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A Blessing from The Hermitage

Posted by on Apr 27, 2020 in News | Comments Off on A Blessing from The Hermitage

Blessing from “The Pattern of Our Days: Worship in the Celtic Tradition from the Iona Community” edited by Kathy Galloway.

Contemplative photography/Visio Divina group

Posted by on Apr 16, 2020 in Blog, News | Comments Off on Contemplative photography/Visio Divina group

Contemplative photography/Visio Divina group

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 first 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.

(There was an error in the registration form, so if you tried to register before April 16 at 2 pm we did not receive your registration.)

Contemplative photography/visio divina group

 

Verification

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 trajectory of what happens to Earth and all life is quite predictable. At some point in the future, great poverty will overcome a huge swath of human population. Then, the already-compromised food production and distribution channels will be beyond repair and the poor will be hungry. Already, the quality of water available to rich and poor alike is contaminated. And our air quality is now part of our “weather” forecasts as we daily determine if it is safe to be outside our homes or safer to stay inside. At some point in the future, but visible now, the biodiversity of the planet will be diminished to the point of impoverishing every ecosystem creating ever greater swings in the cycles of disease and death.

Environmental educator, Mitchell Thomashow, in an article entitled, “Environmental Learning and Covid-19” writes, “We don’t need lifeboats. We need resilient communities that can work together to provide essential needs as environmental contingencies impact our communities,” [Accessed 4/8/2020]. Here is a call to be part of just such a resilient community. Will you join in confessing your complicity, lamenting with Earth and pledging to make a change in your life for the next year? Will you come again on Holy Saturday in 2021 to see if the the death that you are asked to die—the small death to will and comfort—has borne fruit in you and for Earth? Please come, even if you fail, we need each other more than ever to learn from one another, to strengthen our resolves, to become the kind of people who show by how they live, how they love one another and the whole Earth.

CONFESSION

Picture, if you can imagine it, a dump truck that is two stories high. Imagine an earth moving machine made to fill that truck. Multiply that vision by hundreds and watch as the boreal forest  in an area the size of the state of Florida is first clear-cut and then the land is scraped with the earth moving machine and dumped into the house-sized trucks for tranport to a processing area. Can you see the processing area with huge vats where the scraped earth is mixed with toxic chemicals and spun like a giant washing machine to release oil residue from the earth. Imagine the waste from these spinning vats being dumped into vast lakes, covering more than 85 square miles, about 1/10 the size of Lake Erie, containing more than 317 million gallons of contaminated water. Imagine the effects of this network of foul water on the fresh water of Alberta. Now, imagine that the bitumen, produced in this fashion is further diluted by naphtha, a flammable derivative of Natural Gas drilling that is a known carcinogen and, if released, a dangerous airway irritant.

This diluted bitumen, or diluted crude oil, is what flows in the pipeline under our feet at The Hermitage. In its natural state, it is harmful to the environment in which it is mined. The mining process further contaminates large areas of Alberta. And, when the pipelines rupture, as in the spill into the Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010, the oil contaminates other ecosystems as well. Imagine, too, that we have not yet discovered a clean way to burn fossil fuels. Every bit of the oil and gas used as fuel ends up contaminating our air, our waterways, and the ocean and weakening the life of every plant and animal alive on the planet.

If all of life is harmed by the mining and use of this fuel, why do we mine it? It is worth trillions of dollars for the oil companies which produce the fuel. While relatively cheap for the consumer to use, it creates enormous wealth for a very few and consequent power for those same few. And we consumers of this resource are left wanting more. Because we can have it. Because our way of life depends on it.

Can you imagine life without fossil fuels? You would have to go back to the days before kerosene lamps, before coal-burning furnaces, before gas stoves. And we don’t want to go back. Life was harder, then. People then could not travel the great distances we can each day, now. So much of life depends on fuel. And that’s just the way the oil companies like it. Pollute all they will, we will still clamber for more and more because that’s the way life is. Technology even runs on fossil fuels. Electricity is overwhelmingly produced by the burning of coal, natural gas and oil. Can we live without technology? Can we live without oil? Will we?

You are invited to use the following “Confession and Lament” as a guide for your confession this Holy Saturday.

Confession of complicity

from The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry

“The difficulty with mechanically extractable energy is that so far we have been unable to make it available without serious geological and ecological damage, or to effectively restrain its use, or to use or even neutralize its wastes. From birth, right now, we are carrying the physical and the moral poisons produced by our crude and ignorant use of this sort of energy. And the more abundant the energy of this sort that we use, the more abounding must be the consequences.” (p.84)

Psalm 51:3-9

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.”

Confession Litany:

For each item in the Litany, pause to identify and name your personal complicit involvement.

•We have tended to use the earth rather than live with it. Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have often abused the land and its resources rather than treasure them Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

This “use and abuse” attitude has consequences; infertility, disease, weakness and now, a massive and measurable change in our atmosphere causing dangerous and drastic weather around the globe  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have sacrificed creativity for production and linked excess to prosperity  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have shared in pushing companies to provide cheap goods to assuage our voracious hunger for more; this has taken jobs away from workers here and created unjust work elsewhere in the world  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have acted to remake a landscape to serve our needs rather than recognize the work of the Creator in placing us in the just landscape for which we long  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have arrogantly argued that since we are better off, the earth must be as well  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have used our feeling of prosperity as the measure of our right to exploit the land, and contaminate air and water around the globe  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have lied to ourselves that if we preserve small areas of wilderness, the rest of the biosphere can be developed, stripped of resources and left to rejuvenate without recognizing that the natural process that gave us these resources takes thousands of years to repeat  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have willingly deprived ourselves of the spiritual richness of place by being so readily uprooted by the possibility of personal gain  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We believe the lie that more and bigger is always better, though we experience the degraded quality of life that comes as a result  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have tended toward conservatism—doing what we have always done—rather than conservation—working to reverse the negative flow of misuse and waste of earth resources  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have left lights on, heat high, cars running, air conditioning low, water dripping  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have thrown away when there is no “away”   Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have hoarded what could be useful to others  Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

•We have simply lived for ourselves while others go wanting   Forgive us, O God, our complicity.

Give us courage to use less, demand creative change and care deeply for what is already here. AMEN.

LAMENT for the EARTH

          We lament that our abuse of creation
Has brought lasting damage
To the world we have been given:
          To the world we have been given:
          Polluting streams and soil,
          Poisoning the air,
          Altering the climate, and damaging the earth.
          We commit ourselves
          To honor all living things
          And to protect them from abuse and extinction,
          For our world belongs to God.

From Our World Belongs to God: a contemporary testimony

Act out your lament. Choose one of these actions or one of your own devising.

  • Write your heartache for the planet on a paper and bury or burn it.
  • Go outside, lift up your hands, and keen. Keening is an ancient form of expressing grief by wailing high and loud.
  • Wrap your arms around a tree and hold its sadness.
  • Weep.
  • Lie face down on the earth with outstretched arms, listening for its heartbeat. Make it your intention to care for what you are embracing.

Declaration of Hope

We believe that the act of constructing a pipeline is not the last word for this land.
We believe in restoration.
We believe that the use of limited fuel from the earth will end.
We believe the wisdom of the earth will prevail.
We believe there is good work for Enbridge to do.
We believe in transformation.
We will work together to protect the earth.
We will be mindful of the generations to come.
We will change our lives so that what we do supports sustainable life on earth.

CONCLUSION

In a podcast on the Emergence magazine website, science writer David Quamman speaks of  the current viral crisis as an opportunity. He says: “I am not an optimist by disposition, but I’m stubborn when it comes to hope. I think that hope is not a psychological condition. Hope is an act of will. And therefore I think we have a responsibility to be hopeful that we can do things that will make the final result at least not quite as bad as it might have been otherwise.

Quamman continues: “And with this … hideous pandemic that we’re in right now, this scary thing that may take many, many lives, but in the meantime is also destroying people’s jobs, disrupting cultures and economies around the world, it’s a bad thing. The former mayor of Chicago, …Rahm Emanuel, … famously said, “We should let no crisis go to waste.” There’s wisdom in that, and I think that’s the case here. We should not let this crisis go to waste. We should use it as an opportunity to demand from ourselves and demand from our leaders substantive change, real, drastic change in the way we live on this planet, while we still have time.” [accessed 4/8/2020]

The insertion of this pipeline into the earth, the viral pandemic, and all catastrophes we may yet face in the coming year are possible catalysts for real change – change in our behaviors and change in the public sphere. May we all share this hope. For this is God’s world. It always has been. It will continue to be. It is not ours to use as we like. It is our place to tend this earth, to care for its creatures, to enjoy its wonders. Let us stop poisoning the land and our future by finding ways to let go of our way of life and embrace the way of life we find in the risen Christ—a life lived Godward and not toward self-fulfillment.

Hear the voice of the hymn writer, Carl P. Daw as you move through the darkness of this day to the hope of tomorrow.

How shallow former shadows seem beside this great reverse,
as darkness swallows up the light of all the universe.
Creation shivers at the shock, the temple rends its veil.
A pallid stillness stifles time and nature’s motions fail.
This is no midday fantasy, no flight of fevered brain,
With vengeance awful, grim, and real, chaos is come again.
The hands that formed us from the soil are nailed upon the cross.
The Word that gave us life and breath expires in utter loss.
Yet deep within this darkness lives a Love so fierce and free,
that arcs all voids and — risk supreme! — embraces agony.
Its perfect testament is etched in iron, blood and wood,
With awe we glimpse its true import and dare to call it good.

May you wake tomorrow renewed in body and spirit, when the “Alleluias!” resound.

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 of the three tier universe, the centrality of Earth in the universe, the sun “rising and setting,” persist because of a theology that depends on these ideas as captured in Scripture. We find it hard to rid ourselves of the ideas that heaven is “up,” that we are at the center of the universe, or that what we can see is all there is. We are afraid of the mystery, of the sheer immensity, of what we cannot understand. And the ancient scriptures, based on an outdated worldview, echo our fears.

Pastor Paul R. Smith wrote a book entitled, Is your God big enough? close enough? you enough? Jesus and the three faces of God, a reimagining of the trinity through the lens of Jesus’ relationship with a God Jesus called “Father.” While I do not expect your views of God to change in an instant, I hope to open in you some different and maybe new ways of imagining God in deep time, or more properly, in eternity. We will be tackling only one-third of Rev. Smith’s project, “Is your God big enough?”by going on a tour of what scientists, theologians and artists show us about the cosmos and deep time, and then coming back to reflect on a passage from Isaiah.

COSMIC SHIFT

Scientists tell us that the universe, or the multi-verse, or what I am calling today the cosmos, began 13.8 billion years ago with a “big bang.” Though they don’t completely understand how this happened, they can see and describe the detritus of that explosion in what we call the universe with its galaxies, novas, super-novas, nebulae, comets, solar systems, black holes, black matter and speckles of light. Details of the formation of the cosmos are scarce and difficult for non-scientists to understand. So, we rely on models and metaphors to help us understand what this theory means for “life on earth.”

God in Deep Time

Ilia Delio, the Franciscan nun, scientist, and theologian upon whom I will rely for most of my scientific information here, gives an illustration of the human being in this context using a picture of a set of encyclopedias – a 30 volume set she calls The Encyclopedia of Life. Imagine, she says, that you have just such a set of books, lined up on a shelf. Each volume of the 30-volume set contains 450 pages. Each page represents 1 million years. The front cover of volume 1 is the Big Bang – the Beginning. Somewhere in the middle of volume 21, Earth has coalesced into a ball of molten minerals and is cooling into its present form of molten core, mantle, crust, and a gaseous envelope of atmosphere around the planet. In volume 22, life, in the form of micro-organisms, begins on Earth. About volume 29 (and remember, the set, so far, has 30 volumes), we enter Earth’s Cambrian Period. This is the period of Earth history when the single land mass surrounded by a single ocean begins breaking up to form our present-day continents and when the first complex animals burst onto the scene in the ocean, in the forms of sea sponges, trilobites, and tube worms. Life continues to complexify through volume 29. Finally, in volume 30 on page 385 of our 450- page book, in the end of the Jurassic period, dinosaurs go extinct. Mammals, the most complex life form so-far, first begin to appear on page 390. Finally, on the last line of page 450 of volume 30 of The Encyclopedia of Life, the final two words are “human beings.”

Yes, the cosmos has been around for a long time. Humans, the most complex and self-reflexive of the life forms on Earth are such new-comers that our whole history takes up only the final two words in a 30 volume set of 450-page-long books, with each page representing 1 million years. Now, our understanding of God as eternal, without beginning or end. This means that God was there, at or in, the Big Bang, in Deep Time. Yes, God is that BIG!

Physicists are only beginning to understand how this universe is put together. One of the recent (20th century) findings is that the universe does not exist in a flat plane. That is, those planetary models of the solar system, that flat spinning dinner plate with marbles affixed on it, is most likely an anomaly in the cosmos. With clouds of gas and intersecting wave-like time/space formations, the universe looks more like Gene Roddenberry’s vision in Star-Trek, with time tunnels and worm holes connecting vast portions of the universe so that if you find the precise “doorway” you will move light-years in a single nano-second.

And what really knocks our socks off is that matter, the stuff of the universe, is really nothing but energy. Those points of light we see in the night sky, the emanations from other suns millions of miles from earth, are as “real” as the chair you are sitting upon. Because the chair is just light and energy held together in such a way that it can bear a load of other light and energy—You! You’ve probably heard the famous quote from Carl Sagan that you are made of star-stuff. This idea has been around for awhile. Take the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1970 hit, “Woodstock,” (written by Joni Mitchell) that keeps returning to this chorus:

            We are stardust, we are golden,
         We are billion year old carbon,
    And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

And, of course, the idea is older than 1970.

What bothers us and feeds our fears, is that what we’ve counted on as real keeps eluding our grasp. And theology has not been left out of this ephemeral soup.  Paul Tillich in the early 20th century, articulated the idea that God is “precisely nothing.” Now, this is a technical definition since the word “nothing” contains the word “thing.” Tillich was simply reminding us what the theologians throughout the ages had already said, that God is not material, is not “made of” stuff. While this is a true assertion about the nature of God, it has always been a dangerous assertion. Just saying, “God is nothing” set John of the Cross at odds with the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century and shut down the possibility of that truth finding its way into the hearth of our hearts.

We like to think of God with hands, a lap, a heart, able to carry us and comfort us with human-like touch. But, this, in fact, reduces God to being conceived in our image rather than the other way around. Bearing God’s image does not necessarily mean that God “looks like” us, but rather that we are imbued with an ungraspable “God-ness.” In that, lies our greatness and the mystery that we can never, ever, appropriate God, but that, at the same time, God is entangled in our being (the technical term here is “interpenetration”). We humans are not great on our own, but only as God-bearers, do we have a measure of significance. (This is an essential point to grasp when we come to the next essay dealing with how we care for our Earth home. Our significance is derivative, not normative: that is, we only exist to mirror God not to be god-like in our power and use and abuse of Earth.)

At The Hermitage, every day and for each guest who comes, we affirm by name, that each one is the “bearer of God’s infinite life.” This simple assertion serves to remind everyone both that they are significantly known and that they are significantly dependent. I challenge you to look in the mirror each morning and call yourself by name followed by the assertion that you are the bearer of God’s infinite life. It may change the way you go through your day.

HAVE YOU NOT KNOWN?

Now let’s read the scripture from Isaiah 40:21-31 and see if our new understanding of deep time can help us read the text for our time. I think Isaiah had and inkling of just how big God is.

Isaiah 40:21–31 (NRSV)

21Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

The prophet begins with a series of questions designed to elicit wonder in the hearer. “What is going on here? Of what is the prophet speaking?” It is also an insistence that the hearers remember. This is a natural knowledge, not a learned knowledge, one that has been passed down from the “foundations of the earth.”The prophet is asking, “What do you know in your deep-down place of instinct and intuition, about God?”

22It is [God] who sits above the circle of the earth,
that] its inhabitants [appear]  like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
and spreads them like a tent to live in;

In this verse, we clearly see the three story universe with God way up so high that people look like grasshoppers. If we read the old “three-story universe cosmology” into this, we can understand the point that the prophet is making. This God is as big as we can possibly conceive. So, in contemporary cosmology, perhaps God is igniting the spark of the Big Bang or God is siting at the printing press where our 30-volume Encyclopedia of Life is printed and is cranking out the pages of future volumes beyond our imagining.

23[this God] brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
24Scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when [God] blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

One can only hope…

25To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these [the stars]?
[The One] who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because [that one] is great in strength,
mighty in power,
one [of the stars] is missing.

Here is the prophet entering the cosmic starry realms that can be understood by someone holding any worldview. The prophet adds the personal dimension showing God naming the stars and taking a star inventory. This idea is later repeated in Jesus’ teaching when he says that God numbers the hairs of our heads and knows when a sparrow falls to the ground (cf. Mt. 10:26-33; Lk. 12:4-7). In the gospels, the teaching is about not fearing what others can do to you. Here, the context is similar, for in the next section we read:

27Why do you say, O Jacob,
speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?

This is a complaint from the people of Israel, telling the prophet that God cannot find them nor does God listen to their complaint. The prophet is not impressed and questions the integrity of their complaint using as proof that the God who calls each star by name can surely not have lost any of them.

The prophet then concludes this hymn with a repetition of the beginning:

28Have you not known? Have you not heard?
[Our God] is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He casts God in the role of eternal presence and source of all that is – Creator. But notice, the flat-earth worldview of “the ends of the earth” reenters here. We know to reinterpret this phrase to include the whole cosmos. We might say, “Our God was already present in Deep Time, 13.8 billion years ago at the Big Bang, and God fashioned even the tiny Earth and its tinier life forms with care.” That might have the effect on us that this phrase was to have on Isaiah’s hearers.

Then the prophet changes the direction of his vision. In the first part of this oracle, the focus is on the cosmic, the powerful rulers, the stars as signs of minute but distant and all-encompassing care. In this final section, the focus is on the interior person, inner strength, bodily stamina.

[God] does not faint or grow weary;
[God’s] understanding is unsearchable.
9[God] gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
1but those who wait for [our God] shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

In this section, the prophet repeats “faint” and “weary.” First about God and then about those whom God strengthens. God, who does not faint or grow weary, gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.

The admonition to “wait for God” is an encouragement to resist acting on one’s own power because, after all, even the young eventually succumb. Isaiah is not denigrating natural prowess or youthful energy. Rather, he wants his hearers to notice their dependence on God, because God is who God is. And knowing this is as natural as living on earth where “from its foundations” God has been known, heard, and revered. Then we discover that, to quote Ilia Delio directly, “The background of everything that exists is another existence. God is not something that can be proved or disproved.  God does not merely exist nor is God a Being among beings.  Rather, God is existence itself which means God can only appear in otherness, in that which exists…. Jesus shows that the infinite, transcendent One is infinitely near, so close that the lines between human and divine are often blurred.  We cannot grasp this God of mystery but God grasps us in our infinite depth; for the mystery we name “God” is the mystery of our awakened consciousness to ultimate reality.”

So, we “wait for the Lord” not because God is too slow or lagging behind, but so that we can realize the strength of God within us and we are “renewed” to fly with the eagle of power and dominion, run without weariness, and walk without weakness because our lives are interwoven with God’s very being. Our waiting, makes us aware of what is already there and has always been there, in Deep Time.

The hymn writer, Isaac Watts, captures a bit of what it is like to participate in the cosmos as a Child of the God of Deep Time:

            Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    That were an offering far too small,
     Love so amazing, so divine,
     Demands my soul, my life, my all.

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 4

Posted by on Mar 20, 2020 in News | Comments Off on “Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 4

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 4

—a Meditation by Naomi Wenger, Lent 3, 2020

This meditation is based on the Lenten Retreat given at The Hermitage on March 7, using the scriptures for the third Sunday in Lent for 2020. It will be posted over four days this week, Monday (3/16), Tuesday (3/17), Thursday, (3/19), and Friday (3/20). Each day includes a meditation and suggestions for practice. In this time when the whole world is focused on a virus, my hope is that you will be encouraged to keep thirsting for Christ.

Quench

We come now to the end of the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. In this section of the story, the woman is gone. She’s in her home place testifying to Jesus’ gift of “living water,” (that is, acknowledging her own deep truth and living from that place into the forgiveness of God). What remains are two scenes, one with the puzzled disciples and one with the townspeople. Read the story in John 4:31-42.

Jesus refuses the food that the disciples have gotten in town. Rather, he insists that he has other food—doing the will of God. I wonder if you have ever experienced the loss of appetite after a particularly enriching experience. 

Jesus explains this experience by inviting the disciples to imagine. Imagine, he says, that all of these green fields are golden and dry, ready for harvest. Just so, the sower and the reaper can work together in one field in God’s agronomy. He then points to the lunch they brought, “see,” he says, you brought (reaped) what you did not sow. It is the work of all the people who bring in the harvest that you carry in your hands. Thus, you have entered into the labor, even though you did not do the work.”

This is amazing. Jesus is expanding the labor of one to include the labor of all. He is at the same time contracting seasonal growth, making all seasons compress into the harvest. Have you ever held an acorn in  your hand? If so, you have experienced this kind of compression. You have held a tree, possibly a house or furniture, perhaps the warmth of a fire or heat for cooking. In that one small nut, lies not only potential but all that will become real out of that nut. I think that is what Jesus is teaching here. He also describes the timelessness of eternity. When there is no time, that is no “beginning, middle and end” to the story of life, then all things happen simultaneously, out of time. The sowing and the reaping are done together, so that all may “rejoice together.” This is a picture of the eternal kin-dom of God in which all is joy and only joy.

Jesus’ thirst is fully quenched by the true living water he had to offer.

The woman’s thirst was fully quenched by owning her own truth and receiving the gift of life from Jesus’ acceptance.

The townspeople’s thirst was fully quenched by hearing the word for themselves.

The disciples remain puzzled and thirsty. They are thirsty and hungry. They are blessed. They will be filled.

The psalmist tells of this experience in a different voice.

Ps 42:7–11.
 
7     Deep calls to deep 
at the thunder of your cataracts; 
all your waves and your billows 
have gone over me. 
8     By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, 
and at night his song is with me, 
a prayer to the God of my life. 
9     I say to God, my rock, 
“Why have you forgotten me? 
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”
10   As with a deadly wound in my body, 
my adversaries taunt me, 
while they say to me continually, 
“Where is your God?” 
11   Why are you cast down, O my soul, 
and why are you disquieted within me? 
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, 
my help and my God. 

Remember at the beginning of the Psalm, the writer was asking for a sip of water. Here, he is bowled over by the cataracts, the waves, and the billows that wash over him. It is no wonder that he asks himself, “why are you cast down?” God’s provision is abundance. Rather than a drink, God comes in the fullness of the waterfall and the ocean swell. Notice that the poet’s self-reprimand elicits hope and help from God.

Practice: 

Read John 4:31-42. Having one’s thirst quenched is to be satisfied. What satisfies Jesus? Why does that baffle the disciples? Does it baffle you? Jesus turns the tables on his listeners by calling them to participate in a harvest that comes before lunch. Why do you think he does that? What do the disciples learn? How do the Samaritans respond? How do you respond?

Pray with the psalmist. From the beginning of this Psalm, we have stayed with this psalmist’s desire for a “small drink” of God. Here, we witness the overwhelming experience of being completely bowled over by the presence of God. Notice that the psalmist receives the sound of the “waves”  and the “thunder of cataracts” as the song of God. Is it hard for you to experience God’s fullness? What would God’s song to you sound like? Write your reflections.

Psalm 42:7-8
7     Deep calls to deep 
at the thunder of your cataracts; 
all your waves and your billows 
have gone over me. 
8     By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, 
and at night his song is with me, 
a prayer to the God of my life. 

Read the poem, “Solomon says.” How does this thought from Meister Eckhart help you embrace  your union with God? 

Solomon says

Solomon says
all streams run
to the sea
and return to
their source.
These waters are
like our souls
that run like streams
to the One
who is
drawing them
Home.

(Mark S. Burrows & Jon M. Sweeney, Meister Eckharts’ Book of Secrets: Meditations on Letting God and Finding True Freedom)

Breathe a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the natural way God is continually providing “living water” and “drawing” you Home.

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 3

Posted by on Mar 19, 2020 in News | Comments Off on “Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 3

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 3

—a Meditation by Naomi Wenger, Lent 3, 2020

This meditation is based on the Lenten Retreat given at The Hermitage on March 7, using the scriptures for the third Sunday in Lent for 2020. It will be posted over four days this week, Monday (3/16), Tuesday (3/17), Thursday, (3/19), and Friday (3/20). Each day includes a meditation and suggestions for practice. In this time when the whole world is focused on a virus, my hope is that you will be encouraged to keep thirsting for Christ.

Drink

How much water do you need to drink in a day? Since we know that water is necessary for life, how much is enough? There are several formulas for calculating this amount. One that is easy to remember is to take your weight in pounds and halve it. Then, drink that amount in ounces of water each day. For example, If someone weighed 150 pounds, they should drink 75 ounces of water each day. One thing is certain, we have to drink. It is our action that makes drinking possible. This may seem fairly obvious, we all drink every day. But I wonder if we realize that spiritual drinking also requires our action. Leonhard Schiemer, an early Anabaptist martyr puts it this way:

“For as the water does not quench my thirst unless I drink it, and as the bread does not drive away my hunger unless I eat it, even so Christ’s suffering does not prevent me from sinning until he suffers in me.”

We can be thirsty, we can be near water, but unless we drink, we cannot be satisfied. Just so, our spiritual drinking is necessary to imbibe the living water. Jesus asks the Samaritan to drink of the living water. Read John 4:16-26.

Jesus asks the woman to own her deepest need. That is, he points to her failure in relationships—in loving. Perhaps, we can imagine a woman who is widowed once or twice. Perhaps we can imagine a woman scorned by a man, but this detail of going through five husbands and then giving up on marriage altogether and just living with the next man is evidence of disordered relationships. So, Jesus, in offering her living water shows her that to drink, she has to own her failure, she has to take off her masks and her self-pity, she must become just who she is “warts and all.” There is no other condition in which we can drink the living water. 

The funny thing about drinking the living water is that sometimes it seems as if we are being poured out, or that we are emptying ourselves. The psalmist, too, knows this feeling:

Ps 42:4–6
4     These things I remember, 
as I pour out my soul: 
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God, 
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, 
a multitude keeping festival. 
5     Why are you cast down, O my soul, 
and why are you disquieted within me? 
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, 
my help and my God. 
  My soul is cast down within me; 
therefore I remember you
  from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, 
from Mount Mizar. 

My soul is cast down, therefore I remember you! What is remembered as the soul is poured out? The memory is of companionship, of joy, of glad shout and songs of thanksgiving of feasting with the throng. So, we learn with the Psalmist that as he is being poured out, he remembers God. The God who is with him in the plains of Jordan, the high mountains of Hermon and the “little hill” (the meaning of the word, “Mizar”). In short, the God who never forsakes, whether in joyous assembly or depressed and alone. 

Meister Eckhart, the 14th century mystic, philosopher, friar, priest, and theologian taught about this kind of “emptying to be filled” with these words:

Become Empty
So you want to find God?
Empty yourself of everything—
 
your worries and your hopes,
your wishes and your fears.
 
For when you are finally 
empty, God will find you,
 
because God cannot tolerate
emptiness and will come
 
to fill you with himself.

(from Jon M. Sweeney & Mark S. Burrows, Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul)

The story of the woman at the well does not end here, there are two more movements for her to perform. Read John 4:27-30.

Did you notice what she did? She left her water jar. She came for water, found Jesus, and left her jar. This is probably a very significant line in the story, placed for our understanding. She has discovered the inner spring and no longer needs the well water. Then, she tells her true story to her people, inviting them to come to the man who invited her to own it in the first place.

In another Psalm (51), we hear David saying, “you desire truth in the inward parts.” I think this is what Jesus is demanding of the woman and what it means to drink of the living water. We have to tell the truth—to ourselves and to others and to God. Jesus will meet us with the forgiveness we seek for that which we hide from ourselves and others.

It is Christ in us the hope of glory. No longer I live, but Christ lives in me. This is not unity but union. As Schiemer said it, “Christ’s suffering does not prevent me from sinning until he suffers in me.”

Practice: 

Read John 4:16-30. Now that she has abandoned her water jar, what would you say that the woman is “drinking?” Is that a drink you need or want, too? How is this message of universal hope relevant to this time in history? Can you receive the living water that is offered? Write your reflections in your journal.

Read the poem, “Pregnant with God.” What do you think Meister Eckhart means when he uses the phrase, “pregnant with God?” How do the words of the poem speak to your desire for God? You might want to write about your union with God or draw a symbol or picture of what that means to you.

Pregnant with God
You are either
with or
wihtout.
I tell you
there
is
no other

(from Jon M. Sweeney & Mark S. Burrows, Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul)

Pray with the prophet (below). Feel your bones being made strong. In your imagination, be a beautiful garden or a never-failing spring.

Isaiah 58:11, alt.
  The Lord will guide me continually, 
and satisfy my needs in parched places, 
and make my bones strong; 
and I shall be like a watered garden, 
like a spring of water, 
whose waters never fail. 

Lent Prayers from the Hermitage – Week 3

Posted by on Mar 18, 2020 in News | Comments Off on Lent Prayers from the Hermitage – Week 3

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 2

Posted by on Mar 17, 2020 in News | Comments Off on “Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 2

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 2

—a Meditation by Naomi Wenger, Lent 3, 2020

This meditation is based on the Lenten Retreat given at The Hermitage on March 7, using the scriptures for the third Sunday in Lent for 2020. It will be posted over four days this week, Monday (3/16), Tuesday (3/17), Thursday, (3/19), and Friday (3/20). Each day includes a meditation and suggestions for practice. In this time when the whole world is focused on a virus, my hope is that you will be encouraged to keep thirsting for Christ.

Water

Wallace J. Nichols has written that “Water is the most omnipresent substance on Earth and, along with air, the primary ingredient for supporting life as we know it. For starters, ocean plankton provides more than half of the planet’s oxygen. There are approximately 332.5 million cubic miles of water on Earth – 96 percent of it saline. (A cubic mile of water contains more than 1.1 trillion gallons.) Water covers more than 70 percent of Earth’s surface; 95 percent of those waters have yet to be explored. From one million miles away our planet resembles a small blue marble; from one hundred million miles it’s a tiny, pale blue dot. ‘How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean,’ author Arthur C. Clarke once astutely commented,” (Wallace J. Nichols, Blue Mind,  8-9).

We all know how important water is for life. In fact, we remember that after God dispelled the darkness with light, God focused several acts of Creation on water: a separation in the waters and then dividing the water from the land. Ordering the water was a significant act. In the second story of Creation given in Genesis chapters 2-3, after God makes a human and plants a garden, there is an interlude in the text that begins, “A river flows out of Eden.” The story goes on for four verses describing how this river divides and into what lands the successive rivers flow. Then the story of the garden and the human(s) begins again. Water is that important. It is used to identify people groups all through the Old Testament text. There are the people of the sea (Philistines), the peoples beyond the Jordan, the peoples of the great rivers (Tigris and Euphrates), etc.

Not only is water significant for our planetary identity, but each of us is primarily water. Nichols again: “When we’re born, our bodies are approximately 78 percent water. As we age, that number drops to below 60 percent—but the brain continues to be made of 80 percent water. The human body as a whole is almost the same density of water, which allows us to float. …Science writer Loren Eiseley once described human beings as ‘a way that water has of going about, beyond the reach of rivers,’” (Nichols, 10).

Jesus had a significant encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well near Sychar. She came to the well at midday to find that Jesus has stopped there to rest from a long journey. He was alone, the disciples having gone into town for lunch provisions. He asks the woman for a drink. She gets defensive (and political) and argues with him about his desire for water. He replies, If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water,” (John 4:10). Misunderstanding his reference to “living water,” she argues again that he has no bucket to get water to give to her. He then tells her that he is speaking of a spring that will well up within her, a spring of living water that does not dry up. “Sir,” she replies, “give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty.” 

What might it be like to have an unending source of water, to never have to trudge from the village to the well? She likes the sound of this offer.

Practice: 

Read John 4:5-15. Pay attention to the woman’s words. She is concerned with two things in the end, her thirst and the repetitiveness of her daily round. Jesus, on the other hand, is concerned only with God’s gift of eternal life. Can you recall a time when this crossing of intentions between what you want and what God wants has happened in your life?

Given what you know about water, does Jesus’ offer of a gift of spiritual water have any more significance for you?

Reflect on the following passage from Isaiah 55. With what does the prophet compare water? How is this like Jesus’ promise?

Isaiah 55:10–11.
10          For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, 
and do not return there until they have watered the earth, 
making it bring forth and sprout, 
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 
11          so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; 
it shall not return to me empty, 
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, 
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 

“All rivers flow into the sea, and yet the sea is never full,” (Ecclesiastes 1:7). Spend some time in prayer recoclognizing that there is room in you for a never-ending flow of “living water.” Ask to be receptive to this gift.

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 1

Posted by on Mar 16, 2020 in News | Comments Off on “Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 1

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 1

—a Meditation by Naomi Wenger, Lent 3, 2020

This meditation is based on the Lenten Retreat given at The Hermitage on March 7, using the scriptures for the third Sunday in Lent for 2020. It will be posted over four days this week, Monday (3/16), Tuesday (3/17), Thursday, (3/19), and Friday (3/20). Each day includes a meditation and suggestions for practice. In this time when the whole world is focused on a virus, my hope is that you will be encouraged to keep thirsting for Christ.

Part 1

When I was a child, my family had a lot on a lake. At first, we camped there in a tent, then we had an old trailer and a home-made camper. Then, my brother’s tree house, tree palace, really, for size, was taken down from the tree and it traveled to the lake lot where it became another room. In the end, we built a house there for my parent’s retirement. It was always the lake that was the draw. The lake and the fire pit. These were the two forces of this place. We talked about going to the lake when we discussed long weekends and vacations.  

The lot was on the western shore of a large lake, 5 miles long and 2 miles wide. So, in the morning, when the sun was coming up, the dock received the first sun. With mist rising off the water and gentle waves lapping against the bank, I would sit on the warming dock, wrapped in a towel, waiting for the day to get warm enough to plunge into the water. The bottom of the lake here was sandy with a few toe-stubbing rocks. I could spend hours floating, swimming, rock hunting at the wave’s edge, and rowing our small aluminum boat along the shore. If someone would go with me, we would row a mile to the islands in the middle of the lake and explore them. My favorite times were sleeping all night in the hold of the sailboat we anchored in the shallow water. The gentle action of the waves, the sound of the loons, and the brightness of the stars were beauty enough to contend with the mosquitoes that whined in our ears and bit our faces.

In the early days, we drank water right out of the lake. As time went on, we had a well drilled and fitted with a hand pump. We were never thirsty. There was water, everywhere, to drink. 

In fact, I don’t remember being thirsty as a child. There was a small aluminum drinking cup on the bathroom sink and we all drank from it whenever we were thirsty.

When I got older and began hiking, I knew what thirst was. We could no longer drink the water from the streams along the paths. So, we carried water wherever we went. But, sometimes, we underestimated the amount of water we might want on a hike. Or, we thought there would be water available somewhere along the way and the spring or stream, when we found it, was brackish or dry. Then, the only thing to do was to keep walking until more water was found. We couldn’t camp until we found water. Only one time, have I ever camped without having enough water for supper and breakfast in my water bottle. 

We don’t realize how precious water is and how necessary, when it is so readily available in plastic bottles and at fountains in public places. In the last five years, we have become more aware of the preciousness and elusiveness of clean water, here in our Water Wonderland of Michigan. The poet, W. H. Auden once said, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”  Thirst is the gift given to us so that we are never without the water we require for life. Being thirsty is an apt metaphor for our longing for the Presence of Christ. 


Thirst

Exodus 17:1-7

The story from Scripture is about the children of Israel in the wilderness. They have just left Egypt, moving from campsite to campsite as God directed them. God has already provided clean water for them to drink at the springs of Elim and food in the wilderness in the form of manna. Now, God stops them at Rephidim and there is no water. Can you imagine a large group of people gathered in the wilderness being asked to make camp where there is no water? Understandably, they began to panic. 

But, Moses does not. But, he reacts to their request as if they are accusing him of being unfaithful to them. Remember, God has already provided both water and food for the people. So, their demand, “Give us water to drink,” can be seen as a further demand that God prove that he is, indeed, divine and as “their god,” cares for them as a god should. 

We must remember that this people has only just learned to trust their god. They have had to be convinced to leave Egypt and then only departed when the Pharaoh demanded that they leave so that the plagues will end. They are then chased by Pharaoh’s army, ostensibly so he can bring them back. They miraculously walk through the Red Sea and see that army washed up on the beaches the next morning. Then, the real hardship of their journey sinks in. None of them knows where they are going. They are not practiced nomads as their ancestors Abraham and Sarah were. They are not skilled in wandering. So, here they are at Rephidim with no water. 

Practice:

Read Exodus 17:1-7. Imagine you are with the Israelites on their journey. Feel with the people what it must have been like. Then imagine Moses’ frustration. For each of these people, put your feeling into your body. (For example, sigh heavily and audibly or raise your shoulders and clench your jaw. Make your eyes look like you feel.)

Now, re-read v. 6.  Where was God? What was God’s way of dealing with both the people and Moses? Imagine how you would have felt as Moses or the people. Let your body feel that way, too.

Spend some time in prayer reflecting on your own demands of God. Are there situations about which you are impatient for God to act? Do you sometimes demand before you look to see that God is already providing?

If you can, set a glass of water in front of you but don’t drink from it. Try to feel what it is like to be thirsty. Our bodies give us wonderful signals telling us that we need to drink. Jesus used this image of thirst in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” Matt. 5:6. I once lamented to a mentor that my spiritual life felt dry and empty. He responded: “That’s wonderful. Hold onto the hunger and thirst. The promise is that you will be filled.” I was taken aback at his words, but over my lifetime, I have come to regard them as wisdom for the journey. Only when I know my need, will my desire for God be satisfied.

The psalmist feels this way when he writes: 

1 As a deer longs for flowing streams, 
   so my soul longs for you, O God. 
 2 My soul thirsts for God, 
   for the living God. 
   When shall I come and behold 
   the face of God? 
   -Ps 42:1–2.

Notice your glass of water. Don’t drink. Just be thirsty. Pray with the poet: “I want more love, / Which is to say, / more God,” (Jon M. Sweeney & Mark S. Burrows, Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul).

Lent Prayers from The Hermitage – Week 2

Posted by on Mar 11, 2020 in News | Comments Off on Lent Prayers from The Hermitage – Week 2