20 December 2014

Hermitage Part 1: Why make hermitage?

My recent hermitage was such a special time that when I came out of solitude I spent the next few days reflecting, processing and integrating. Five blog posts developed that I want to share with you over the course of the next five days.

A number of soul companions committed to pray for me during this time; others of you heard about my impending hermitage and joined that circle of prayer. Truly I thank you for holding such sacred space with me for the healing of our world. As you know, our devotion to practices of prayer through solitude, silence and stillness are never for ourselves alone; they are for the liberation and transformation of our global family (Romans 8:18-30).

I first heard of the concept of hermitage many years ago when I visited the Abbey of Gethsemane where Thomas Merton lived. Hearing of his experiences in extended solitude and silence mesmerized me. As time went on I learned of others who dared to go deep into sacred silence through hermitage—people like St. Francis of Assisi.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been called to take regular time away from family, friends and the normal routine of my active life to devote myself to soul-searching, soul-healing, and prayer.

It was during an intensive retreat at Fr. Thomas’ Keating’s monastery in Snowmass, Colorado almost two years ago that I first felt drawn to make retreat at the Lama Foundation near Taos, New Mexico. During the intensive retreats that Contemplative Outreach hosts, retreatants gather for Grand Silence for 8-10 days. We commit to 30-minute centering prayer sits throughout the day, accumulating to about three or four hours of prayer and meditation each day.

It was at Snowmass that year, in the depths of silence, that I met Mona Haydar. We really didn’t speak until the last night, but the words we shared then didn’t really matter for we had already connected through contemplative prayer at our soul’s depth—the ground of being where we are one with God and one another.

Mona was making retreat with a group of her companions from Lama.

In the 80s, Fr. Thomas Keating had visited Lama and given a retreat there. During the 60s and 70s he had witnessed countless young people who were awakening to their spirituality, many of whom were not finding solace in the Christian tradition. Longing for practices that would nourish and nurture their awakening, many had turned to Eastern traditions. Lama was a mecca for such people. And Fr. Thomas gave a retreat to share the riches of the Christian contemplative tradition. From that inspired experience Contemplative Outreach was soon formed and the rest is history.

Mona and her companions wanted to make pilgrimage of sorts from Lama to Snowmass to pray with the community that had once visited them.

Having been mentored by Fr. Thomas’ teaching and touched by the Lama delegation at Snowmass, I wanted to one day visit the place that had made such an impact on several of the people I had come to know. Needing a place to make my winter private retreat, this autumn I finally inquired at Lama and learned of the hermitage they had available. Two desires came together—a place for my winter retreat and a visit to Lama—and since I would be in Albuquerque for board meetings with Richard Rohr and his Center for Action and Contemplation, everything aligned. Now was the time to visit Lama and make hermitage.

And so the journey began. I rose early on Saturday at 5:00am to bring closure to my work so I could make the 3-4 hour trek to the Sangre de Christo Mountains (“Blood of Christ”).

Lama recommended “Twin Hearts” shuttle to drive me from Albuquerque through Taos, to the mountains. When the time arrived, a middle-aged native man came to the lobby of my hotel and took my suitcase to the big, white, unmarked, beat-up, 12-passenger Dodge van. The vehicle was full of young Spanish-speaking people and a retired white man from Texas who used to work for NASA and now owns a beautiful home in the northern New Mexico mountains. To my delight the only seat available was the front seat. Perfect. I could have a good view of the drive, albeit for the big crack in the windshield.

The driver, Robert, was also the owner of the shuttle business. Twenty-five years ago when he was trying to think of a name for his business, he looked up and saw the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Mother. Ta-da. Twin Hearts. Not long after that a woman received a vision from Jesus saying that nothing would destroy his business, though he would go through many trials that would threaten this livelihood. He said the good Lord promised him that his business would succeed. And sure enough, it’s still going. And good thing, because his is the only shuttle company that will go to the hard-to-reach destination, Lama.

We were on our way, making stops in Santa Fe, Taos and Lama and then the van would go on to Angel Fire.

So I settled in and got comfortable with my humble surroundings (what some might have perceived as “sketchy”), anticipating the journey ahead because the weather was predicting a snowstorm with up to 12” in the mountains.

About half way we stopped at one of the reservations at the Ohkay gas station and convenient store to switch drivers. I was grateful for a pit stop and even happier to find fresh, warm tamales available for sale.

Michael, a retired, rotund Taos Pueblo man was our new driver. And what a delight he was. His hands were black from working on one of the vans that had broken down earlier that day. And he must have not had time for lunch because he finished off a can of mixed nuts in no time. Robert and Michael work hard, long hours shuttling people back and forth from Albuquerque to the northern New Mexico mountain range.

We carried on through the breath-taking Rio Grande gorge, climbing higher and higher into the mountain peaks.

As we approached Lama, Michael pointed to the far-off buildings in the crest of the mountains and with pride, said, “There it is. That’s where you’re going.” We were running about an hour behind schedule and by the time we reached Lama it was nearing sunset. The road into the 100+acres that makes up the Lama Foundation was narrow, unpaved, thick clay (“lama”). Michael informed me that if it snowed as predicted, someone would have to drive me down to the main road on the return because the van wouldn’t be able to make the drive up.

When we reached the top, Bird was there to welcome me.