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.

Seeking God’s Face: The In-Dwelling Face of God. Advent retreat part 4

Scripture texts for this session: 2 Samuel 7: 1-11, Luke 1: 26-38

For Further Reflection: “The In-Dwelling Face of God”

  1. Are you experiencing God’s “in-dwelling” face turned toward you? If so, describe how this feels, using heart language.
  2. When have you experienced God dwelling within you? Describe the experience. Now describe how this feels, using heart language.
  3. When have you witnessed God’s in-dwelling in 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:
    Indwelling God, I bring to you my concerns
              (offer prayers of concern):
    I struggle with my desire to keep control of my life.
    My complacency fills me, leaving little room for Your presence.
    My wealth and power isolate me from the suffering of others.
               Have mercy on me, O God.
    Indwelling God, I bring to you my joys
               (offer prayers of praise):
    I rejoice today because You extend grace to me in my unworthiness.
    I live expectantly, for I long to be Your dwelling place.
    I live in hope for nothing is impossible with God.
    Thanks be to God. AMEN 

     

    (Adapted from Leader Magazine, Fall 2008, MennoMedia)

  6. Conclude with this blessing:
    As you go, rejoice–
           for God has remembered you with favor.
           Tell everyone of the great things God does for you.
           God’s face will shine on you, and you will be saved!
    (ibid)

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.