Wednesday, October 15, 2008


“Listen carefully my daughter, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”
RB Prologue 1

Perhaps this is the final listening.

There is a steep hill behind our monastery. Right outside the backdoor of the chapel is a road. It winds past the orchard and the grotto as you walk up through a pine forest, overlooking the wheat fields of the prairie. Along the road as you walk up there are Stations of the Cross, life size plaster statues, each in an enclosed little house. They are strategically stationed so that you can catch your breath as well as pray as you walk up the hill. When you reach the top of the hill you are greeted by two concrete angels on top of stone pillars, each facing slightly away from the other, blowing trumpets, heralding the final judgment.

This is where the listening ends and also begins. It is our cemetery.

There are probably close to two hundred women and a few men buried up there. In silence they witness to what it means to live a life of listening. They all heard God’s call, some ran eagerly to respond, others resisted, still others probably couldn’t have explained exactly what it meant to listen.

Here rest the women who heard the call in Switzerland, in 1882, to start a new monastery in the far off mission field of America. Sr. Johanna was only twenty five when she was told to leave her convent in Switzerland to start a new foundation in the American Northwest. She resisted, didn’t like the new country, had to spend her first months living over a saloon when promised housing didn’t appear. She listened and responded to a voice that pulled her where she didn’t want to go.

Here, too, are the women who listened and heard the call growing up two miles down the road, milking the cows and dreaming about life in the stone convent with the sisters. They were the farm girls, rooted in the land, in a simple faith in which spoke clearly, their response was straight-forward. Hard work, obedience, the promise of heaven was the reward of their listening.

In row on row there are women who heard the call, women humble, loving and giving, the saints among us. Here, too, are the women who listened and then called others to be saints by asking others to bear with their behavior.

They all listened, some to a still small voice, others to an incessant shout, some to a persistent tickling feeling. Here on the hill are the ones who continued to listen, two who died in accidents before they even made vows, too many others in those early years who died young, of tuberculosis or diphtheria or flu in the early days without enough money or medicine or decent food. They lie next to the sisters who lived and worked and loved and prayed into a ripe fullness of years, dying in their beds surrounded by their sisters. These are the women of Revelation, “who have come through the great ordeal,” who listened for a few months, for a few years, for sixty or seventy or eighty years.

Lined up in rows they are resting now. The seasons mean nothing anymore, the time of new grass or snow or falling leaves. Side by side they lie, the ones who ran schools and hospitals, who lead the community, with the ones who spent their lives scrubbing floors, the ones who peeled the potatoes and the ones who came home to die after years in the back wards of the state mental hospitals. Together they listened in life, together they listen in death.

No comments: