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

Portion of labyrinth in meadow

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.

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.

Listening for God – by Kevin Driedger

Lately, when June and I arrive at the Hermitage each morning as we walk from our car to the chapel we often find ourselves stopping along the way. We stop, and we listen. The chorus of morning sounds: of bird calls and critter noises is growing in variety and volume as the days grow warmer. We love to take a moment to bathe in these beautiful sounds before heading inside for prayer.

Once inside, as we sit quietly, beginning morning prayer the leader rings the singing bowl to begin the service. The prayer leader then ends the great silence of the night and utters the first words spoken each morning “Oh God, come to my assistance.” We continue the service with words spoken, sung, and chanted. In most services, after the reading of the gospel, we sit in silence with the instructions to “Listen for God’s word to us today.”

Listening is one of the most important activities at the Hermitage. The deep silence that characterizes the Hermitage is there to help us all be attentive and listen. We listen for God’s voice which can come in a myriad of ways, but we don’t notice it, if we don’t listen for it. We may hear God in the call of the crow. We may hear God in the words spoken affirming us as the bearer of God’s infinite life. We may hear God in the affirmations and questions of our spiritual director. We may hear God in the stirrings of our hearts, or the aching of our souls. We may hear God as we deeply engage with a scripture text and hear Jesus ask us “What do you need from me?”

The Rule of St. Benedict begins with the word “Listen” and the admonition to “incline the ear of your heart” to the teacher. Inclining the ear of one’s heart to God is the first, and final task for the person on retreat, as it is for everyone else.

(It is one of my favorite quirks of the English language that Silent and Listen are anagrams – the same letters rearranged.)

The Hospitality of Silence – by Kevin Driedger

Comfortable chair at window with winter scene

Silence is a core practice, a core value, a core gift of The Hermitage. Silence welcomes us no matter our rank or status, no matter our theological or political preferences. Silence enfolds and embraces us no matter our desires or fears. But silence does not force itself upon us. Silence is there to be received, or not. It is ready to engage us in deep attentiveness, or just passing exploration. 

The experience of silence draws many people to our retreat center, although not without trepidation for some. Our desire is that the silence of this place will be received as a welcoming space that receives each guest 

When we introduce new retreatants to the Hermitage there are two things I try to mention: “We offer each other the gift of silence” and “We practice a gentle silence.” 

We recognize that each retreatant is here to do their own work and be attentive to their relationship with God. We honor this by not intruding on their space with noise or conversation.

When I greet guests who seem particularly anxious about the silence I offer the statement about the gentle silence. The silence at the Hermitage is not strident and absolute; it is not to be a source of fear. If you have a question, please ask it. If you have an insight needing to be shared, please share it. 

One of our characteristic practices at is eating meals in silence. For people new to silence this particular experience of silence in community causes some people anxiety. Silence alone in your room is one thing, silence at a meal table, with a group of people is shockingly counter-cultural. And yet, once that initial unsettling settles down, the silence of communal meals can also be received as an expression of deep hospitality. In it, we all receive the other guests as they are without social expectations or demands.

Silence welcomes us into a relationship with God free from noisy distractions. And in this silence we are open to turn the ear of our heart to listen to our welcoming God.

What Sustains the Hermitage

oil lam and tree tapestry

My relationship with The Hermitage through the last nearly 20 years has been as volunteer, retreatant, board member, and now resident community/staff. In each of these four roles I have noticed different things that sustain The Hermitage.

In the fall of 1999 my wife and I lived at The Hermitage for three months as volunteers when Gene and Mary Herr were here as directors. The Hermitage had a history of young people, and others volunteering for extended times. I saw the crucial role these volunteers played in sustaining this place.

As a retreatant I was most aware of the hard work and attention to detail that the Herrs, and then David and Naomi Wenger brought to The Hermitage. The Hermitage was sustained though their ability and perseverance. I was like most guests who experience my time here as effortless, but know that this only happens through the dedicated sustaining work of the staff.

As I grew into my role on the board my attention toward sustaining The Hermitage was often viewed through the lens of finances. The work of running a retreat center costs money and sustaining The Hermitage required the influx of money through payment for retreats, spiritual direction, and charitable contributions. So many have given so much to support the ministry of The Hermitage.

And now my wife and I are part of the resident community/staff and I have been delighted to encounter a new vision for what sustains The Hermitage – it is all our guests, past, present, and future, and their prayers. Without the presence of these guests and their prayers, this space is just a lovely physical environment. I have been struck by how reliant this place is on individuals and groups spending time here attending to their relationships with God. Their presence and prayers sustain this place in ways I never would have imagined.

I am deeply grateful for all that sustains The Hermitage, the volunteers, staff, financial support, the prayerful presence of our guests, and ultimately the generous and abundant love of our God.

Kevin Driedger