Holy Cross Monastery, West Park
On Friday of this past week there was a large Demonstration for Peace in Washington, put on by an ecumenical group of Christians to mark the 4th anniversary of the war in Iraq. It involved all the the normal marching and singing and speeches that such events have and also a large service at the National Cathedral.
A great many people from this local area made plans to go to Washington, and our community had a lot of discussion about how we were going to participate. Were we going to send some of the brothers? If so, how many? How many could be gone and still enable us to care for our weekend guests adequately? Gradually out of our discussions it evolved that what we really wanted to do was to have a vigil here at the monastery for people who couldn't go to Washington.
So we set to work and planned our vigil. We envisioned an all-day event. We were to start in the morning right after our first Office of the day and a member of the community would be in our monastery church praying for peace at all times. On each hour we planned to toll our tower bell and recite a prayer which one of the brothers wrote for the occasion. Anyone from the area was welcome to come and join in the keeping of this vigil for peace. A member of the community would be available at all times during the day to welcome those who came and to be there for any who might have emotional issues that were raised by participating in this vigil. Then in the evening we would finish with an ecumenical service involving clergy and religious from local Episcopal, Reformed, Roman Catholic and Quaker churches.
We planned extensively. We advertised widely. Our web site carried all the details. One of our postulants has a brother who works for a local paper and through his generosity all of the papers in the area carried stories about the vigil. We made up fliers and distributed them as widely as we could - I took a bunch to the meditation group that I am part of on Wednesday evenings.
The response was extremely enthusiastic. We heard from individuals and groups who were planning to participate. We had calls and emails and voice mails from people interested in participating. Everywhere I went in the local area, people seemed to have heard of what we were doing and were planning to participate in some way. We got out extra chairs for the church, we planned a reception following the evening service, and made plans for what to do with an overflow crowd.
Lots of you know what happened - we had 18 inches of snow on Friday. Almost no one could come. A person or two appeared in the morning to be part of the vigil, but fewer and fewer came as the day went on and finally no one. The driveway filled up with snow. The service was cancelled. We couldn't do any of it as we had planned.
And you know what? It was wonderful. Most of the day there was no one in the church except for the community member who was keeping the vigil, but the vigil was unbroken. We prayed deeply for peace and we prayed without ceasing. As the monks and the residents of the monastery went about their business we were constantly aware of the event taking place in the church. It had an intimate and deeply involving feel to it. It didn't feel like a failure at all - it felt like a wonderful success. It was just something very different from what we had planned.
This is very like life, of course. Our path is so often completely different from what we carefully planned. Not that things always work out in such a blissful resolution but in this case we got a wonderful gift from our sudden change of course; the gift of a sort of service that was unexpected but which touched us in a a very different way than we expected to be touched. Prayer does this. It takes odd twists and turns. It takes us to places that we never expected. It does things with us that we never asked for. And in the end it leaves us with the gift of God dwelling within us and among us, so often in ways we didn't anticipate. The savoring of the collapse of our carefully made plans is one of the capacties that we need in order to live a full spiritual life.