Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Week Afterwards

The issue behind, above, below and around everything this week has been, of course, the loss of Mt Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara in the fires there, which occurred (is there anyone left who doesn't know?) a week ago last Friday. Here at West Park we received guests as we always do - and the first thing they all said to us were words of encouragement or grief. We conducted retreats - and thought of the fire. We joined our guests for meals, and spoke of the times we had all had at "The Mount". And during all of the days, we carried this loss in bruised hearts as we went about our work and our prayer.

If we had any doubts about how widely known Mt Calvary was and how many people valued it, those doubts are now laid to rest. I have often said that I have never been anywhere in the world where I put on my habit that someone didn't come up to me and say: "You must be from Holy Cross". This week the truth behind that came to visit us. Emails came by the hundreds - by now by the thousands. Phone calls. Letters. It was all over the Internet: all of the Holy Cross blogs at least doubled their readership, and sometimes more. One day Br Randy's picture site had over 7,000 hits. And friends who had mentioned it in their own blogs report a great increase in readership as well.

Of course, one expects that the Santa Barbara paper would want to cover it, even Los Angeles. But the New York Times had a major article, which for a short period was on Page 1 of their Internet Edition. Most of the articles have a picture of the surviving pieces of the front door and some of the mural that surrounded it, and that picture has become an icon for the whole story of the Tea Fire of Santa Barbara (named for the site near which it started). The news has spread all over the world, because Mount Calvary is remembered with affection by people everywhere on the globe. One man wrote to tell of a Time Capsule he saw put into the garden wall in the late 1960's. Almost everyone in the community has either never heard of this or had forgotten its existence, so Nick, the Prior, will ask our contractor if anything is known about it, and whether it could have survived.

Robert, the Superior, has been in Santa Barbara all week, being a pastor to the community and to many others, and beginning the process of planning for the immediate future. Many of you will already know that the brothers are safe and well cared for at St Mary's Retreat House at the bottom of the hill where Mt Calvary was, and which is operated by the Sisters of the Holy Nativity. The brethren are, of course, alternating between confidence and horror, as one does when confronted with a loss of this magnitude. They are also being treated with great kindness and affection wherever they go in town, and have encountered generosity and discounts on everything they have had to purchase while they put their lives and their clothing stock back together. People have been so kind and sympathetic.

The planning for the future will take time, of course. This is a matter for consultation with the whole community. Mt Calvary belonged to the brothers living there, but more than that it belonged to the whole of the Order of the Holy Cross, and our future belongs to all of us. When Robert returns tomorrow we'll know more about the immediate future. Before long we will have a meeting of the Order's Council by telephone, and then in mid-January the Council will meet in Santa Barbara to deal with issues that are more immediate. As of now, we expect that the major decisions about the future of our work on the West Coast and the future of the property will be discussed at the next meeting of our Chapter, which will be held in June. That meeting was to have been at Mt Calvary, and will have to be relocated - probably it will be here at West Park. So the answer to all of the questions about "What are you going to do? Are you going to rebuild? When will you start construction?" is that we don't know right now, and we are working on it. There are issues of the future of the Order as well as the future of Mt Calvary to be considered and we have to do that with dispatch, but with care as well.

Now for the fire itself- as I have gathered stories from emails and phone calls from people who were there. It was unimaginable. The temperature, we are told, was over 2,000 degrees. This is responsible for the fact that almost nothing survives - no small mementos, no little things to rescue from the debris. It's not even clear how much of the structure actually burned - a lot of it will simply have evaporated. The brothers took the house cars when they evacuated and left the truck behind in the driveway. It melted. We have a neighbor who works with EMS and volunteer fire organizations and when we told him about this, he just nodded and said: "Yes, that happens." I guess the best way to convey this part of the story is to let Robert's words speak:

"We have been up to the Mount. There is nothing to be salvaged and it will be leveled. It was so eerie...quiet, hot, dusty, empty. I'm glad I saw it with my own eyes, though it breaks my heart."

And just when you can't believe the reality of it all, there, just a few feet away from where the truck was, is the little studio building that was put up a few years ago to provide space for brothers who do artistic work. And it survived quite untouched, we are told, while all of that incredible holocaust swirled around it. Joseph's icons and his paints, Roy's colors and papers for his calligraphy, Nick's cello and his music - they all made it through. How does that happen? We have an old and dear friend who lives down the road from Mt Calvary and we hear that the fire came to within 3 feet of her house, and then it stopped. It's more than anyone can fathom.

So that's the story as we know it right now. I'd like to describe it all in one fine sentence to sum up the experience. I find I can't even think what that sentence would be. I'm still stunned - we are all still stunned.

And we're going on, into the future. Pray for us as we begin to imagine what that future will be and to plan for it. God will work with us and in us, as has been the case all these many years.

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