Report on the Wenger’s Sabbatical

“Where the Wind Meets the Stars”

Our sabbatical spanned July, August, and September and was divided into two parts. The first month was dedicated to painting in our house and visiting family. The second and third months were spent on a long pilgrimage, walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. We walked 560 miles in 43 days, from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Finisterre in Spain. On our way to Spain, we stopped in Iceland for a short 5-day hike and spent a week in Southern France to celebrate our 30th anniversary. [A more detailed account of our journey is available on our Sabbatical Blog: Scroll down to the first entry “Getting Ready” and read back up through the various entries to get a flavor of our journey. Note that the entry “Paint” should be read before “On Our Way” and “Superlative Iceland.”]

We have many lessons to relate from our journey and many that we are only beginning to learn, now that the walking is over.

  • We are thankful for the new friends we made among the pilgrims with whom we shared the journey.
  • We are grateful for the experience of walking together on this strenuous trek.
  • We remember the generosity of other pilgrims and that what was provided on any given day was what we needed.
  • The walking was sometimes a struggle and sometimes easy.
  • The experience of living with only what we need was a refreshing change from our stuff-laden lives. Washing our laundry daily by hand meant that one change of clothes was sufficient for the journey.
  • Food and water were abundant along the way so we only carried what we had left from a previous meal that would then be incorporated into the next one.
  • We had ample time each day to pray and reflect on our journey and our responses to natural wonders or illness, injury and exhaustion.
  • Most days we found something to delight us. And when that proved elusive, we were grateful that the day’s walking brought us nearer to our goal.
  • We visited many beautiful churches, and walked in walled towns, through villages, along rivers, over mountains, through forests, in vineyards and wheat fields, and along busy highways. There were flies and bed bugs to contend with but very few mosquitoes. The landscape was by turns rugged and urban, agricultural and developed. The landscape welcomed us or was at least indifferent to our presence.
  • We found contentment in just being where we were each day.

It’s Time

time for David and Naomi to go on Sabbatical. They will journey through Iceland and France on their way to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. They join millions of pilgrims who have walked this way over the last thousand years.

Kristi and Zac Bowman-Cooke are at The Hermitage leading a group of volunteer hosts and spiritual directors in the Wenger’s absence.

Check out the Pentecost 2016 Newsletter on this site for more information about summer/fall happenings at The Hermitage.


The Yellow Trail is “Open”

After a four-and-a-half years’ wait, walking the yellow trail loop is now a dream-come-true. With help from thirteen students and staff from Crossings School, an alternative high school system in Northern Indiana, a final day’s push on Friday, October 30, 2015, got us through dozens of downed trees and almost impenetrable blackberry canes and multi-flora rose bushes. Bloodied but triumphant, the workers were exhausted and exhilarated from the day’s work.

It is amazing to walk through the destruction left by the tornado with log piles still towering overhead and root balls of the largest trees almost as tall as the former understory. The trail roughly follows the old route but descends through waist-deep root holes to find solid ground under a thorny canopy. The natural succession of thorny shrubs has firmly taken hold in the area. Keeping the trail clear will be a prickly task in the coming years.

In memory, I can see the trillium bank and the old footbridge beneath huge oaks and stately black locust trees that lined the old county road cut, abandoned sometime in the middle of the last century. I hope to see the flowers again in spring, but the bridge, alas, was demolished by the tree fall. Its remnants are smashed between three trunks along the trail.

Violence like the wind that caused this shambles reminds me of Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult….
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations God has brought on the earth.
Who makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
who breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
who burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”

[The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ps 46:1-3, 8–10, alt.]

The changed earth and the desolations God has brought are useful for meditating on how “imperfect” God’s ways seem to us with our limited knowledge and finite timeline. The tremendous fruitfulness encouraged by this windfall (a word usually used to denote unexpected blessing) is not in line with my “best use” of the land. And yet… And yet, it is useful and even necessary for the land to undergo this cycle of death and life, change and succession, to continue to sustain life.

Even though walking through this landscape is still a bit of a hardship, I hope you can visit us soon and walk the yellow trail with all of its beauty and difficulty (we’ll even supply the hand clippers). Then the words of the psalmist, “Be still, and know that I am God!” can ring in your ears and it will mean more than halting at a traffic light or pausing before you rush off to your next appointment. It will carry the whole impact of the Psalm in which everything is disturbed and disturbing. Then the act of stillness is a work of faith. Because it impossible for us to fix what is torn apart, we can be reminded of God’s work in the world and how inscrutable it sometimes is. We can rest in the long, slow plan of a God who renews land by uprooting trees, provides thickets for the wrens and finches (not to mention the skunks and raccoons) and then gradually returns the land to forest.

Triple-spiral Labyrinth Inaugurated During Transfiguration Retreat

Triple Spiral Labyrinth

The Land Restoration Committee of the Hermitage Board has created a new Triple-spiral Labyrinth in the east meadow of The Hermitage. The labyrinth was blessed by 23 prayerful walkers during The Feast of the Transfiguration Retreat held on Saturday, August 8. Margie Pfeil led the group in reflections on the Triple-spiral form, linking it to the Trinity, the natural triple rhythms of our lives (past, present, future; birth, life, death), and to the naturally occurring spirals we encounter (our comet home, wave forms, water and air currents, shells, plant growth, etc.). Patty Hogan enumerated three gifts of the Triple-spiral labyrinth. It helps us to experience our lives as pilgrims (involved in our journeys) rather than as tourists (just passing through). The labyrinth helps us to slow down if we engage in seven pauses on the way (one before beginning and six as we pass through the centers of the labyrinth). It also teaches us that our lives are not lived in straight lines but are curved and continuously being revealed. Guests of The Hermitage are invited to use the Triple-spiral Labyrinth as an aid to prayer or just as a relaxing way to enter into retreat. The labyrinth slows ones walk through the meadow. Come and enjoy this new feature of the Hermitage landscape.


Picking Berries, Making Jam, Clearing Trails

Eighteen workers participated in the Hermitage Jam workday on Friday, August 7. The blackberries are slow this year due to cool weather and there were relatively few picked (about 5 gallons). We made 13 pints of jam with the berries and will serve it at our meals until it runs out. The crew was also able to clear the second Prairie Prayer Garden and re-route a portion of the yellow trail to eliminate an eroding section.