Ash Wednesday – Venturing into our shadowy areas – by June Mears Driedger

Today is Ash Wednesday marking the beginning of Lent.

This Lent season it might be time to venture, as Jesus did, into the shadowy areas of our lives, confident of God’s merciful light surrounding us as well as willingly accepting the support of others. Lent is not about the ostentatious fasting that Isaiah (58:1-12) scoffed at, but a time to open ourselves to more light by lifting the lamp a little higher, by being God’s light to others and receiving it from them. It’s time to learn something new about God and move outwards to do something with it.

Lent might also be a time for us to move inwards with trust, to allow God to show us more of our own need and do something about that. As we live with the memory of the light and the hope of the Easter light to come, may the shadows we encounter become for us places of healing, wisdom and hope as well as fuel for the flame of light that we pass on to others. As light-bearers, let us be for others as merciful, gracious, and loving as God has been to us. God has taken the risk of sending the light of the Word into the chaos and terror of the world, and the darkness has not overcome it. God trusts us to keep ourselves faithful and transparent carriers of that light for the world. As the saying goes, “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

During this Lent season, let each of us carry God’s light into the shadows of our own lives, of our families, of our communities, and of the world.

Lent discipline of transformation – by June Mears Dreidger

Thirty years ago my first spiritual director, a Catholic lay woman, asked me: “What are your disciplines for Lent?” 

“Oh, I think I’m gonna give up watching ‘Star Trek’,” I told her.  “I watch it every Monday evening with my roommates. It’s kinda a ritual for us but I think it will be good for me to give it up.”

She studied me for a several seconds then sharply responded: “If you do that you will miss the whole purpose of Lent.  You will end up with more pride–you will be proud of yourself rather than seeking transformation.”

I was shocked at her response.  I was shocked by her rebuke as she was a gentle, humorous woman.  I also was shocked by her statement about Lent–I thought the whole purpose of Lent was to give something up.  I’d always heard about people giving up chocolate for Lent or red meat or television watching, so I figured I was on the right track with the whole Lent thing. Lent was a new concept for me.  In the church tradition I grew up in we never talked about Lent. We talked about Good Friday and of course, we celebrated Easter, but never Ash Wednesday or Lent, or even a period of preparation for Easter, the grandest day of the year.

The word “Lent” comes from Old English, meaning “spring” or “lengthen” as in the lengthening of the days.  This is not the image of a spring of pleasant warmth but an image of change–of transformation, of conversion.  In the lengthening brightness from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday–our Lenten spring–we are called to offer our brokenness to God. In offering our own brokenness we can then offer the world’s brokenness to God.  

Lent spring is 40 days (excluding Sundays), echoing the 40 days of temptation Jesus experienced.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week.  During these weeks before Easter, the church enters into a time of reflection, repentance, prayer and fasting, and renewal. Early in the history of the Christian church, new converts were baptized on the Saturday just before Easter Sunday.  Prior to baptism, these new converts participated in an intensive spiritual formation which included instruction, mentoring, practice in spiritual disciplines, and the development of the disciplines or habits of service, justice, charity and witness.  Also at this time, previously baptized persons reflected deeply on their own conversion and ongoing transformation.  At the Saturday Easter vigil people renewed their baptismal commitments along with the new converts who were baptized for the first time. Everyone together participated in a festive communion celebration to welcome the arrival of Easter.

As Lent begins again, I ask myself these same questions: what in me needs transforming?  What transforming does God wish to do in me?  This year, I am praying for an open heart to trust God more deeply, to believe that God is all I need.  It is essential for me to open my heart to ask deeper questions of God and of the world around me and to keep my heart open to live into God’s answers.

            What are your disciplines for Lent?

60 Second Prayers

The call of God is that this be a house of prayer.

This line from the Hermitage Affirmation morning prayer has become increasingly formative for my (Kevin) time at The Hermitage. It is both a reminder of what The Hermitage is to be about offering a welcoming place of prayer, and a reminder of my own place within The Hermitage. To tend a house of prayer, I must be about the work of prayer. 

This physically disconnected time of Covid has us rethinking place and presence, and what a house of prayer might look like. Our places of worship and business are often online. Our family gatherings are online. Our retreats are online. And so how might The Hermitage be a house of prayer online?

One way we are attempting to do that is to offer online prayer-filled experiences. One new endeavor is sharing videos of “60 second prayers”. 60 seconds is not long, but it is long enough to stop what you are doing, and give your attention to God. It is long enough for a few deep breaths and an Amen. Our days are filled with many 60 second moments, so why not set aside some of those for prayer.

Each Monday and Thursday we share these prayers on our various social media accounts – Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. We hope you will take a minute to pray with us. 

Here are some earlier prayers.

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.

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.

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.