Learning to become silent – by June Mears Driedger

seats in prayer chapel

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.

Holding On, Letting Go – by June Mears Driedger

The Hermitage Lent retreat theme was “Holding On, Letting Go” which invites us to ask: “What am I holding on to? What do I need to let go?”  As I mulled over these questions, I unconsciously switched the questions to, “What I do I need to let go of in order to hold on to God?” I turned to the Psalms to explore my switched question as they remind me of the Israelite story of holding on and letting go and returning to God’s trustworthiness when they—and me—hold on to God.

Lent 1: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

This is a wisdom psalm addressed to the one who enters the sanctuary—the place of refuge and shelter.  The psalmist uses many images to highlight that God’s protection from harm and danger is reliable and truthful, including the word “shadow” (v. 1) to suggest an image of God protecting its young. 

However, vss. 14-16 reminds me that God’s protection does not mean I am promised complete immunity from danger or evil or even tragedy. Instead, I am promised God’s presence when I am in the midst of trouble as God promises to not abandon me and I will survive.  By vs. 15, I am encouraged to call to God in times of trouble for calling upon God is to let release my stubborn self-reliance and admit that I need God’s protection as I hold on to God’s comforting presence through challenging times.

Lent 2: Psalm 27

This is a psalm of trust in the first six verses which turns into a prayer for help against false accusation in vss. 7-14.

In the first 6 verses, the psalmist confesses who God is—”my light, my salvation, my stronghold.” In the following verses the psalmist admits he is a man under duress who pleads with God to be his light and salvation.

The verses 7-13 become prayers for delivery from distress and oppression because someone has brought false charges against the psalmist. Nevertheless, the psalmist proclaims his confidence that God will ultimately deliver the psalmist from the false accusations. The psalmist releases his need to justify himself to his slanderers and holds instead onto God as his deliverer.

Lent 3:  Psalm 63:1-8

The psalmist expresses my deepest longings for God’s presence in my life and my desire to hold on to God in vss. 1-2: “…my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you … I behold your power and glory.”

The entire passage is a moving description of holding on to God. The psalmist describes how to hold on to God and the result of my clinging to God.  While the NRSV begins verse 8 “My soul clings to you …” the King James Version reads, “Following hard after God,” which is a beautiful expression of holding onto God.

Lent 4: Psalm 32

A celebration of forgiveness is described by the psalmist: “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered,” vs. 1. This is a psalm of joy but with a little confession and exhortation for the listeners.

In vss. 3-5, the psalmist confesses how he held tightly onto sine and fear until he acknowledged the sin to God. In vss. 6-7, the psalmist exhorts others to pray to God when they too are in distress. It is as if the psalmist tells the listeners to let go of their distress over their sins and hold on to God’s forgiveness. He continues his instruction in vss. 8-9, pointing toward wisdom as God’s desire for his life and all of our lives. By the end of the psalm, he proclaims that the forgiven, trusting soul finds only steadfast love!

Lent 5: Psalm 126

This psalm reminds me to not only to let go of fears and sin, but in good times I am invited to laugh and delight in God. I am encouraged to remember that in challenging times—even in calamities and natural disasters—God is good and is present to me. I am to release my despair and hold on to the memories of God’s past goodness.

What do you need to let go of in order to hold onto God?

Going Silent

Guest Room 1

(I wrote this reflection awhile ago before I joined the Hermitage Community. I share it to provide a glimpse into how silent retreats might be experienced.)

The road sign into The Hermitage property in Three Rivers, Michigan (USA), says, “Begin to drive slowly.”  It is a safety request but it is also a sign of what is to come while I stay at the contemplative prayer retreat facility. My desire is to slow down, to stop pushing, to cease striving, to go silent.  My desire is to pray, to listen, to quiet my inner noise.

Often, when I first arrive at The Hermitage, I go to the library and check out several books that I foolishly think I am going to read during my retreat. It is a frenetic reading, quickly trying to grab information to enable me to find the inner peace and quiet I need and want. Rather than simply getting quiet, I skim the books and continue to feel restless and fidgety.

After a few hours of my arrival, I begin to relax. It is like I have an inner coil that has been overly wound and the coil begins to ease the tension. I allow my shoulders to drop and become conscious of my breathing, inhaling deeper then slowly exhaling.

The silence of The Hermitage begins to seep into me as I am only distracted by the wind and the birds. At last, I grow quiet and enter into a deep silence.

Prayer undergirds life at The Hermitage—silent prayers, meal prayers, communal prayers.  The mission statement for The Hermitage is, “Creating an environment of attentiveness to God” and this is my primary purpose as well. I want to be attentive to God. I want to see God in the beauty of the landscape and to see God’s loving face in the faces of the staff.

My favorite activity while on retreat is the daily morning prayers with the staff and other guests. Although we come from different locales and denominations, we join together to pray, confess, affirm, intercede, and bless. The Holy Spirit moves in us and amongst us as pray.

Near the conclusion of the morning prayer, we bless one another with these words: “____, you are the bearer of God’s infinite life.”  Each person around the circle states their name and we repeat: “David, you are the bearer of God’s infinite life.”
Some people look at one another as we bless them while other people look away as if this blessing is too intimate, too wonderful to receive from strangers.

At my turn, I state my name and as everyone else says, “June, …” I say with them, “I, am the bearer of God’s infinite life.” I claim this blessing as a fact even if I am not feeling particularly holy or godly.

As I become more attentive to God, I begin to write prayers in my journal. Or, I begin to pray what is known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me.” Or, if I am trying to discern a decision, I might write about the decision within a spirit of prayer, asking God to reveal to me which way to go. I resist demanding a quick answer to my prayers as I demand when I am anxious and frantic. Instead, I can be with God, waiting quietly, like sitting alongside loved ones, waiting for God to speak.

In deep silence, I become more attentive to God. When I am in deep prayer, I can let God be God and me be me.  When I am deep in prayer, I am my truest self with God.

The sign on the road out of The Hermitage says, “Return Slowly.” Again, it is a safety message as one can’t easily see down the road to turn on to. But it is also a message to create silence whenever possible in order to live intentionally in deep prayer, as a contemplative in the world longs to do.

June Mears Driedger