Posts by naomi

Lament on Holy Saturday 2020 – by Naomi R. Wenger

Posted by on Apr 10, 2020 in News | 1 comment

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.”) INTRODUCTION 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...

Read More

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

Posted by on Apr 10, 2020 in News | 1 comment

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.) INTRODUCTION 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. THE THREE-TIER UNIVERSE 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...

Read More

Going Silent

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

Going Silent

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

Read More

What Sustains the Hermitage

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

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

Read More

Prairie Prayer Gardens – Praying Counter to the Flow

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

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

Read More