Holy Time in “Hermit Land”

Dear friends,

Eagle Island HermitageTwo weeks into this winter hermit adventure, and I’ve already pretty much lost track of what day of the week this is, so at the moment I’m even more clueless than usual about when Ash Wednesday will arrive. Is it next week or the one following? All I know is that at some point in the foreseeable future it will be arriving and the liturgical mood of the church will shift accordingly. Those changes are pretty much irrelevant out here in hermit land. Through seasons of rejoicing and seasons of fasting I still chop wood and lug water (today, with the temperatures well below 0 on either fahrenheit or celsius scale, it’s more like lug wood and chop water.)

Eagle Island ViewBut oh, what a stark beauty she is today, with winds whistling down from the northwest, turning the bay a deep winter blue-green topped with seasmoke—and the snow diamonds sparkling everywhere from last night’s dusting! I’d happily sign up for several more lifetimes of this.

But I know that whenever it may be, Lent is just around the corner, and with that temporal reality in mind I’d like to call your attention to a couple of resources floating around out there for your Lenten study and perhaps Holy Week contemplative celebration.

My Contemplative Liturgies for Holy Week booklet is available for cheap ($15, I believe) from the Episcopal Housel of Prayer in Collegeville, Minnesota. These liturgies were created expressly for our pilot Holy Week silent immersion retreat at the House of Prayer two years ago, and they follow the contemplative format we’ve been fine-tuning around and about the Wisdom School network, designed to rely heavily on repetitive (i.e., easily memorizable) contemplative chants and lots of silence so that only the worship leaders need a book before them. They are intended to fill out the complement of Holy Week services, creating a liturgy of absolution and ablution for Tuesday night and an anointing ceremony for Wednesday evening, prominently featuring Mary Magdalene and the Song of Songs. The intention is to make available simple contemplative liturgy that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the deepening contemplative stillness and that also underscores the experience of the Paschal Mystery as a sacramental pathway of Conscious Love.

“Place me as a seal upon your heart, for love is as strong as death,” proclaims the Song of Songs, and that is our understanding of the Mystery of the Passions set forth in these simple liturgies. You’ll find them appropriate for a Lenten study group, or even for contemplative re-enactment. A real plus is that the music is included as well. At last you’ll see the “score” for some of the well-known Wisdom “top forty” (such as “Slowly Blooms the Rose Within” and “All Shall Be Well”) and a few lovely newcomers as well.

You can order your copy at  www.ehouseofprayer.org; or email houseprayer@csbsju.edu; or phone 320-363-3293.

Incidentally, as of this writing (whatever day this may be!), there are still a few places available for our 2012 Holy Week silent retreat at the House of Prayer, and I’d love to welcome a few old and new friends from this Contemplative Society blogspot.

The other resource to call to you attention—much more discreetly hidden amongst the maze of downloadable e-files on the Church Publishing website (that’s the Episcopal Church in the USA). The website is www.churchpublishing.org; you can use the search field to enter “Bourgeault” and navigate your way to something called “A Solemn Liturgy of the Passion for Good Friday with a Biblical Passion Libretto.” (It’s also retrievable under the simpler title ST. HELENA LITURGY GOOD FRIDAY; in either case the ISBN number is 978-0-89869-561-8.) There you’ll find the libretto that I originally put together in 2003 for newly commissioned oratorio The Passion by Aspen composer Ray Vincent Adams. Sister Cintra Pemberton of the Order of St. Helena has taken this text and re-orchestrated it as a simple congregational liturgy suitable for performance on Good Friday en lieu of the stormy and polarized passion texts so often read on this solemn day. I think it’s around $25 for a downloadable file; again, I’d encourage you to look it up either for study in your contemplative group or Wisdom circle, or with an eye toward actual liturgical enactment on Good Friday. The text is culled from all four gospels, though it leans most heavily on the so-called Farewell Discourses in the Gospel of John. And its theme is once again, the Holy Week Mystery understood as a Sacrament of Conscious Love.

Winter on Eagle IslandBy the time Holy Week rolls around, my winter solitude will have long since ended, and I’ll be mostly back in the saddle with the usual round of retreats, Wisdom Schools, and this next year a lot of lectures). I will probably will be up to speed again on what day it is. It’s comforting to imagine myself transitioning between these two worlds through the beautiful gate of our upcoming Holy Week retreat. I can already see myself tucked in at the House of Prayer, living the Holy Week passage through its deeply contemplative interiority.

Snow fall on Eagle IslandFor today, it’s lug wood and chop water, and as I shut down the computer (my 20 minutes of daily air time are now over) and pull on my boots, my heart extends in gratitude and love to you all. This is, indeed, holy time…though not quite like any of the usual definitions of holiness. One poem I’ve always loved (Nancy Devine, “Do What You’re Doing”) puts it this way:

There’s nowhere else to be

when you no longer desire

to be where you’re not


So you must be free

when you no longer desire


You think

that sounds like

a Puritanical freedom


Oh no—no, no, no—

I don’t mean

don’t do what you want to do


I mean do what you want to do so well

that you don’t want

to do whatever you’re not doing.


Something like that. All blessings to you!



5 replies
  1. Carole Pentony
    Carole Pentony says:

    Cynthia, I look forward to the Holy Week retreat as well. And even more so with your comments on it and suggested resources to consider. Thanks so much for this orientation.

    God is inviting me to let go of a lot during this Lenten time. so I’m preparing in that way as well . I’d been wanting to be on retreat with you, and when Eileen sent the notice about the openings, that did it – I knew it was time.

    Finally, on an outer environmental note, I am refreshed by your lyrical description of Maine, given that here in Houston we are in our third day of a high of 80 and a front page headline, “Mosquito hordes spring on area early.” Definitely a challenge, per Mary Mrozowski’s prayer, “I let go my desire to change the situation.”

    Blessings to you and to this community,

    Carole Pentony

  2. Helen Osborn
    Helen Osborn says:

    Hello Cynthia,
    While you are freezing in Canada, my husband Chas and I are enjoying a warm Summer in Tasmania, Australia, but much more than the Summer, we are enjoying your audio downloads we have scrounged around the web and found. Thanks so much to the Norwich Contemplation Society for providing us with enough for a while. I’ve also purchased every book you have available for Kindle and a few hard copies too.

    I’m a nurse who works nights in a psychiatric ward and I listen to your talks while I am knitting between routine care duties. Chas works at the local airport and he listens to them while driving the tractor and the mower. We also both are practising Centering Prayer twice a day.

    I am trying to step outside my comfort zone and approach the local Anglican Church which has a congregation of a handful of elderly people and does not look very active. The Minister comes from the neighboring town Burnie so he might be interested in your work, I’m hoping so.

    Would really love to see your CD’s on this site in mp3 format so I can purchase and download them directly. I have emailed the site administration about this.

    Anyway I just want to thank you so much for your wonderful Spirit, and teachings. May they flourish in this world that needs them so desperately.

    I love the Hafiz saying on your site, he is one of my favourites though he has had to give way to you lately!


    Helen Osborn

    • Blog Administrator
      Blog Administrator says:

      Hello Helen,

      Actually, Cynthia’s snowy little hermitage is in the state of Maine, in the northeastern part of the US. In contrast, over here on the other side of the continent in our office in Victoria BC Canada it’s rain and more rain this time of year…

      Thank you for your comments and request for Cynthia’s recordings on mp3. Currently we have her most popular teaching “An Introduction to the Practice of Centering Prayer” available for purchase as an mp3 download (under our Resources menu). We are hoping to offer other sets in this format in the future. There are also a number of Cynthia’s recorded interviews and presentations accessible on our home page.

      Blessings, Eileen (Blog Administrator)

  3. Jim Greenlaw
    Jim Greenlaw says:

    Hi Cynthia, Waving to you from North Haven! I have so many fond memmories of going out to Eagle Island growing up. We would go over to it a few times a summer for a picnic, and explore the island. What a wonderful, peaceful place. I love your blog post. I have always wanted to take a year off and go live alone in a cabin either in the woods or by the bay. Someday!!! Thank you so much for your writing and teachings. God Bless!!

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