NEW BLAINE -- As society gets more anxious, divisive and turbulent with each passing day, Hesychia House of Prayer has been a beacon of stability and peace.
Something is awe-inspiring pulling into the 40-year-old hermitage amid the backdrop of the distant Ozark Mountains, the cattle grazing and the rolling 300 acres that the Bendictine sisters credit to God.
"Deep down, the fact that this property, this space has been dedicated explicitly, explicitly, for God since 1879, it's permeated with prayer over a century," said Sister Louise Sharum, OSB, founding director of Hesychia, of the property owned by the Benedictines.
While the purpose of spiritual rest has stayed consistent at Hesychia, in Logan County, one of the most significant changes in its history happened July 1. Sisters Lisa Atkins, RSM, and Anita DeSalvo, RSM, were chosen to be the director and assistant director, respectively, the first time the Benedictines have partnered with the Religious Sisters of Mercy to lead the house of prayer. Hesychia remains a ministry of St. Scholastica.
"I realized too that Lisa had 'it,' whatever 'it' is, you feel it; you know what fits," Sister Louise, 90, said. "And Anita, the same thing. I knew there was that fit. And our charisms basically are very much compatible."
For Sister Louise, it started with a feeling. It came after staying at a hermitage in Canada to experience the concept of "poustina," staying in a sparsely furnished space to fast and pray for 24 hours. She was looking to understand her dissertation for her doctorate better.
"I knew deep down my call was not to be a college professor," Sister Louise said after that visit. "I had no idea what it meant, but I knew something deep inside it was different than I thought."
Little by little, she said she felt called to open a hermitage.
With the blessing of then-Bishop Andrew McDonald, Sister Louise and two other sisters began the Hesychia House of Prayer in 1981. "Hesychia" is translated in Greek as "resting in God."
The house of prayer is open to anyone desiring to connect with God without distractions. This can mean staying for a night or weekend to even months or years.
"Spiritual companioning," also known as spiritual direction, is available with the sisters. Some guests choose to interact with the three sisters, while others prefer a visit of solitude. Sister Louise said it's about letting people be who they are before God, letting God reveal his love.
"We can read that; we can hear everybody tell us that from the time we were knee-high to a grasshopper. But until God tells us that in God's own way, we don't really know it," Sister Louise said. "But once you know it, and it's gradual, you know it's not the St. Paul experience, but you know deep down. In a way, that to me is the main thing that happens when people come here -- it's restful. But the real thing that's going on underneath is they're receiving God's love."
The four hermitages are named St. Mark, Sacro Speco (a long-term hermitage), Mother Meinrada (the first prioress of St. Scholastica) and St. Hildegard. Each includes a full kitchen, microwave, utensils and coffee maker, heating and air-conditioning, full bathroom and a twin bed. WiFi hotspots are available.
Visitors are responsible for their food and meal preparation. Daily Mass is offered at St. Scholastica Church, a short walk or drive from Hesychia. There are also three hiking trails.
A donation of $50 is suggested each night for the first week of stay and $35 a night after. For a one-day visit, a $20 donation is requested. Sister Lisa said they would not turn any short-term guests away who could not afford the fee.
Since about 2004, Sisters Lisa and Anita have visited the hermitage for their annual retreat. However, in recent years, the sisters visited every weekend, allowing Sister Anita to care for her mother, who died in July 2020.
That respite, particularly for Sister Lisa, led her to accept the call to lead Hesychia. It was a life jolt for both sisters after serving in health care at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas. Sister Anita served at the hospital for 20 years, supporting the mission and education departments and was a part of the executive team for eight years as a representative of the Religious Sisters of Mercy. Sister Lisa worked at Mercy as a board-certified nurse practitioner for 17 years. She helped start the community health and benefits department, working toward affordable housing, which will begin this fall.
"When I prayed about it, I really resonated with the call," Sister Lisa said. "And it was almost as if a new rush of energy, God's Spirit was just kind of moving within me in a freedom and a deep passion to be about the ministry of Hesychia. I could just feel it in my heart."
For Sister Anita, a two-month stay following her mother's death to give her the space to grieve helped her realize the power of Hesychia.
"It provided me exactly what Sister Lisa and Sister Louise have been talking about -- time, space, solitude, grounds to walk and be in nature in a way that I had never been, which was healing," Sister Anita said. "And actually ended up leading me to my own discernment about being here."
The Hesychia House of Prayer was closed for four months after the pandemic spread in March 2020. A professor from Houston stayed with the sisters for about six months during the pandemic because she arrived before the shutdown. They received grants for improvements, and fundraising helped pay for a new tractor used to upkeep the property and 52 head of cattle.
"We've renovated several of the hermitages. We've put new flooring in; we have different mattresses, we have new lighting. New chairs," along with new blinds, railings and paint, Sister Lisa said.
The hermitages are open to those of any faith or lifestyle, "We don't judge, we welcome all," Sister Lisa said.
Each person wishing to make a reservation at a hermitage must be vaccinated and submit a vaccination card as proof.
Sister Lisa said she hopes visitors to Hesychia can experience Jesus in a new way.
"I've known about Jesus, I've heard about Jesus, I look for Jesus, I found Jesus, but Jesus found me in a different way" at Hesychia, she said. "And I was at a place where I could meet Jesus within myself, in a way that I've never experienced before."
To learn more about Hesychia House or donate, visit Hesychia House of Prayer at stscho.org/hesychia.html, email or call or text (479) 938-7375.
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