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“If you don’t come away for awhile,

You will come apart after awhile.”

Dallas Willard

One of my spiritual formation practices is to take a 24 hour silent retreat once a month.  After moving from the Philippines to Western Michigan in 2001, the place the Lord drew me to exercise this practice was The Hermitage in Three Rivers, Michigan.  I have been coming to this sacred space for 22 years as a retreatant, I served on the Board for seven years, and my wife and I now reside in the home at the front of The Hermitage and volunteer in a variety of ways.

In their book, “Solo: Creating Space With God”, authors Stephen W. Smith and Peter M. Ivey write, “It has been said that the secret to the spiritual life is not doing more, but doing less.  In doing less, in slowing down and resting, we create space to reorient our lives towards God and to recognize how our striving has only left us empty.  In doing less, we can find the ‘more’ of life that we have been missing all along.  We are brought back into communion with God and with our own souls.”  The Hermitage is such a “less is more” space where I and countless other men and women have encountered God in deep and transformational ways and have cared for our own souls, bodies and spirits.  My practices while retreating at The Hermitage include long “detective of divinity” walks on the trails of the 60+ acres of woods and meadows, practicing the presence of God through sharpening my moment by moment attentiveness to him, meditation on God’s Word, reading and journaling, morning prayer in the chapel, etc.  Without reservation, I can say that I have encountered God in delightfully unexpected ways during every one of my many retreats at The Hermitage and that this sacred space has been instrumental in my ongoing spiritual formation.  

I know of many CRC members, leaders and pastors that use The Hermitage for personal retreats and staff/group retreats, however, it remains a hidden jewel to most CRC folks in Michigan.  I have asked just a few CRC pastors to briefly share their experiences of silent retreats at The Hermitage, hoping that many others will take advantage of the blessings of a Hermitage retreat

Rev. Brandon Haan - Ivanrest CRC, Grand Rapids

When I became a senior pastor three years ago, I knew that I would need to develop a closer, more dependent relationship with God.  I probably should have always been doing that, but now that I was a senior pastor, I really knew it.  And so I started practicing the spiritual disciplines more robustly.  For me, it’s been things like prayer, reading/studying scripture, sabbath, silence, solitude, fasting and simplicity.  One way I’ve been able to grow in my practice of those disciplines (especially my practice of silence and solitude) is through regular retreats at The Hermitage.  About an hour and fifteen minutes south of Grand Rapids in Three Rivers, MI, The Hermitage has provided the perfect setting for me to slow down, silence my heart, still my soul, and experience the deep work of God.  Sometimes I bring things to work on.  Sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I read.  Sometimes I walk and pray.  There’s not always a set formula, but I let the Spirit lead me.  Each time, though, I come away refreshed; each time I come away rejuvenated; and each time I come away more certain than ever that I need to keep my hand on the plow in this thing called ministry.  In fact, I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that my retreats at The Hermitage have become more or less critical to my continued work as a pastor.  The silence and stillness there does something to my soul; though, Faith’s phenomenal cooking doesn’t hurt either…”

Rev. Joy Bonnema - Madison Church, North Campus, Grand Rapids

Pastoring can easily be a 24-7 job: midnight texts, Monday funerals, hospital visits, emails that pop up as if they’re part of an endless whack-a-mole game, conflict resolution, meandering meetings, leadership development, neighborhood outreach, relationships that take time to to foster and Sundays that keep on coming!  But here’s something that’s not often talked about: each one of those good responsibilities can also fuel our addictions, serving up twisted narratives that feed our good longings of significance, belonging and security, but in ways that don’t truly satisfy.  Here’s a sampling:

“They need me”

“I can’t take time off because I’ll fall too far behind”

“Nobody else can do this” (which really means nobody else can do this like I can!).

When I first began going to the Hermitage 25 years ago, I discovered that not only was it a place in which I was embraced with stillness, quiet, beauty, amazing food, respite & sleep, it became a practice that I embraced to starve my addictions of performance and affirmation.  At the Hermitage, I was received not as a pastor, or wife, or Mom, but as a beloved child of God.  Making the trek from Grand Rapids down there no longer seemed like a luxury or something to squeeze in “if I had time”, it became one of the rhythms I found necessary to remind me of who I truly am: beloved and held and called by God in all seasons of life.

Rev. Darrin Compagner - Shawnee Park CRC, Grand Rapids

Following Jesus’ example and instruction, it’s good to come apart from time to time to a solitary place and pray.  The forests and fields, the inviting spaces, and the gracious hospitality of The Hermitage all contribute to creating an environment of rest, reflection and renewal.  From my first visit, coming to the Hermitage was an experience like a key sliding into a lock.  It fit, and opened up possibilities.

For me, The Hermitage has been both a place and a community in which to practice and receive a richer communion with Christ.  Regular solo retreats (2-3 times per year) over the last ten years have provided space and time to reflect back on seasons of life and ministry, anticipate what is to come, and pray through it all.  Some long prayerful walks, quiet spaces to journal and read, morning prayers with others in the chapel, meals eaten slowly in the quiet, and meeting with a spiritual director have all contributed to these times of rest and renewal. 

I find I look forward to these retreats for weeks ahead, and reflect back on them for weeks or months after.  At other times, I’ve also been able to invite small groups for daylong prayer retreats, and these have been rich and fruitful times of sharing The Hermitage’s abundance with others.  The Lord has been very kind in providing this place and these people to welcome us into prayerful communion with him, and I am deeply grateful for it.

Rev. Paula Seals - Kavod Fellowship, Grand Rapids

My first solo visit to The Hermitage Spiritual Center was quite memorable.  It was during winter.  The frosty ice-covered trees along the road leading to The Hermitage seemed to bow to welcome me.  The whiteness of the snow all around added to the magnificent beauty of God’s creation on display before my eyes.  I can’t really articulate how impactful this was for me, a person of color, who grew up in a culture that knew and spoke mainly of God with us in our trials.  What The Hermitage began to offer was a different experience.  God was revealing himself to me as the Creator in this amazing winter wonderland that I was too busy to notice before.  I could also hear his voice so clearly in the silence that so aptly describes the atmosphere at The Hermitage.

There are many other wonderful things at The Hermitage - a chapel, a prayer house, delicious meals prepared by the hosts, comfortable rooms for rest.  For me, it’s also God’s sanctuary where I can dive deeper into the spiritual disciplines of listening, contemplative prayer, and meditation that people of color also need in their journey to spiritual growth and healing.  We need places to lament and to rest.  The Hermitage provides this and more!


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