10.5 miles…11 minutes and 30 seconds…For the last 10 years, I’ve been driving the same route from Omaha to Yankton, waiting for 10.5 miles. Because that’s how far I am from the monastery when I crest a hill and finally see the steeple of our chapel. 10.5 miles, 11 minutes and 30 seconds… and I join in Solomon’s prayer, “May Your eyes be open night and day toward this house.”
This reflection isn’t a history. I can recommend Travelers on the Way to Peace or Sister Claudia’s Under the Shadow of His Wings if you would like history on the Chapel. This morning, I’d like to take a loving look at why I long for that first view of the Chapel.
Our Chapel (upper, lower, and all levels in-between) has been part of my house ministry off and on since the “Learn and Earn” program over 25 years ago. That summer, Carmy, Kara, and I were assigned to polish the Chapel brass—all of the brass—to keep us busy during the community days meetings. Later, following in a long line of postulants and novices, I learned from Sister Marie Helene and various Korean Sisters how to polish, dust, vacuum, wash, and clean every inch of Chapel to a shine. It was good. I was glad to help, and I learned a lot about the place, and grew to love the Chapel as a worship space during that time. However, I wasn’t getting the point. Knowing the layout of this place isn’t understanding the significance or beauty of the space.
The more I settled into our rhythm of life; of year after year gathering in Chapel to lift up prayer, celebration, and remembrance; of year after year joining together as a community to offer the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharist, Professions, Installations, Jubilees, and Funerals in Chapel. The more I began to understand why Sister wrote in Travelers I, “the Chapel stands…as a symbol of the faith of a community.” For 70 years we have “worshipped in spirit and truth” within this Chapel; 70 years of praise has reverberated off this stained glass and soaked into these sandstone walls. Solomon’s prayer from First Kings is ours when we gather here, “May Your eyes be open night and day toward this house.”
We are asking God to turn his eye here to us. We are not transient. The permanence of our Benedictine tradition, the emphasis of our Profession of Stability to one family, one home can be seen in the Dedication of the Chapel.
This physical manifestation of Stability has become a sign I look for when I’m here and take with me when I’m gone on mission. When home for the summer and celebrations, I find rest settled into my pew in the midst of community, gazing up on our carved Crucifix. Coming home for the summer, I listened carefully for the new pitch to the organ pipes and took time to rest with Our Lady in the transept Chapel. While away on mission, I use pictures of the Chapel for my laptop screensaver and desktop images, I print out pictures of our stained glass and Chapel décor to use in the prayer space at the convent apartment and in my classroom too. I tell my coworkers and students stories of the Christmas we had a million poinsettias and the Spring there were no Easter lilies. I share the reason for using sandstone when we are so far from the quarry, and my classes celebrate Our Lady of Einsiendeln (2 months early). I save the image of our transept chapel in my heart as my “happy place”; when all seems to be going awry, I pull the peace of that cool, quiet, glass lit, corner into my soul.
The Chapel, all this from steeple to stairwell, in many ways, is sign and symbol of Stability. Each of us has our own reasoning, our own memories. The commitment to this family of Sisters, to this place on the bluff. We are built together, no matter the cracks in the tile or leaks along the sandstone, even though the humidifiers keep filling up…
I invite you to wander in our Chapel today. Touch the coolness of the sandstone that has absorbed 70 years of prayer, Mediate on the jewel-tone stories illustrated in the windows, Look for the Story of Faith carved into the wood, and remember your stories that link them all…as together we ask God, “May Your eyes be open night and day toward this house.”