Tuesday, March 30, 2010

ROLLERCOASTER HERMITAGE

One of my favourite passages from the Holy Gospels relates the event of Jesus calming the wind and the waves. [ Mt. 8: 23-27; Mk. 4:35-40]


Growing up on the coast of the North Atlantic as a boy my friends and I would often ‘borrow’ a dory and row out across the water to a distant island, a place devoid of human habitation.

Its high rock cliffs, home to thousands of nesting birds, its top plateau of scrub brush, the vast panorama towards the distant horizon allowing a clear view, first of the faint wisps of smoke, then the thick black column from the burning coal or bunker oil, little by little the emerging shape of a tramp steamer, liner or warship – a pretty neat place!

It would take the vessel two to three hours to arrive and pass by the island.

On a calm day the Atlantic waves would be a mere two to three foot swells.

On a windy day they would rise high enough the dory would literally ride up one side and down the other of each wave and we would be thrilled and terrified coming down a wave, never knowing if any, or how much, water would splash into the dory.

Nature’s rollercoaster!

I remember the last time we went out we truly misread the weather and the return trip was in a storm. A terrifying ordeal: pelted by cold, biting rain, literally fighting the wind and the waves.

By the time we reached shore the dory was half filled with water as we had nothing with us with which to bail.

From then on the Gospel event of Jesus calming the storm deeply entered, and has remained in my heart as an icon of trust.

Tradition sees in the Gospel event as well a symbol of the Church and we within.

This Holy Week the storm is huge, the battering intense.

How critical we remember Jesus is greater than any storm.

We are His Church.

This is His world.

In 1794 a young Russian monk, with several confreres, was sent across the sea from the mainland to a Russian outpost in what is modern day Alaska.

The monk’s name was Herman.

Eventually all the other monks died of natural causes, were martyred, or returned to Russia and Herman, remaining alone, moved to Spruce Island to live as a hermit, where, after decades of service to the local people and intercessory prayer, he died, alone and, for more than 30 years, forgotten.

It would be Bishop Peter of Alaska, who in 1867 would first investigate Herman’s life, however it would be 102 years later, 1969, before this humble monk-hermit would be declared as St. Herman of Alaska, Patron Saint of the Americas.

Some twenty years later a friend would drag a small hut up to the top of a hill as high as that island of my youth, a hill overlooking a huge river valley.

My friend named this hut: St. Herman of Alaska hermitage.

It had one window, no electricity, a sort of platform on which to put a straw pillow and blanket for sleep. A chair, a very tiny writing desk, and no foundation, which means it simply sat on the ground.

The ground, however, was not flat!

I would spend a few days there from time to time when I was pastor of a parish not too distant.

The isolation, the silence, the vista of the beauty of His creation all enabled contemplation and time to sit with the Holy Gospel.

One afternoon while I was meditating on the Gospel passage of the calming of the storm a summer thunderstorm suddenly began and I took shelter inside the hermitage from the rain and the wind.

The wind grew stronger and that little hut began to rock back and forth.

At first this was as disconcerting as fighting the waves when I was a boy on the ocean in a storm because, perched on the top of that hill, with now wet and slick grass all around, I had an inner imagination gone wild notion of the whole thing, we me in it, sliding down and crashing into the rocks and trees of the valley!

The storm passed as quickly as it had arrived and my rollercoaster hermitage stopped.

I sat there and laughed and laughed at being of such little faith!

“This day! This hour! This minute! Love God above all!” ~St. Herman of Alaska.

1 comment:

KAM said...

'Oh yea of little faith!' What a great story. You've done a nice job describing a beautiful place.