A Reflection on the Summer by Zachary Bowman Cooke

“The space will teach you,” David and Naomi said to Kristi and I at the beginning of our sojourn at the Hermitage. Our first two weeks were spent absorbing all of the information we could from them before they departed on sabbatical. We felt confident enough to proceed, especially with the help of so many supportive volunteers. But then the septic tank overflowed, the phone line went bad, and the washing machine died to name just a few of the unanticipated maintenance mishaps during the Wengers’ absence. We, alongside our beloved volunteers, often worked too much. Even our morning gathering for prayer in the Chapel of the Transfiguration became for us at times a contemplative chore. What was the space teaching us?

In the middle of August a group from Western Theological Seminary held a 10-day “Hebrew Camp” at the Hermitage. They spent much of their time in the chapel learning and dramatizing the story of the healing of Naaman in the original Hebrew. In their final performance they began by singing a beautiful Hebrew blessing for the reading of scripture. Part of the blessing describes the encounter with scripture as “steeping in the Word.” This phrase caught my attention and has remained with me. What does it look like for us to steep in the same peace that retreatants find when they come to this place?

“I envision you beside Lake Michigan,” said my spiritual director. “Be gentle with yourself. You are currently going through three of the most stressful transitions in life: being newly married, moving and starting a new job.”


And so we went. We swam in the cool waters of Lake Michigan and laid on the beach for the better part of an afternoon listening to the little waves breaking upon the sand. On this threshold the stones are ground down until they shimmer and are soft underfoot. We are made small enough to be soft underfoot and to glimmer with the grandeur of God. At the end of the day we returned home with sand between our toes, the feeling of breathing deeply and fully, and a trunk filled with Michigan apples.

Prior to our engagement and into the first several months of marriage Kristi and I saw a wonderful marriage and family therapist. When asked how she was able to transition so quickly from the concerns of one client to the next and be present to all, she explained that she always pauses at the threshold and touches the door frame on the way in and out of each room as a ritual to set apart. Remembering her practice, I pause daily now at the threshold of the chapel and touch the door frame, as one might brood over a mug of hot tea–bringing the rim close, inhaling the steam and then sipping.

The maple outside our front door drops her flaming leaves, storing up for another Michigan winter. And so as I walk past the carpet of color, as we work, as we rest, I also am letting go and storing up for this new season. I pause, soak and steep, leaving openings in my day to be taught again.

A Big Thank You to Our Summer Volunteers

Along with Zac and Kristi Bowman Cooke, who ably managed The Hermitage during David and Naomi Wenger’s sabbatical this summer, we were blessed by the generous support of a bevy of volunteers. Beginning in July with Mary, Karl and Mary Lynne Herr, followed by Marty Suter and John Martens. Jay and Barbara Budde, gardeners extraordinaire, bridged from July to August followed by Mary Asmonga Knapp. Marty Suter returned for a short stint and Mary Knapp also came back for another week toward the end of September. Biff Weidman and Margie Pfeil hosted the Jam Workday and the Feast of the Transfiguration in August. We are truly grateful for the hard work of each of these folks who made the work lighter for the Bowman-Cookes and kept a way and a place for all to pray.

Work Day Coming UP

Giving Thanks Work Day

Saturday, November 5 from 9-5.

You are invited to join the Ecosystems Discernment Committee in preparing the land for winter and giving thanks for the bounty of the Earth. There will be several outdoor projects to match all skill and energy levels. Rake leaves, spread compost, lay out a new garden expansion, cut away invasive shrubs, or clear away dead brush. The day will begin with prayer, include a harvest potluck for lunch, and end with Thanksgiving vespers. We will meet, rain or shine, so come prepared for the weather. In case of a downpour, there will be indoor tasks to attend. Come see the beauty of The Hermitage as it is going into the dormant state for winter rest. What kind of beauty can you find? What work will you do to help support the land in this season?

Energy Use Update

In 2011 when we heard of the pipeline expansion/replacement planned by Enbridge Corporation across The Hermitage land, we did not foresee what this incursion would bring to our attention and how we would respond. Looking back on the past four years, we have been radically changed in how we see the land and in how we live on it. We began to respond by holding a Service of Lament on the Pipeline on Holy Saturday 2012. The vision to make a difference in the way we think about and use energy at The Hermitage grew out of that Lament. We decided to rename the pipeline ”the prairie” symbolizing our hope that this land will not always be used to transport oil and gas, but, someday it will simply be a natural ecosystem. After the pipeline construction was complete, we planted prairie grasses and wildflowers to solidify our commitment to this vision.


Next, we cleared and created a prayer garden on the North side of the prairie. This garden is dedicated in memory of Gertrude Ann Ruder, Naomi Wenger’s mother, whose daily prayers and concern for people we remember in this place. A second prayer garden was created in 2015 on the South side of the pipeline, completing the original plan to have prayers that counter the flow of petroleum under the earth. The two gardens are gentle oases along our woodland paths and places from which to view the prairie wildlife as we breathe out prayers for the earth and for the people who use and abuse it.

The pipeline project also required the relocation of the prayer labyrinth. The new labyrinth, a Triple-Spiral design, was completed and dedicated in August 2015. This labyrinth also holds the hopes and prayers that our continual journey on Earth will be in harmony with the energetic dance of the Trinitarian God of our faith. We commit our lives to discerning that Divine Energy and joining the dance.

In that same year, we replaced the ageing propane furnaces in The Barn with a geothermal heating and cooling system. We also sealed the gaps in the Barn that an energy audit revealed were places we were losing heat. We are now using less carbon energy to heat the building by capturing heat from the earth and keeping it in the building. We also hope, one day, to produce our own electricity from solar panels so we reduce even more our dependence on non-renewable fuel (the fuel used by the electric utility to provide electricity) to heat our buildings and water.


Eating locally sourced food is another way we reduce the amount of carbon-based fuel we use in daily life. The closest source is our own developing garden space. We happily harvested and cooked many vegetables from the garden this summer and fall. We hope to continue to expand what we produce here in the coming years. We continue to ask questions about serving food that originates in or only grows in far away places. Is there a local source for these foods? Do we consider those foods the luxury they are or do we take them for granted? How often can we justify luxury eating?

We continue to ponder the many ways we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels even as the natural gas from Canadian gas wells and diluted bitumen from the tar sands of Alberta hum merrily through pipes under the soil we walk over each day. Our small protest continues and may one day be a gateway to robust living for all of the Earth, God’s good creation.


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.