Prayers in the Circle of Community

This has been a week of illness and loss among our community of elders:

Fr. Bill McNichols, the iconographer of Taos, had a massive heart attack on Friday, April 27. He’s on total life support in Albuquerque. Bill is the artist behind the beautiful icons that many of us have. (This news came from John Dear through Shelley and Jim Douglass.)

Walter Wink (right, with June) broadly considered one of the most important social and political theologians of the 20th century, is in hospice care and is likely to pass within the next few days. Walter’s series of books on the “powers” — Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers — unpacks the spiritual significance of political and societal institutions (the biblical “principalities and powers”) and their role in systemic injustice. (Read Sojourners 2010 interview.) (This news came from June Keener Wink through Bill Wylie Kellermann.)

Fr. Bill Shannon, founder of the International Thomas Merton Society, died on Sunday.  Bill was an adamant reformer in the tradition of Vatican II and a professor of theology to several generations of radical Catholics. You can read Bill’s obituary here. “It’s not only fair, but right, to describe him as a prophet,” said Christine Bochen, professor of religious studies at Nazareth College. “A prophet sees clearly what Scripture is calling us to. He took very, very much to heart to see beyond the concerns of institutionalism and formalism, to get at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian—and that is to embrace the Gospel and live the Gospel.” (This news came from Michael Boucher of Word and World.)

This week the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Community in West Virginia is grieving the loss of two of its early visionaries, founders, and members: Ellen Peachey and Verle Headings.

Verle Headings (left, with Jannelle Hill and Dr. Carolyn Broome), died early Friday morning, April 27 in his home at Rolling Ridge after a three month struggle with illness. His wife Vivian was with him. Verle said more than once that he planned to “die on this mountain,” and so he has. Verle taught genetics at Howard University for many years and was a leader in the Mennonite community and friend to many at Sojourners. (This news came from Bob Sabbath and the Rolling Ridge Community.)

Ellen Shenk Peachey died on Thursday, April 26, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Ellen is the great-aunt of Sojourners’ Larisa Friesen Hall and a friend of many at Sojourners. Ellen spent years living in Europe and Japan doing post-war relief work of reconstruction and peace building through the auspices of the Mennonite Central Committee. She lived in Washington, D.C. for 25 years as a member of Hyattsville Mennonite Church and, with her husband Paul, were the first permanent residents of the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Center in West Virginia where they lived for 14 years. Of their years at Rolling Ridge, Ellen said, “Our 15 years of living here at Pinestone have been rewarding. Guidelines that emerged in our monthly meetings during the early decade—simplicity, use of on-site materials, low profile, solar heating, adaptability—took shape in this modest cottage.” (This news came from Larisa Friesen Hall, Bob Sabath, and the Rolling Ridge Community.)

“Pray for the dead. Fight like hell for the living.” –Mary Harris Jones

The Hidden World of Hermits

Thanks to Bob Sabath for introducing me to Raven’s Bread Ministry. Karen and Paul Fredette have lived an eremetical contemplative life in the Appalachian mountains for years. They also offer Raven’s Bread newsletter that allows hermits to share their experiences, questions, and reflections with one another.

I like their description below of how they live where they live. I was especially drawn to the image of Petra, the boulder. As we think about Christ as our rock and setting the homestead of the Christian community on the firm foundation of the apostles, let these images deepen your imagination:

We treasure the peaceful quiet of our home (Still Wood), set on a secluded mountain slope in the Spring Creek area of Madison County, NC. In our stewardship of Still Wood, we are accompanied by Neill and Cynda, our border collies and Merlin, our magical white cat. Our daily routine includes time for contemplative prayer and reflective reading.

In the warmer months, we make use of our outdoor chapel (Beth El Shaddai), a shaded gazebo where we are serenaded by dozens of feathered choristers, accompanied by the murmur of a small waterfall, and delighted by melodious wind chimes. We often meditate on Petra, an immense moss-covered boulder estimated to be among the most ancient rock on the surface of the planet. On her rugged surface, we feel we are seated on the knees of our Mother Earth, contemplating forests which shaded the Cherokee who inhabited these mountains for countless centuries before a white person ever beheld their lush beauty. Touching stone which has endured the changes of millenia reminds us of how brief our lifetime is; how precious are the days we have, and what a gift it is to spend them in service to solitary watchers and pray-ers around the world.