Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Shelter in the Storm

Just about one year ago, I encountered two hitch-hiking French monks, Joachim & Francis Xavier. More about that incredible blessing HERE. After sharing lunch, they asked me to take them to a spot near the highway, then sang a harmonious blessing over me in my car, gave me a token of the Virgin Mary, and invited me one day to visit them.

So last night, I did just that.
I pulled up to the humble chapel and monastery of The Little Sisters of the Lamb in Kansas City, KS - the only order within the United States. It was beautiful in its simplicity, smelling of cedar and incense, designed by one of the monks who has a penchant for architecture. The Little Brothers are raising funds to build their own monastery in the same style on a small piece of land just one block away, but for now they share the chapel with the Little Sisters.

My friend, Brother Joachim, was ready to greet me the moment I arrived. He immediately rushed outside with a hug and made sure I felt welcome.
Their motto is so fitting, and struck a deep chord for me. Joachim pointed it out in the cupola: 
"Wounded, I will never cease to love."
The chapel was filled with orthodox icons, to my surprise! The Sisters sat on the left, the Brothers on the right, and there were small pews with wooden kneelers in the back where a small gathering from the community assembled to worship.

I cannot begin to describe the sense of reverence in this small chapel during the Mass. The Sisters and Brothers sang almost the entire Mass in angelic harmonies, just as they had sung the blessing over me in my car. Surely this is how St. Francis and his band of brothers, along with the Poor Clares, shared the gospel. They brought in incense and laid it beneath the altar, and lit several candles and a menorah - a sure reminder of God's miraculous providence, which they rely upon as poor beggars for all food and transport. Then Fr. Cristof shared a homily about the dangers of "polishing our halos" - doing good works just to be seen. The Spirit was thick in that little space.

Midway through the Mass, the weather took a violent turn with tornadic winds that destroyed many homes and a nearby airport. The two sets of heavy arched wood doors at the back blew open with an alarming thud as the pneuma made its presence known, and my heart leapt into my throat. The hail pummeled the rooftop and windows, the lights flickered on and off, the large tree outside the brothers' monastery was felled, and we found ourselves stranded together taking sanctuary from the storm.

After huddling together in the narthex, peeking through the windows of this spiritual ark as the hail rained fiercely down, we abandoned our plans for dinner at the residence of the Little Brothers.
If there's ever a place to ride out a tornado, surely its among living saints. They teased me and likened my visit to that of Scholastica, who prayed with such determination to remain in the presence of her brother Benedict that God whipped up a fierce storm, and forced his stay. They even offered me a place to stay for the night.
And so the Sisters invited the Brothers and me into their dining space, and added more place settings to this triclinium. I set out the bowls as they whipped up more food, and invited me to sit at the head of their table.
It was a wonderful feast - homemade tomato soup, French soft eggs with dipping toast, pasta with onions, salad, and a beautiful apple tart with apple sauce (I forgot about my fast from sweets for Lent - leave it to those sweet Little Sisters to ruin my fast - ha!).
After a long, effervescent conversation about the saints, travel, world religions, helping the poor, visiting the prisoners, the red thread (of destiny, which binds souls who are meant to meet in Eastern religions, and is woven by Mary in the icon of the Annunciation) and relying on the providence of God - in which they treated me with such interest and affection as I have rarely experienced before - we cleared our dishes and, in the middle of the kitchen, all the Brothers and Sisters together once more sang the blessing over me they had sung one year ago in my car: "May the Lord bless you and keep you; may he cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, may his countenance fall upon you and bring you peace."
And filled to the brim with joy among these saints, with the storm subsiding outside, four of the Little Brothers - Clement, Cristof, Francis Xavier and Joachim - piled into my car for a short ride to their crumbling home. On the drive home, I discovered to my delight a symbol of our evening together - a red thread in the backseat of my car. :)
I will remember the blessing of their company forever.