Saturday, December 15, 2007


(Now that you have your finger in the Bible marking
where Haggai is, read chapter 2, verses 1-9)

Several people wanted to know about this pousitinia
thing mentioned in yesterday's devotional. Well, first
I have to admit to a misspelling - it should have been
'poustinia.' Sorry about that!

A poustinia is a prayer room/hut, a place where one
can go to be truly isolated, truly alone, truly silent
in the presence of God. Think of what we would
call a hermitage - one of those beehives the monks
used in the British Isles, the place Thomas Merton
lived in at the Abbey of Gethsemane, a remote hut
on a Pacific atoll, or on the side of a mountain.

Poustinia is a common, ordinary word. In fact, in
its original Russian, it means 'desert'. The Sahara
Desert thus becomes Saharskaya Poustinia' - a
geographical location. But in the sense it was being
used in the devotional, it refers to a spiritual place,
a place set apart for silence, solitude, reading, and
prayer, so that one may draw closer to God.

I had read of poustinias for years, and when I went
on by sabbath renewal time some years ago, I actually
got to spend time in one. When I visited the residential
setting (Hetton Hall) of the Northumbria Community
in England, I discovered a marvelous poustinia on the
grounds, complete with a thatched roof! You go in,
shut the door, light a candle if light is needed, and
just sit, meditate, pray, rest in silence, and gradually,
softly, lovingly you become enveloped in the sacred
shawl of God. And like the abbey on Iona, the
hermitage of Thomas Merton, the Church of the
Reconciliation at Taize, Sainte Chappelle in Paris,
I had been enjoying a marvelous pilgrimage to
poustinias throughout the world.

So, when I got home I was determined that
I would recreate this place, this experience. I was
going to convert the storage shed in my backyard
to a poustinia. I was going to talk the church into
converting one of its meeting rooms into a prayer room
Of course, the shed still contains the snow shovels,
the old bikes, the left-overs of yard work, etc. that
it did when I came back home. We still continue
to sit in chairs around tables in that room at the
church. I continue to long for a return to all those
places where I felt so close to God.

That's when I need to hear from someone like
Haggai. Someone who gently taps me on the
shoulder and whispers, 'stop fretting. God's
Spirit is living deep within you. Through Jesus,
God planted the seed of the Spirit to create
that longing to be with God, to rest in silence,
to be still and know. Stop looking, stop
fretting, just stop and rest.'

And then I know the poustinia I really need
is there in my heart, where God has been
waiting, is waiting even now, and will be
waiting when I am finished typing these words,
simply waiting for me to stop and enter into
my poustinia.

As we walk the road to Bethlehem in this
Advent season, let's keep our eyes open for
those places of rest, those poustinias, God
has placed along the way, and in our hearts.

Prayer: Now, I will stop fretting. Now, I
will shut down the computer, turn off the
vacuum, set down the paper, and wander
into my heart where you are waiting to be
at rest with me, Hermitage of my soul. Amen.

(c) 2007 Thom M. Shuman

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