The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 42, Nr. 2, June 2011                              Richardton, ND 58652

Inside this issue:

Eyes in the Storm

President

Canon Law

The Pursuit of Peace

An Open Letter

Turkish Pilgrimage

Monastic News Omnibus

Book Reviews

Monastic Study Grant

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Eyes in the Eye of the Storm

From Alabama

On April 27 a powerful tornado tore through our town, slicing through a portion of our monastery property. It felled trees, tore shingles, punctured roofs, and rained so much debris across our grounds that it seemed worthy of inclusion in a psalm, perhaps something like "debris was spread like hoarfrost, shingles were scattered like ash, twisted metal rained like a torrent, and before such wind the trees bowed down. Even the leaves turned their face, and the waters stood shocked and still."

As I emerged from our place of shelter just a couple of minutes after the tornado's passing, I was stunned by the stillness and silence. No sound. No birdsong. No hint of breeze. The surface of our astonished pond was completely still, with no play of water, wind, and light. The leaves of the shrub beside me were turned in a single direction, hiding their collective face. It was as if the earth was in shock, as if the wind had knocked the wind out of everything. Moments passed, and the world started breathing again.

Days without power followed the storm. We adjusted to natural light, hand-washed clothes, cold water, writing by candlelight, reading by flashlight, and full days of manual labor. We arose early and retired early. We adjusted our liturgical schedule to best fit the natural light in the chapel. Always, we kept praying.

As I observed our community 's response to the storm and the clearing of our grounds, I was struck by our natural, Benedictine propensity for order. But it was not merely a practical orderliness. There was a spiritual dimension, as if an ordered and orderly life was a gift we could offer in the midst of a swirling, disrupted world. It reminded me of Genesis, of taking a formless chaos and arranging it into day and night, earth and sky, tree and fruit. Cleansing the ground from the chaos of debris and sorting it into wood and shingle, metal and sheetrock, and continuing the regular, ordered life of the monastery, felt like a kind of participation in creation. It felt powerful. It felt prayerful. It felt healing.

Each sister gravitated toward restoring order in her own particular way. Some headed to our darkened kitchen to labor over our gas stove. Some swept broken glass. Some collected small limbs and branches. Some gathered heavier structural debris. Some fished planks and plywood out of the pond. Our monastic administrators kept an eye on the big picture, making necessary decisions and directing our efforts even as they, too, labored on the grounds.

Liturgical prayer was an essential part of the orderliness of these days. It kept us grounded. It kept us ordered. It kept us united. It kept us in touch with the natural cycles of the day. And with normal lines of communication disrupted, it kept us connected to the praying Church and to the needs of others.

In the midst of grounds in chaotic disarray, in a town in which entire blocks had been shattered, with disrupted routines and work patterns, with sorrowful hearts over the loss of life and destruction, we kept praying. We often hear references to the power of prayer, but in the aftermath of the storm I realized how much power there is simply in the act of praying. Like our ordered life, our fidelity to prayer felt like an act of creation, an expression of something beyond the prayer itself, a participation in an order that transcended the chaos around us.

We remained without power for six days and without landline telephone and internet service for over two weeks. Yet the power outage was accompanied by recognition of how much power there is in fidelity to our monastic life. In the aftermath of tragedy, when events around us could form the text of a lament and even the earth seemed to be in shock, our fidelity to liturgical prayer and an ordered life under a Rule and a prioress felt prayerful, powerful, healing.

Through our charism, monastics express that which transcends our expression, and in our fidelity we bear the presence of God amid the swirling debris of a broken, shattered world.

Elisabeth Meadows, OSB
Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, AL

Epilogue

A month after the tornado, the central monastery grounds have been cleared of debris and fallen trees removed. We still have work to do clearing the periphery. Repairs to roofs have been mostly completed, although some structural assessments of the chapel are still pending. A full damage assessment of our woods, where swaths of trees were taken down, has not yet been completed. Driving through the affected areas of town is still a startling sight, and we are all grieving over the suffering of our neighbors in Cullman and so many others across Missouri, the Southeast, and elsewhere who have lost lives and suffered such tremendous loss.

Two churches in our town were completely destroyed and two others suffered significant damage. We offered meeting and worship space to affected congregations and we are now hosting a local Lutheran congregation whose church was destroyed. Our community is grateful for the generosity of many Benedictine communities who have sent funds to assist us and our city. We have been able to pass along funds to several local aid organizations that are doing excellent work in our town. We are all so deeply grateful.

The monks in Cullman experienced much the same situation. A cell phone message from Abbot Cletus Meagher shortly after the tornado read: "We are well. Tornado literally skipped over St. Bernard. No power for next several days. We do have some limited backup power for dining hall. City and parts of county a real disaster. OSB Sisters okay also. Keep us in prayers." An article sometime later in the local paper featured the abbey 's historic art grotto, which was also untouched by the tornado.

From Oklahoma

The sisters at Red Plains in Piedmont stayed an hour in our darkened storm shelter on May 24, praying and listening to weather reports on a battery-operated television. We had never heard or experienced anything like the tornado that came as close as 1/2 mile to our home. We are grateful that damage was relatively light from the ugly winds that brought destruction on our property. Approximately two dozen trees were downed, including favored peach and apple trees. After telephone service was restored, we were touched by calls from nearly 100 friends from across the US, checking on our safety and wellbeing.

The devastation looks much like Joplin, but not as vast. In the path of the tornado itself, where most things blew away, remaining trees have leaves stripped from them. There were 10 deaths in central Oklahoma that day. We are donating cash to a nearby family. The husband was away on wheat harvest in Texas. A fifteen-month-old son died a few hours after the storm. Two days later, his three-year-old brother 's body finally surfaced from the nearby lake, and a five-year-old sister is still in critical condition with head injuries. The pregnant mother sustained a broken hip, and she and the unborn fourth child were both in fair condition at the time of this report. She had taken all the children into shelter in a bathtub as their home came apart around them.

These are only three reports from this time of many tragic stories. Personal connections to victims and damaged areas have directly affected some monastic communities, and many communities have responded with generous sharing of their resources.

 

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