On February 14, a Passionist Nun from St. Joseph’s Monastery posted their first news and photos of the January 27 ice storm which – though barely mentioned in the press, or by the steak-eating, super-bowl-watching president – claimed over 50 lives and (as of the 14th when the nun was writing) has left many thousands still without power.
I…heard tremendous popping and crashing sounds. This was the sound of trees, tops of trees and very large branches completely covered in ice, breaking and crashing to the ground in the woods surrounding our monastery.
The next day brought a devastating beauty as everything was covered with 1 1/2 inches of ice and we began a 5 day odyssey of no electricity. By the way, today is day 18 for many people in our area still without power. Thankfully we have had mild temperatures these past couple of weeks which helped warm up the homes of those who have roughed it out without a generator.
We are very blessed to have a generator that kept one refrigerator and freezer running plus the treatment plant. Some electrical outlets worked and we made good use of our flashlights. We have gas stoves and ovens so we had hot water and hot food – what a blessing those 2 things are! But we had no heat! How very, very blessed we were that our chaplain Fr. Ray Clark and Msgr. Powers came to stay in our guest quarters, which, considering there are no outside walls in this area, is the warmest place in the monastery. We had 2 priests and daily Mass! We converted our parlors into a cozy chapel, for as you can imagine, with all those stained glass windows in the main chapel, it was freezing in there!
It was interesting to see the various coordinations of clothing each Sister put together to stay warm. I personally was up to 7 layers of clothing by the final day! Mother lifted the fast and the abstinence from meat and we took our recreations during our meal time (meaning we talked while we ate). We joked that we were “fasting from heat”! We even had and AME (After-Meal-Entertainment) one evening, by candlelight of course, which drew belly-aching laughter.
These days certainly spoke to us about living without computers, light, heat, outside contacts (we didn’t have mail until the next week!) survival and dependence on Divine Providence. This was just an amazing and unforgettable experience. Yet, we were sobered in recalling that many poor people and homeless people live like this in a daily basis. We also thought much about those persons who live in hurricane areas (many of you!) and how this was somewhat similar to that.
Jesus, we offer these inconveniences to you for many intentions, especially for an end to abortion and for respect for all persons, the disabled, the elderly, the immigrant, etc.
I love monastics – through it all, they kept their faith and their senses of humor, and they kept to their hours of prayer, too, in the Liturgy of the Hours – their Opus Dei – their proper work, so to speak.
Reading this reminded me a little of reading The Hiding Place, particularly when Corrie Ten Boom writes about how she, her elderly father, her sister and the Jews they were hiding from the Nazis would entertain themselves by reading plays (by the light of a bicycle lamp and a willing pair of legs) and poetry or creating little dramas. As though life for them was not dramatic enough.
Life, I think, is going to be fraught with a great deal of drama, for all of us, this year and for the foreseeable future. These nuns give us good example of how to endure with faith, trust, humor and humility. Perhaps one to keep and read again on down-days.