Sunday, April 29, 2007

Faith and the Bell Tower

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park

Our bell tower is beautiful to behold. This week the scaffolding finally came down. After ten long months of construction work, the tower now stands free again and looks almost completely new.

It ought to. It very nearly is completely new. Along with repointing, every brick in the tower has been replaced, and thereby hangs a not very pleasant tale.

We expected that this would be a minor project. We needed to have some repointing done, we thought, and that was it. The job would take about one month and cost about $30,000. It was well within what was possible for us, given the fact that we are just completing a very successful Capital Funds Drive to celebrate the Centennial of the monastery buildings. It was, in fact, one of the smaller projects that the Centennial Fund would provide and we didn't give a lot of thought to it. Until last June, that is.

Last June the scaffold went up. The masons arrived and began their work. Not long after they began we heard from the masons, the architect and the construction engineer. They presented us with what the engineer referred to as "a very interesting example of structural failure." Translated, that means the tower was not far from beginning to fall down. In fact, a few bricks had already come loose and begun to fall. We had gotten there just in time. And our one month job ended up taking ten months.

Ten months later we have a practically new tower. It is beautiful. It also cost $250,000. Our Fund Drive was successful, but it didn't have that much extra in it. This project has now left us at the bottom of the funds barrel with another major project staring us in the face: the replacement of the ancient elevator in our guesthouse and the consequent construction of a shaft and the remodeling of several rooms in order to make this possible. Cost? Just about $250,000 - the same amount as the overage from the work on the tower. How interesting! And of course there is a question: Where do we go from here?

"Have Faith" some voices say to us. "God will provide." I have no doubt of that. We have plenty of examples in our history. Not too many years ago we took a deep breath and signed a contract for a generator that would provide electricity for us during the power failures that the snow and ice storms of winter and spring are likely to give us - some lasting several days. This is important because we run a guesthouse and we can't have guests, some of whom may be sick or elderly, stranded in the cold and the dark. We didn't really have the money, but the work had to be done. So we signed a contract for $40,000 and commended ourselves to faith. The next week a dear friend died and left us $40,000. We do know about God providing.

We also know that sometimes God provides rather differently. Actually, it is certainly conceivable that God may have provided just this crisis. "Get off your rear ends" God sometimes says to us. "Go to work and find the money for the elevator." "I gave you good minds and common sense. Get busy and use them."

Which is the right voice to pay attention to? As is so often the case, I am convinced that both of them are correct and that really having faith means heeding both voices. The Christian spiritual tradition has an old saying about this dilemma: "Pray as though everything depends on your prayer, and work as though everything depends on your work." The teacher of the Buddhist meditation group that I have attended for many years puts it slightly differently: "We bow down before what is, and then we get up and do what has to be done." Same insight.

And of course this is a tricky thing to manage. To go to one extreme or the other is a lot easier. But we are meant to be people of faith and of action. Both are crucial to the living of a healthy Christianity, not to mention a healthy humanity. To live in a real and deep dependence on God, knowing that what comes will likely be beyond our abilities and beyond our imagining, is part of the journey of faith. And the other part is taking the joy and the serenity that comes from that faith and using it as the energy to inspire our response of work to get the job done. And not letting go of either side of this equation is the critical part, and also the tricky one. I'm always falling off one side or the other of this see-saw. I want to see God as my divine benefactor, and myself as the dependant, compliant recipient. I also want to see myself as the competent, talented fund raiser, securing the means to solve our problems by my hard work. But only when both of these responses leaven each other do I have real faith - or real work, for that matter. And that's where balance comes in.

So when will we get the money to install our new elevator and how will it be raised? I don't know. I see a lot of work and a lot of prayer ahead. I suspect that the answer, whatever it is, will be something of a surprise. I'll let you know when I find out.

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