, we can understand the point that the prophet is making. This God is as big as we can possibly conceive. So, in contemporary cosmology, perhaps God is igniting the spark of the Big Bang or God is siting at the printing press where our 30-volume Encyclopedia of Life is printed and is cranking out the pages of future volumes beyond our imagining.

23[this God] brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
24Scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when [God] blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

One can only hope…

25To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these [the stars]?
[The One] who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because [that one] is great in strength,
mighty in power,
one [of the stars] is missing.

Here is the prophet entering the cosmic starry realms that can be understood by someone holding any worldview. The prophet adds the personal dimension showing God naming the stars and taking a star inventory. This idea is later repeated in Jesus’ teaching when he says that God numbers the hairs of our heads and knows when a sparrow falls to the ground (cf. Mt. 10:26-33; Lk. 12:4-7). In the gospels, the teaching is about not fearing what others can do to you. Here, the context is similar, for in the next section we read:

27Why do you say, O Jacob,
speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?

This is a complaint from the people of Israel, telling the prophet that God cannot find them nor does God listen to their complaint. The prophet is not impressed and questions the integrity of their complaint using as proof that the God who calls each star by name can surely not have lost any of them.

The prophet then concludes this hymn with a repetition of the beginning:

28Have you not known? Have you not heard?
[Our God] is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He casts God in the role of eternal presence and source of all that is – Creator. But notice, the flat-earth worldview of “the ends of the earth” reenters here. We know to reinterpret this phrase to include the whole cosmos. We might say, “Our God was already present in Deep Time, 13.8 billion years ago at the Big Bang, and God fashioned even the tiny Earth and its tinier life forms with care.” That might have the effect on us that this phrase was to have on Isaiah’s hearers.

Then the prophet changes the direction of his vision. In the first part of this oracle, the focus is on the cosmic, the powerful rulers, the stars as signs of minute but distant and all-encompassing care. In this final section, the focus is on the interior person, inner strength, bodily stamina.

[God] does not faint or grow weary;
[God’s] understanding is unsearchable.
9[God] gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
1but those who wait for [our God] shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

In this section, the prophet repeats “faint” and “weary.” First about God and then about those whom God strengthens. God, who does not faint or grow weary, gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.

The admonition to “wait for God” is an encouragement to resist acting on one’s own power because, after all, even the young eventually succumb. Isaiah is not denigrating natural prowess or youthful energy. Rather, he wants his hearers to notice their dependence on God, because God is who God is. And knowing this is as natural as living on earth where “from its foundations” God has been known, heard, and revered. Then we discover that, to quote Ilia Delio directly, “The background of everything that exists is another existence. God is not something that can be proved or disproved.  God does not merely exist nor is God a Being among beings.  Rather, God is existence itself which means God can only appear in otherness, in that which exists…. Jesus shows that the infinite, transcendent One is infinitely near, so close that the lines between human and divine are often blurred.  We cannot grasp this God of mystery but God grasps us in our infinite depth; for the mystery we name “God” is the mystery of our awakened consciousness to ultimate reality.”

So, we “wait for the Lord” not because God is too slow or lagging behind, but so that we can realize the strength of God within us and we are “renewed” to fly with the eagle of power and dominion, run without weariness, and walk without weakness because our lives are interwoven with God’s very being. Our waiting, makes us aware of what is already there and has always been there, in Deep Time.

The hymn writer, Isaac Watts, captures a bit of what it is like to participate in the cosmos as a Child of the God of Deep Time:

            Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    That were an offering far too small,
     Love so amazing, so divine,
     Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Going Silent

Guest Room 1

(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

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

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!

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

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.

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 (269-244-8696) by July 30.