News flash: We are in the midst of a global pandemic.
News flash: We are in the midst of a global pandemic.
Okay, maybe not so much of a news flash for any of us now. But we are also aware that we are in the midst of a new normal. Governments have cancelled schools, sports, and entertainment events and venues, as well as dining in at restaurants along with any non-essential businesses. Life as “normal” feels cancelled- and for good reason.
To be honest, as an introvert, this hasn’t shaken me too deeply except that just twenty minutes down the road from me, my elderly parents whose health is in decline, are on “lockdown.” I completely understand and approve this measure AND what was already a distressing situation become more so - my sense of connection with them is cut off. Because of their own memory and physical challenges, they don’t understand why I stand at the window waving and shouting like I’m playing a game of verbal charades.
A few places in the USA have now issued “shelter in place” edicts so that we can help “flatten the curve” of the spread of the virus. This action, of course, is less because it will stop the Covid-19 virus, and more to help spread out the contagion over time so as not to overwhelm the already overtaxed medical community. The whole world (mostly) is trying to stand in solidarity to take care of one another. More “stay at home” or “shelter in place” declarations are on the way.
As Franciscans, we of course are trying to be people of peace in the midst of the storm.
As Franciscans, we know that one of the reasons St. Francis of Assisi could be such an amazing instrument of God’s peace in his disease-filled and war-torn world was because he spent up to half the year in what was called, “Hermitage.” In short, to be on Hermitage at the time meant that a small community of brothers pulled away from the fray and gathered together for rest, worship, and to experience quieter rhythms and resetting of their souls by connecting more deeply to God and by loving and serving one another. In some ways, you could say they actually self-quarantined, for the sake of seeking God’s kingdom and reconnecting more deeply in relationship to God, self and one another.
How might we creatively co-opt the concept of Hermitage during the next weeks/months
Hermitage at Home
Below are some suggestions of how you might adapt the concept of Hermitage in your Home during these times of Sheltering in Place. There are three themes from Franciscan Hermitage that we can borrow to help us reframe this difficult time.
A Loving and Connected Community
What they did:
· Some of them are designated as “Marthas” and some are “Marys” (or Mothers and Sons). Playing off the sisters of Lazarus in Luke 10 - Martha served and Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to listen deeply to his teachings.
· The Marthas/Mothers hold and protect the space. They serve the Marys/Sons so the latter can rest and lean into God and pray. The Marthas help do some of the chores of daily life so that the Marys can lean in more deeply in order to “pay attention, come to God and listen, so that their souls might live” (Isaiah 55.3).
· The Marys had a designated “separate” undisturbed space for prayer and sleep and the Marthas protected that space - no one from the outside could come in.
· The Marthas and the Marys switch off - so both get to serve the others and be served so that they can lean into resting/praying/sitting.
What you might do:
· You don’t have to do this 24/7 - but pick some times in the day where it might be conducive for some of you to be quiet/praying/grounding themselves, while the others are “on duty.”
· If you’re able, pick some “quiet spaces” in your home where Marys can go to rest or pray or art or do yoga. Keep this space free of digital gadgets to allay the temptation to mindlessly scroll through the news or social media.
· Have “Martha” protect some space by disabling your wifi for 30 minutes each day so that Mary can find a non-virtual activity to reground.
· This is, of course, tricky with children or single-parent family homes etc. Depending upon the ages of folks in your household, see if you can come up with a schedule where some of you are Marthas - serving and others are being served. Even if you pick one half hour in your day to Serve or Sit…see if this helps you all come together to connect more deeply to God in calming and peace-filled ways. You are trying to find ways to be “for” and “with” each other.
⁃ E.g. At mealtimes, designate some of your people to be the ones to serve the meal, clear the tables, clean up the kitchen.
· If you live alone - pick “times” of the day to be a Martha (do chores/work/cleaning etc) and other times to be a Mary (read/pray/do yoga or whatever else grounds you.) You might even consider calling/texting a friend to be praying for you during your Mary times so that you might know you have a virtual “Martha.” And vice versa - you might offer to be a virtual “Martha” to someone else.
Rhythms of staying grounded/connected to God and each other
What they did:
· If you read the original “rule” of Hermitage, there are designated times where they’d stop to pray the Divine Hours that were common in that day. (Compline, Prime, Terse, Vespers etc.)
· There were times of silence and times of connection to share what was going on in their own hearts/souls.
What you might do:
· Come up with some rhythms of stopping to pray together.
- At noon - stop for one minute of silence to hold your neighbors to God’s care.
- At the dinner table - share what you’re grateful for as a way of praying.
- Before bedtime, find a prayer or reading to do together. Play a peaceful piece of music and then ask everyone afterwards to be quiet for the rest of the night.
- In the morning read a Psalm or Gospel story or inspirational reading. Spend some time in silent reflection.
· If you’re homeschooling, try to develop a rhythmic schedule of focus and play. There are lots of things your kids will learn about life that are not in books or online during this season. ./
· Also borrow from the Benedictine daily rhythms: work, pray, study, play. How might each element be included into your daily rhythms?
Strive for the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness
· The only Bible verse used in Francis’ rule for hermitage is Matthew 6.33. It talks about seeking first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.
· Interestingly, the connotation of the Greek word for righteousness is not so much about doing the right (vs. wrong) things. Rather, it is about being in right relationship - to God, yourself, others and creation. It is an invitation to be merciful and loving to one another.
· For your reference, we’ve included the entire context of Matthew 6.33 from “The Message” here - verse 6.33 is boldly italicized below:
25-26 “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
27-29 “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.
30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.
Maybe read this passage aloud in your home daily. See what stands out to you. Do look out the window at the birds who are now being heard singing again in parts of the world (Wuhan) that have already taken great steps to help walk though this global crisis. And remember, God delights in you more deeply than the birds of the air and flowers of the field who live care-less in the care of God. May you find pockets of freedom and a sense of being “unfettered” even while Hermitaging in your Home.
We stand with you and for you:
If it works for you to adapt any of the parts of this to your own situation at home, please do. I know for me that trying to see this as a time of “hermitage” in my own household versus a “sheltering in place” is helpful to my psyche. My husband is not going to participate with me in the same way, but with my own mindset of “I need some Mary time now” I can ask him to take care of the pets, or turn off the music or prep dinner (and I’ll clean) so I can pull away for a bit and sink into what my soul needs.
We’d love to hear if/how you’re adapting this idea within your own context - feel free to post on our FB page what you’re doing to “Hermitage at Home” during these difficult days.
Know that we at the Franciscan Spiritual Center are with you and for you. You are not alone. If you need to reach out, please do so, we are in this together and you are not far from our hearts and prayers.
Be creative in your own situation. Do what you can, not what you cannot. Even if you just take one thing away from Francis’ rule for Hermitage and it is helpful in your home, do it. Keep it simple and see this time as an invitation to connect more deeply with God, one another, your neighbors (safely) and creation.