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Playing Unconcernedly Among the Pawns – Naomi Wenger

Posted by on Oct 22, 2019 in News | Comments Off on Playing Unconcernedly Among the Pawns – Naomi Wenger

Playing Unconcernedly Among the Pawns – Naomi Wenger

Sometimes we wonder where God is. It feels as if God is absent or hiding. This happens both when we are distressed and when we are content. We feel bereft of a Presence we once knew. So, we may want to bargain with God. We ask God to “play our game” with us. We want God to show up, to find us a parking spot along a busy street, to take away every wound in our hearts. And sometimes, just sometimes, we experience God in those ways exactly when we need reassurance. But more often, we don’t. We either wonder where God is or we forget about God altogether because we have to tend our own problems if we feel no Divine support. During these Divine “absences” we wonder about God’s goodwill. We require sensed Presence as the only sign of God’s benevolence. However, that reasoning is flawed because it takes our experience of God as its starting place. 

The psalmist begins in another place altogether. In Psalm 139, the singer begins with, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” God is in the fixed position, “home base.” It is the singer who moves away from God. 

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;  it is so high that I cannot attain it.” (Ps. 139:2-6) 

God is on the path of the Psalmist, knowing every move, every word, every thought. So, it is not God who is hiding, but the Psalmist who “flees from [God’s] presence” (v. 7), and “settles at the farthest limits of the sea” (v. 9). It is not God but the Psalmist who tries to hide in the dark even though there is no darkness in God (vv. 11-12). At last, the psalmist gives in to God, recognizing that God has even “formed my inward parts” (v. 13). So the psalmist understands that God has always been “there” even when the Presence is not felt and even when one is on the run from that inexorable Presence. 

R. S. Thomas, the Welsh poet and pastor, imagines this experience as a game of chess. He begins by inviting God to play, “Your move I would have / said, but he was not / playing.” He goes on to explain that his “game” is a bit loose on rules, “my game a dilemma / that was without horns.” Then the narrator is ashamed of himself for thinking that God would actually play his game because God’s “mind shines / on the black and the white / squares.” The poem concludes by admitting that the game is focused only on the capture of the Great Prize, “the one / queen, as though to hold life / to ransom.” While God, “if he plays, plays / unconcernedly among the pawns.” [“Play” by R. S. Thomas, from Collected Poems: 1945-1990, (Phoenix Books, 1993)] 

We want God to play by our rules or even just by some set of rules that make sense to us. But God does not play or does not play that way. If God plays, says Thomas, God is playing like a child “unconcernedly among the pawns” and certainly not according to some rule that we have devised. Thomas captures here the reality that God does not come at our bidding or play by our rules. Do we need solace? God does not give it like magic. Do we need a parking space? God does not provide one instantly. So, what does God do for us? for others? for all of Creation? 

God is always at work in the world, we need eyes perceptive enough and spirit deep enough to see it. And it is our daily practice of waiting on God that allows us that depth of vision. It is not assurance of God that brings us that depth, but the willingness to be plumbed to our depths for and by the presence of God as the psalmist was. What is deepest in you? The unfathomable Presence. So, sit awhile in silence. Wait on God who is shining on all the squares of your game, who eschews that big goal of the “capture of the one queen” but who is playing “unconcernedly among the pawns” of your life and the lives of those around you. We find God best in the ordinary experiences of life, not in the magic of a summer day without rain or the sudden appearance of that elusive parking spot, but in washing the dishes, finishing the report we worked so hard to craft, in serving others well, or in simply doing what we are given to do and being the person God has crafted to do that work

It is our presence that God wants, not our plans, our games, or our fixes for the world. God’s play among the pawns is more effective than our bid for the queen. The important move in the game of life is not that we are discovering or defining God, but that we are being found already in God’s gaze. We cannot “flee from God’s presence.” Our lives are fuller for recognizing that the elusive nature of God is not absence but only a more mysterious form of Presence. 

Naomi R. Wenger, 2019

Stop and Notice – by Kevin Driedger

Posted by on Sep 12, 2019 in News | Comments Off on Stop and Notice – by Kevin Driedger

Stop and Notice – by Kevin Driedger

One of the invitations the Hermitage extends for guest and staff alike is the invitation to stop and notice. Sometimes if feels like there is so much to notice here that it is hard to know where to focus your attention. Like many others, I’ve found the camera has become a wonderful tool that encourages me to be attentive, to slow down, to notice. And this extends not only to taking the picture, but then also going back to it, again and again, and pausing and noticing new things with each view. 

This practice of contemplative photography, and increasingly for me, contemplative video making is a way to both open ourselves to receive what is there in front of us, but also a way to participate in creation. It is not only capturing pictures, but receiving the moment and reflecting on what the scene might have to teach you. 

I encourage people to consider spending some time at the Hermitage with their camera (which is often simply grabbing your phone) and head out with an expectant heart and open eyes and see what God might have to show you. 

Disorientation and Welcome – by Kevin Driedger

Posted by on Jul 20, 2019 in News | Comments Off on Disorientation and Welcome – by Kevin Driedger

Disorientation and Welcome – by Kevin Driedger

I like to plan. I appreciate having an idea of what is going to happen and I presume others appreciate these things too. I want to put people at ease so that they will know what is going on and what to expect. I believe it is a welcoming and hospitable thing to do.

And yet, I also know that my preference to plan and to anticipate what will happen can muffle my ears and blinder my eyes to what is actually going on around me. Expecting one thing to happen means I am not willing to engage when some other thing happens.

Feeling disoriented is, well, disorienting and it is not comfortable. It leaves me vulnerable to the unknown. I experience this also on behalf of the guests who come to visit The Hermitage. For some retreatants this is their first time here and it may be their first encounter with deep silence. A key part of my job of welcoming is to orient them to how things happen here and what to expect – to remove their own disorientation and dis-ease (whether it is real or projected.)

I remember a pilgrimage my wife and I took to Ireland. Travelling is hard for me, because there are so many unfamiliar things and all my planning can’t prepare me for them all. At the first gathering of our pilgrimage group our leader named the disorientation that many (all) of us were feeling, and the importance of accepting and living in that disorientation. That disorientation is necessary if there is going to be any kind of reorientation.

And so, I need to learn to allow some space for disorientation for our guests and for myself. The next time a guest arrives late for Saturday morning centering prayer after we’ve finished the introduction, (although I feel uncomfortable with the individual’s possible disorientation), I will pray that this be a time of reorientation – both for the guest and me. I will pray that we both are able to simply receive God’s reorienting welcome.

The answer to every prayer is the same – by Naomi Wenger

Posted by on Jul 8, 2019 in News | Comments Off on The answer to every prayer is the same – by Naomi Wenger

The answer to every prayer is the same – by Naomi Wenger

This post is part of a series commenting on the ten Practices of the Hermitage Way Keeper. This article is Part 2 of a series on Prayer. As a community, our first practice is prayer.

“Practice 1: Those who choose to keep the Way commit to engage in a daily prayer practice. This practice will include silence, meditation on scripture, intercession and affirmation. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer liturgies from The Hermitage or other sources may be used.

The answer to every prayer is the same

It may come as somewhat of a surprise to us, but the answer to prayer is always the same. At least that is what Jesus teaches the disciples about prayer. Let’s look at Luke 11:9-13.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 

Here, we note that the answer to every prayer is the same: the Holy Spirit. No matter what is asked for, the resultant gift is God’s Spirit. If we come expecting a new job, we may get one–or not. But because we ask, we will receive the Guide and Comforter to help us. We will certainly be changed if the target of our prayer is God and not our need. God already knows what we need and is delighted to give us what we need if we seek for God. (cf. Mt. 6:25ff)

Now this may seem a little unfair. It seems that we are instructed to be persistent in prayer, asking for what we desire and the result is that we will always get the same thing. What about our desire? Don’t we ever get what we want because of our prayer? Jesus taught his disciples that “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7) The conditions placed on that wishing are huge. “If you abide in me.” “If my words abide in you.” These are the conditions that govern our will so that whatever we wish will be done. J. Neville Ward in his book, The Use of Praying, puts it this way, “To pray in the name of Christ means to share his way of looking at life. And this must gradually change the desires we want to lift up to God, and ultimately our whole life of desire. We cannot continue our ‘learning Christ’ within the worship and teaching of the church and not expect inner change to begin. The place where that change first makes itself felt is our life of wanting.” So, we do get what we want, but what we want is first completely transformed into what God is already wanting.

Another question we might raise is “when will God answer my prayer? It seems I have prayed for the same thing for years. Is God listening?” And to that question the answer is an unqualified, “Yes, are you?” Change is the fruit of prayer. If you have prayed for the same thing in the same way for years, something is wrong because you are not changing. I am not saying we should not be persistent in prayer. The gospels make it clear that persistence is expected in prayer. In Luke (11:1-13), we note that Jesus assumes this approach with his disciples. He tells the disciples to make petitions or supplications often and directly.

Practitioners of supplication have noted that prayer is entering into God’s master plan God’s way. Does prayer make any difference? Yes, when you become available to be used as part of the Kingdom, the strategy can change. More hands make changes in the work roster. There is no scientific causal link between events in the universe and one’s prayer. However, there is a qualitative difference in the way energy is allocated. When your intention is for the good of another, it cannot also be for that person’s downfall. Your agreeing with the cosmic power of God for what is at stake in the world cannot be used in any other way. There is a kind of cumulative calculus that is not countable. This does not produce visible results like magic tricks—if you pray a certain way, there will be a particular, and immediate, result. Rather, you love others by holding them in the loving gaze of a loving God. By paying attention, with God, you increase the attention paid.

Paul, in Ephesians 6:18-20, urges that prayer be constant. He assumes that the Ephesians’ desires are for what God wants. He lays his assumption bare in the first sentence, “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.” There is no simple formula to accomplish praying in the spirit. As in, “in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, AMEN.” To pray in the Spirit is to be in the Spirit, to plunge into a relationship that swallows one up and to be there, praying as the Spirit would pray.

When we pray each day at the Hermitage, we remember that to be used as pray-ers is simply to pray. And in that prayer we listen to how God might be calling us to actually become part of someone’s “answer.” To do what I can do, is to be part of prayer. To offer up what I cannot do, is to be part of prayer. In fact, all we can ever do is be part of prayer. Mr. Ward again helps us understand, “Truly Christian prayer is part of the eternal prayer and sacrifice of the great High Priest. Our prayer is Christian prayer as we enter into the self-offering of Christ, as we want to be part of God’s purpose and channels through which [God’s] love can act.” This is the central task of prayer, to ask constantly, “Am I part of God’s purpose and a channel through which God’s love can act?”

“I do desire to understand a little of your Truth which my heart already believes and loves. I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, but I do believe so that I may understand; and what is more, I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand.”

-Anselm (1033-1109)

Supplication: “God is Enough” – by Naomi Wenger

Posted by on Jun 19, 2019 in News | Comments Off on Supplication: “God is Enough” – by Naomi Wenger

Supplication: “God is Enough” – by Naomi Wenger

The Hermitage Way is a group of folks who commit to keep ten practices for a year at a time. This article is one of a series of articles on these practices. 

Practice 1: Those who choose to keep the Way commit to engage in a daily prayer practice. This practice will include silence, meditation on scripture, intercession and affirmation. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer liturgies from The Hermitage or other sources may be used. 

Supplication: “God is Enough”

There are many words used for prayer: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, intercession, pleading, etc. Some of our prayer, perhaps the greater part, should be simply acknowledging God. These kinds of prayers are adoration and thanksgiving; wonder-filled expressions of our awareness of God at work in the world. But, we often think of prayer as asking. That is understandable since the original meaning of the root of the word “prayer” (precarius is Latin meaning to obtain by entreaty or earnest asking) is to beg, to ask. So, it is appropriate that we pray for others or ourselves. We ask God to act in some way to benefit those we love and serve. This is called intercession or supplication. 

Supplication is a prayer of deep trust and awareness. The stories of Elijah in I Kings help us when we think on this deep kind of prayer. Elijah the prophet of the Lord, lives during a particularly troubled time in Israel’s history. King Ahab is a bad king, rebelling against God’s rule in his own life and leading the people astray. He is married to an equally bad queen, Jezebel, who opposes the worship of God and promotes the worship of the local god, Baal. God sends a warning to his people in the form of a drought, the ensuing famine and, probably most galling to Jezebel, a prophet who is listening to God.

During the famine, God sends Elijah to live with a widow in Zarephath, and to eat at her table. God supplies her with a never-ending oil jug and a bottomless flour jar so that they will not starve. However, during the famine, the widow’s son falls ill and dies. Elijah, never one to mince words with God says, “O lord my God have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” A rather direct question and accusation! Nevertheless, Elijah presents the facts to God, concluding his prayer with, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again” (17:20-21) thereby acknowledging that only God can change the circum-stance of death. This is a humility born of experience. And God restores the boy’s life.

A few weeks later, Elijah is sent back to Ahab with the news that it would rain again after three years of drought. Ahab agrees to a challenge between God and the prophets of the Baal. The prophets fail but God is revealed in a show of firepower. Elijah’s simple prayer of supplication is of interest, here, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” (18:36-37)

The motivation behind Elijah’s prayer, “so that this people may know that you are God,” gives us the clue to Elijah’s target. He was not praying that the people would follow him, that they would give him a raise, or that they would make his life easier. No, he wanted them to acknowledge God; be aware of God’s powerful presence, worship God. God and God alone was Elijah’s target. It is important to not overlook the obvious point that suppliants trust that God will provide for their desires.

But what, you may ask, if God had not restored the boy’s life or burned up the sacrifice and the altar? This is a very important question because it brings us to the significant realization that the outcomes or the “answers” to the prayer are not the measure of God’s action. In our Elijah stories, God is acting through Elijah, through the widow, through fire, through weather formation, and Elijah is listening. Elijah is aware of God’s action. He recognizes God’s power.  He looks to God to do what God is already doing and will continue to do. He is part of the plan because he says, “yes” to whatever God does.

The ancient Chinese poet, Chuang Tzu, wrote:

  When an archer is shooting for nothing
  He has all his skill
  If he shoots for a brass buckle
  He is already nervous.
  If he shoots for a prize of gold
  He goes blind
  Or he sees two targets – 
  He is out of his mind!
  His skill has not changed. But the prize
  Divides him. He cares.
  He thinks more of winning 
  Than of shooting – 
  And the need to win
  Drains him of power.

Our aim in prayer is always God. Not knowing about God or getting something from God but God, God’s self. We may think our target is what we want, but in all true prayer, what we aim for is God. What we want is the motivation for shooting out a prayer, but focusing only on what we want can skew our aim at God dreadfully. To adapt the words of the poet, the need to receive drains our prayer of power. But to be open and even vulnerable to receive what is being provided, we need to fall for God again and again. If our prayer brings us to God, that is sufficient. God is enough.

“Fascination is the oldest form of healing” – by Naomi Wenger

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in News | Comments Off on “Fascination is the oldest form of healing” – by Naomi Wenger

“Fascination is the oldest form of healing” – by Naomi Wenger

              A few years ago, I was hiking in the Columbia River Gorge area of Oregon/Washington. After a two-day hike, I drove to many of the waterfalls along the gorge. I was tired from hiking with my pack on, my feet were probably sore, so at the last of at least a dozen roadside stops to see a waterfall, I stayed well back from the falls, choosing to look on from half-way there. Down the trail, where the falls were soaking onlookers, I noticed a flash of red. It kept darting into my field of vision and retreating. I focused my camera on the spot and saw the pure delight of a young boy in a red jacket daring the falling water to get him wet. He charged and challenged, roaring at the thundering fall, and then ran away with a sylph-like quickness to the shelter of a protruding rock. He got very wet. His joy at provoking the huge waterfall lifted my spirits. I can’t say it healed my aching feet, but I revel in the memory of his obvious delight.

              The old tales tell of a couple who left their homeland to find out where God would take them – “to the land that I will show you.” A shepherd stopped along a rocky path to watch a bush that was aflame but not consumed by the fire. “I Am” spoke to him out of that bush—a sound he may have missed if he was not fascinated by what he saw. A beloved woman watched as her friend was assassinated, then stood by as other friends lovingly laid his body in a tomb and rolled a stone in front of the entrance. She waited, wondering what would become of her loved one; what would become of her? On the third day, she was the first observer of that empty tomb at the resurrection of Jesus. Fascination.

              Carl Jung author of the title statement of this article, continued that thought elsewhere with, “the world is the oldest form of fascination.” When have you last been fascinated by the world? Daily rituals and sightings bring joy to our hearts. How many beautiful sunsets have we photographed only to forget exactly when they occurred? We “ooh” and “aah” over a delicious cake, asking for the recipe. We watch hawks soar, grin at young rabbits as they flop instead of hop, gawk at tiny birds who open gigantic mouths to be fed, and coax darting hummingbirds to our back yard feeders.  When we travel, the beauty in others’ faces or the colorful jumbles of market stalls invite our attention. It is no surprise that the things of the earth delight us. We are made for this planet home and we should find it interesting.

              But we can become so inured to its charms that we begin to think that the insects, the weather, the unwanted plants (eg. weeds), the animals that invade “our” space are “other” and despicable, and then disposable. When this happens, we have failed the exam. Our work is to live well in the home we have, at peace with all of the other creatures we live among. We are not commanded to be destroyers but to “tend and keep” the earth. The ready antidote to this failed attitude is fascination.

              I used to be extremely bothered when the spring invasion of ants began in my house. First at the back door, then in the dog dish and finally on the countertop. It was a regular routine and I squished and squashed ants until they outnumbered the minutes in the day I had to spare for them. I considered poisoning them by placing deadly granules around the foundation of the house. Then, I got curious. These ants were not all from the same colony—they were different sizes and colors. Some were uninterested in human food. Others were attracted to the fat in the dog food or the oily fork left on the counter. Cheese crumbs were giant treasures to the fat-loving ants. Other ants would apparently do anything for sugar. Some of the ants entered next to the back door. Some came in through the garage. Others have mysterious entry points. They only “talked” to the ants in their own families, completely ignoring ants that did not belong to their tribe. I did a little research and found out that most insects, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and animals eat ants. Ants are a food staple of my environment. They are also one of the necessary decomposers in the soil, helping to keep the soil fertile and garbage-free. Ants are great sources of protein and a food delicacy in parts of the world. With a little bit of fascination, I found that I was captive to a mistaken idea that every ant is a “bad” bug. In fact, ants are generally “good” and only destructive when there is already something damaging a structure, like excess moisture.

              I have found ways of protecting the dog’s food (put it in a shallow pan of water), discouraging the fat ants (never leave unwashed dishes on the counter) and the honey jar is now permanently on the counter away from the outside wall of the house. Ants come and go, preening their sleek bodies with their antennae, greeting one another with an examining embrace, and trekking far distances across the floor, looking for food. These helpful creatures are no longer my enemies but sources of entertainment. Sometimes, I still get frustrated by the sheer number of ants that can enter my house in a day. Other times, I can be still enough to let them delight me.

              Delight, attentiveness, fascination – these are doorways to healing rather than harming the world.

That There Would Be Harmony – by David Wenger

Posted by on May 4, 2019 in News | Comments Off on That There Would Be Harmony – by David Wenger

That There Would Be Harmony – by David Wenger

Years ago we were blessed by the presence of a lovely Swiss woman who came to the Hermitage as a working retreatant several times a year. She had a beautiful, warm smile and exuded a reverence and love of life that was infectious. We welcomed her back with enthusiasm each time she passed this way.

During one of her sojourns with us we had an unusually full Saturday. I was feeling overwhelmed and conflicted about all that I had said yes to for this particular day. St. Joseph’s Barn was full with weekend retreatants, Gathering Room in Hanby Center was being used by a day group and there was a group of volunteers coming to work in the woods. Was it possible to “create an environment of attentiveness to God” with all of this going on?

After Morning Prayer our friend came to me and asked for her marching orders for the day. I told her about the various groups that were coming and what each required. I said I was feeling anxious about all that the day held for everyone. She paused, thinking deeply about what was needed, and then said, “That there would be harmony.” As soon as she spoke those words I was overcome with a sense of calm. Yes, that there would be harmony. Above all, this was the work of our day, holding the intention of harmony for each person and purpose that we were expecting.

That there would be harmony has become my prayer in similar times of unsettledness, whether that be internal or external. And I am always comforted by the beautiful spirit of God within our friend who first uttered the prayer into being.

Learning to become silent – by June Mears Driedger

Posted by on Apr 22, 2019 in News | Comments Off on Learning to become silent – by June Mears Driedger

Learning to become silent – by June Mears Driedger

Centering prayer is a way of quieting down one’s mind—one’s interior. On Saturday mornings at the Hermitage we practice Centering prayer.

One Saturday, Kevin lead morning prayer, offering us these words: centering prayer is a simple prayer of focusing our attention toward God. But it is also a difficult prayer as our minds are not accustomed to being quiet or silent.  When our thoughts wander (as mine often does) we return to our original intention of focusing our minds on God. We can do this by focusing on our breath or having a sacred word in which we return to when our thoughts wander.

My sacred word is “Love” because Love is the essence of God.

My brain often sounds like squawking blue-jays, demanding attention, squawking louder and louder until I turn my attention on whatever is clamoring for my attention. Sometimes the demand is very quotidian such as, don’t forget milk at the grocery store.

I return to the word Love, mentally repeating it until my thoughts settle down and clear.

On this Saturday, I am more challenged than usual to move into an interior silence. I slept just a few hours the previous night as I was brooding over some harsh words that had been said during a meeting. While their words weren’t directly pointed toward me I was part of the situation that upset them. My spirit was crushed and I was hurt and angry.

The scenes from the meeting kept resurfacing with all my feelings I attached to the words. I kept returning to Love. I was struggling to focus on God.

            Breathe in—breathe out. Love

            Breathe in—breathe out. Love

            Breathe in—breathe out. Love

As I calmed down and returned to my intention of focusing on God these words came: invite this person to tea.

With those words—which I believe came from Love—my inner turmoil dissipated. My brooding lifted and I was able to experience inner silence.

Later I did contact the individual to schedule a time for tea. The tension between us eased and I was grateful. Mind you, this does not happen every time I prayer but that Saturday morning it happened.I am learning, from my experience and listening to others—that silence can open us. When we become silent, if we can move through our resistance to silence, we can hear God whisper. We gain clarity and discernment arrives. We hear God.

Rhythm Wisdom – by Kevin Driedger

Posted by on Apr 11, 2019 in News | 1 comment

Rhythm Wisdom – by Kevin Driedger

And again, the grass turns green.
And again, the daffodils bloom.
And again, the seeds are sown.

And again, the sun rises.
And again, the sun sets.
And again, the darkness comes.

And again, we gather for prayer.
And again, we gather to eat.
And again, we enter solitude.

And again, we hear a whisper from God.
And again, we taste God’s love made edible.
And again, we see the beauty of God.

Life at the Hermitage, as all life everywhere, is filled with rhythms: from the quickened rhythms of the heartbeats of each beloved guest to the long, slow, cosmic rhythms of expansion and contraction.

A key part of the work of the Hermitage, both for staff and for guests, is to recognize these rhythms, feel them, learn from them, and enter into them. These rhythms have much to teach us.

The wisdom literature of the Hebrew scripture extols the importance of being attentive to these rhythms and to recognize the wisdom of God held within. Some rhythms are simple steady beats that are easily recognized, while others are vastly more complex and may take many generations to understand.

These wisdom texts were central in shaping early monastic life and play a central role in the Rule of St. Benedict which guides many monastic communities even today. These traditions established ways of living for people, whether in community or in solitude, that are filled with rhythms of prayer and work, the rhythms of the church year, and the rhythms of life.

Let us all be attentive to those rhythms that shape and nurture our lives. Rhythms of work, of play, of retreat, of breath, and of prayer. There is wisdom in these rhythms, if we just open ourselves to hear God within.

Freeing Hospitality – by Naomi Wenger

Posted by on Mar 29, 2019 in News | Comments Off on Freeing Hospitality – by Naomi Wenger

Freeing Hospitality – by Naomi Wenger

 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” Galatians 5:6

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul chastises the church for so easily falling away from the teaching they received that, in Christ, all have been made free of keeping the Jewish religious law. For, the Galatian gentiles have apparently embraced the practice of circumcision to prove that they “belong” to this new Jewish sect (that has not yet been named “Christianity”). Circumcision was the sign of inclusion for law-abiding Jews. Paul is eager to point out that there is a new way of living that does not require adherence to the law nor any external sign of inclusion. He calls it living “in the Spirit.” He criticizes the Galatians for starting with the Spirit (of Christ) and ending with the (Jewish) law, a backward movement. He reminds them that what “counts is faith working through love.” Neither faith nor love is concretely measurable. This leaves all judgment in God’s hands and frees followers of Christ to be open-hearted and open-handed toward all people, no matter their ethnic origin, their religious practice, or their gender. In Christ, he says, all are free.

Keeping Jewish law, particularly the religious practice of circumcision, is no longer much of an issue for Christians in the West. What issue or issues divide us? How would we write this admonition today so it would be an equivalent warning to us to avoid the same kind of misplaced energy the Galatians were giving to “keeping the law?” 

Each one of us will probably have to examine our consciences to find the “law” we are “keeping” that creates for us a container of inclusion or a wall of exclusion. For it is this sin, of excluding (or preferentially including) another on the basis of some “law,” that is at the heart of the message to the Galatians. This issue also resonates with our current experience in North America. There are folks excluded because of their immigrant status, gender, relative power status, socio-economic state, religion, and even their “fit” into what is expected as “normal.” Of course, we all want others to be “like us” because that is more immediately comfortable than the stew of differences we find in this heavily populated globe where we rub shoulders with the “other” more than we might like.

But, is it possible that we exclude the very folks we should be welcoming because they don’t live life as we do? What if they practice a different religion? Does that make them excludable? As I read the Bible, I see that the better practice is to welcome and include rather than to exclude. Jesus admonishes in the gospels not to fear what others can do to us (Matthew 10:26-33 and Luke 12:2-7). But we are to major in “love for others” (John 15:9-17).  We are more likely to be guilty of pushing someone out of God’s welcome than we would be “tainted” by their presence or practice when we welcome them in love. In another place, Jesus teaches,“Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).

When fear runs amok among us, we shout down demons and decry other practices as antithetical to our faith. But it really has nothing to do with faith. Faith is not visible nor measurable; it is not what we do, but how we are. Rather, as faith is worked out in loving others, it is recognized as fruitful. We can be haters, fearing others’ practices, or we can be lovers, welcoming differences and growing stronger in loving as God loves in the process.  Protectionism breeds exclusion and expands the field of outsiders. Welcome invites inclusion and opens new avenues or new ways of apprehending the ultimately unknowable Mystery of God.

What I’m talking about is a radical hospitality that refuses self-protection or even the protection of some valued tradition, in favor of extending an open welcome. This is a hospitality that does not have rules but that allows each person to find the rule for their own life, trusting that God continues to work in the world and affirming that ultimately God is in charge of how the world is constituted.

Henri Nowuen, in his masterful meditation on transformation, Reaching Out, writes about this kind of hospitality.

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend … Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. . . . The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adore the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.” — Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out, 51

I wonder if we have enough courage to weave this kind of hospitality into our daily lives? It is quite risky. It might even cost us friendships, the respect of family members, or our jobs to live this way. It will certainly be misunderstood or misconstrued. Jesus was maligned for healing, caring for the outcast, and loving everyone without exclusion. As we move toward Good Friday, we remember that this kind of hospitality could also have ultimate consequences. May we all aspire to give our lives to, and even for, loving as God loves, extending unlimited and freeing hospitality.

Naomi Wenger, March 2019