Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Words of Grace from a Hermit

I've read about hermits. It was sometime in seminary, probably in Early and Medieval Christianity when we were learning about the Early Church Fathers and mystic saints who fled to the desert to be with God. I must have read enough to pass the academic exams and move onto the next course. But I don't remember anything specific about a hermit other than they pray a lot in tiny, cell-like dwellings.

It was not until last December that I learned more about hermits. This time not from a textbook or classroom lecture but from a handshake and conversation in a monastery bookstore.

Timing is everything, and our timing to pay the bill at Christ in the Desert and purchase final monastery products led us to the store at the same time Father John, the local hermit, was inside. I'm not sure how the conversation started but I'll never forget the lessons learned.

"Tell me, Father John," how is one called to be a hermit?

Father John, a man close to my age wearing regular jeans and a black smock started to respond, sharing how he is a Franciscan monk who was living in an urban center where he regularly fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and ate with prostitutes. He was being the hands and feet of Jesus, an integral part of the body that reaches out and loves like Christ, when Jesus came with a different message.

"Father John, I want you to go to this place, and if you stay connected to me then I promise you that you can serve these people just the same." Father John then continued to share how Jesus led him to the desert of New Mexico and showed him how he could still be with the prostitute who needed a different life and the homeless man who needed clothes. It's just that instead of being in the person's midst, Father John would be connected - deeply connected - through prayer.

"I pray six hours a day and then do physical work around the monastery in the afternoon," Father John said when I asked him what a hermit does.

Father John serves those most in need through prayer - through interceding on their behalf - through bringing the needs of the world to God in prayer.

Father John prays.

He prays six hours every day. Six. Hours.


As a pastor, I'm regularly overcome with feelings of guilt. These feelings often come when I realize how long it's been since I have visited all of our STARS (Seniors with Transportation and Accessibility Restrictions). The feelings come when I have a note on my calendar reminding me to call someone and failing to do so. I feel guilty regularly for not showing up as often as I could - or should - or as often as some people think I should.

But what if I prayed every time I started to feel guilty? What if I sought to daily bring before God each person on my pastoral care list or all of our unhoused neighbors who I see for a few minutes on Sunday morning while others open the doors at 5:30 am twice a week to welcome them inside for a shower? What would it look like for me to lay aside a fraction of Father John's time, trusting that God can keep me just as connected to those who need to experience food, healing, transformation, housing, community - through prayer - through my interceding on their behalf?

Paul invites the Thessalonians to rejoice always and pray without ceasing. I've got the rejoicing down. I'm a rather happy, grateful person who is regularly filled with joy. But praying....well....

God, thank you for the words of grace from Father John. Quiet my spirit. Clear my calendar. Help me to be more deeply connected to the people you have called me to serve by staying more deeply connected to you. Amen.