by Richard Lebsock
Romans 11:29 AB— For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable. He never withdraws them when once they are given, and He does not change His mind about those to whom He gives His grace or to whom He sends His call.
The ticking of the big clock is silent now. The library with all those wonderful old books is gone. Each cell had been destroyed. The little chapel where I sat for my turn to watch is in ashes. The Aumbry with the Holy sacraments no longer exists. Only my memories of that Holy Week experience remain….that and the reality of His presence in that chapel that morning with me in 1964. My life was never to be the same after that.
I look back through the pages of my memory and search for each scrap of detail from that precious moment. I remember the smells of the incense used in the main chapel. I remember the uncertain hours when we first arrived at the monastery. I remember the ominous dark entry with its huge heavy wood door that blocked entrance to this strange place. I remember the face of the brother that opened that door and gave us entry into a world we had never experienced before and the whispered words of instructions and the dark corridor that led to our rooms. They were called cells then. I remember the confusion and, yes, the fear of the unknown….even if it was a place of worship and service to God, the cell with its fabric “door” and the Spartan furnishings. The bed, such as it was, with the depression in the center that caused the body to lay in a somewhat fetal position for comfort. What did that monk say he was going to ask us in the morning and what was the response we were to give back? There were too many things to remember too fast and all in this strange place. Why did I allow myself to agree to come here with my friend for Holy Week? What good could possibly come from all this quiet darkness?
The events of the night and the next day are in my memory but the reality of the one event that was to change me for all eternity is in my heart and soul.
We went to an early chapel service the next morning. The chanting and the singing were in Latin. The whole service was new to me as was all the bell ringing and incense and responses. I was completely confused. In my mind I determined to ask some questions of the brothers later to help me understand this whole thing better. Of course, I had to deal with the fact that there was a thing called The Great Silence going on and you could not talk. How could I ever learn if I could not question. We were told that after breakfast we were to each take a thirty minute block of time for our part in the Watch. It seems that the Sacraments were being taken to a side chapel to be placed for safe keeping until the next Communion service. Each guest was to take thirty minutes to stand watch and the brothers would take the rest of the time. With that information and the Great Silence I was prepared to just wander around and experience the monastery.
I went to my cell and got my bible. The library with that clock that clacked and chimed all night was just down the corridor from my cell. I went to the library to check out the books. There were a lot of books that appeared very old and some in Latin. I sat down to read my bible but I could not focus on my reading…..partly because I really did not know what to read and why. Too many questions in my head. I came here to learn about God and my purpose on earth. Yeah, and all that in two days. Since I could not talk to my friend or any of the brothers that were still there my frustration level grew. I wandered out to the courtyard and was blessed with some incredible views of the Santa Barbara hills and the ocean way off in the distance. It was so peaceful up there. The gardens were very beautiful and well kept by the brothers. With all this beauty around me my insides were still churning. So strange. So inaccessible. Or at least it seemed that way to me.
In 1964 the monastery was a bit more primitive than the pictures taken before the fire showed. Apparently there had been some construction done to accommodate more guests. The rectory was more like a camp dining room and the guest rooms were very different from my cell. Change had come to Mount Calvary Monastery. Change indeed had altered the place that God had permitted me to come to for a very special Holy Week experience. Change came not only to the structure but to my entire being.
When my time came to go to the little chapel for my watch, I stopped at my cell to put on a silver cross that I had made in 1962. The cross was cut from sterling silver and had a silver figure of Christ soldered on it. I had taken a jewelry making class in college and knew how to work with silver. That is another story in itself. After putting on the cross, I walked slowly to the chapel. I entered the room, which was quite small with an altar in the front with an Aumbry on it, a kneeler bench in front of the altar, a few wooden bench like seats in front of that and a window door on the side to let light into the chapel. I sat down on the bench farthest from the altar and just looked around. The altar was nothing special but the Aumbry was quite ornate. No pictures anywhere….religious or otherwise. Quiet. Very quiet.
After a few minutes I decided to go down and kneel and pray. I put my bible on the top part of the kneeler bench and folded my hands to assume the attitude of prayer…which I figured should be done in a place like this. With my eyes tightly closed and my hands tightly clasped I began to complain to God. Why was I here? Why was no one willing to tell me what I wanted to know, I am not happy. Blah, blah, blah. As I prayed or complained a strange thing happened. If you can picture a radio having its volume control being turned down you will know what took place next. My complaints that I heard in my head began to dim or get quieter and, as that happened, a light began to appear off in the distance. Naturally, I opened my eyes and looked around to see what was going on. Nothing had changed. So, I closed my eyes again and started the process of praying again. I was still asking God why and bemoaning my lack of understanding when the volume went down again. And that light appeared again in the distance. My response was, sadly, the same. I again opened my eyes and actually looked all around the room. Nothing. No changes. No one else there except me and the altar. Ok, so maybe someone is trying to get my attention. This time I determined to close my eyes and pray for real and just see what happens. I closed my eyes and took a couple of breaths and began to just thank God for my being here and even for my confusion. As I prayed, the volume in my head went down slowly and in the distance that light began to re-appear. For just a tiny moment I almost gave in to fear and open my eyes. But this time the light grew in brightness as it approached me. I could not take my eyes from the light no matter how bright it was.
When the light was directly in front of me it began to re-form as a figure. A figure of a man wearing a pure white robe. He had his hands at His sides with the palms facing me. I could see the scars on his arms where the nails held Him fast to that cross and somehow I could see through His robe to His side where a spear penetrated His body. He looked at me with eyes that seemed to be the color of blue white flame. Slowly, He raised his hands over His head and the light began to retreat and fade and the volume came back up. I found myself back in prayer again. I opened my eyes quickly to see if He was still there. Nothing. Just the Sacraments in the Aumbry and the empty room.
I quickly checked the time as it had seemed like I had been there a long time. My friend should be coming pretty soon for his watch. Since I had some time left I thought I would read my bible. As that was early in my walk with God I was not a good bible scholar. So, I really did not know what to read. I took my bible and just let the pages open where they might. The book opened but for two pages that just hung suspended in the air. Suddenly, as if an unseen hand separated them, the pages fell open and one verse on the right side of the book next to the fold and at the bottom of the page appeared to become highlighted. I read that verse and a noise behind me broke the moment. I glanced back and saw my friend waiting for his watch. I closed my bible and nodded to him and went back to my cell. I had to tell someone about this thing that had happened. I had to tell my friend. It was still the Great Silence and I could tell no one. I could not speak about it. I went to the dresser to put my bible on the top when I felt a burning sensation on my chest. I opened my shirt and looked at my chest. There was a red “burned” mark of the cross that hung around my neck. Visions, burn marks, and the Great Silence. What more do I need.
It was mid afternoon when I finally saw my friend again. He seemed disturbed. He kept looking at me strangely. Finally I motioned for him to go outside with me. I just had to talk to him. When we were alone outside he spoke up first. He wanted to leave. He was ready to cut our retreat short and head for home….some four hours away. I agreed and we got our stuff and thanked the Prior for his hospitality and got in my friend’s old Cadillac and left.
As we drove home I was trying again and again to tell him about what happened in that chapel. But, no words would come out, except of course, inane words about the scenery, traffic, and the fact that his headlights were getting dimmer and dimmer. We were out in no man’s land between Santa Barbara and Corcoran, California. It was getting darker and there was not but a glow from the headlights. We made it to a small gas station that was about half way home and was just closing. The man did not have a battery for us but would go to a town a few miles away and get us one. The car was not charging and repair at this time of night was out of the question. With a new battery we could make it home on just battery power alone. While we waited in the dark for the man to return I attempted to tell my friend again what had happened. Nothing. My silence only added to his growing fear that he had made me upset. We got our battery and made the trip home with no more problems except for the dark gloom that hung around my friend and my frustration at not being able speak about the events at Mount Calvary Monastery.
Days later at our regular prayer/Bible group meeting the truth came out. The Episcopal priest that was a member of our group questioned my friend about his quietness and wanted to know what went on during our retreat. My friend finally blurted out his apology for causing me so much unhappiness at Mount Calvary. He backed up his feelings with the evidence of my silence as being unhappiness. Now it was my turn to clear the air. I told my side of the situation up to the watch and then as if all the years of pain, frustration, guilt, sadness, and not knowing God poured out of me in a flood of tears. I tried to tell of my vision among the flood pouring down my face. When I finally got to the end the priest jumped up to his feet in absolute joy and yelled “Do you know what that meant when Jesus raised his hands over his head like that?” Of course I had no idea. “That is the Apostolic blessing! You are a priest with an Apostolic blessing upon you given by the Lord Jesus IN PERSON!” The room went silent. Then the praise began. The words of worship poured out like rain. Some of them sang in a language unknown to the group. Others, praised God while on their faces on my living room floor. Father D, the priest friend, just stood there with his hands raised above his head in prayer……all six foot plus of him with his hands touching my ceiling and praising God at the same time. The power of God fell on that group and when we broke up that night no one was the same. Like the little monastery everything changed by the fire of God. Forever.
Now 35 years later during Holy Week I sadly say goodbye to that special place where my Lord came to give my life meaning and answer all my questions. The clack of the old clock in the library is silent in ashes. No more to mark time on the hour and the quarter hour. No more little cell or side chapel where we stood watch before the sacrifice of our Lord. Oh yes, before I forget. The verse that was given to me in that small room by an unseen hand was Isaiah 49:6. Thank you God for Mount Calvary Monastery. Thank you Lord Jesus for your face to face visit. But, mostly my Lord, thank you for the finished work of the Cross, the empty tomb, and my eternal life with you.
by Richard Lebsock
I was a Fine Arts major in college and as part of the process took every art class that was offered. One of the classes that I found very interesting was one on jewelry making. We learned the art of working with sterling silver. All the processes necessary for making fine jewelry were demonstrated and taught by an instructor whose talent was exceptional. I worked hard and learned well.
When I graduated from college and took my first teaching position I found use for all that silver jewelry training. I needed to make a silver cross to wear as part of my new life as a walking, talking, proclaiming Christian. Before, I was just a Christian. Because of the friends here and the bible study groups that I was going to things began to change for me. Prayer had a new meaning and living the life that the bible spoke of was becoming a daily process for me. It was work. Being a Christian is one thing but LIVING as a Christian was another. Talk was cheap. Actions spoke volumes. I was a junior high school teacher and needed to SHOW that I was not just another person in their lives. His love for me needed to be obvious. All that to say why I needed that cross.
I worked on my sketch for the cross during my free time after the kids went home. I made many sketches and finally settled on one that was quite plain and a bit modern in appearance. I carefully cut the cross from the silver blank first. Then I created a figure of Christ to be placed on top of the cross. I applied all the needed skills to smooth, clean, and shape each part for a perfect fit. Then, after cleaning both parts I carefully placed the figure on the cross and placed the silver solder at three critical places. One tiny bit of solder was placed at each hand and one at the feet. I gently heated the entire piece so as to allow the solder to flow under the figure and bond the two parts together. As the heat turned the silver red hot I watched the solder for the first sign of movement so I could stop the heating process and prevent the silver from burning. The solder just did not flow but “jumped” from the cross to the top of the figure and turned to a black dot. Obviously my soldering did not work. My next problem was to cool it all down and separate the two pieces for re-cleaning and another attempt at soldering. However, I chose not to wait for the silver to cool but with some tongs I picked up the piece and tossed it into the cold water in the sink. The shock of the cold water should just pop the two parts apart. Nope. No pop. I picked up the piece and not too gently THREW it to the floor to cause the parts to separate. Nope. No separate. Ah well, so much for that idea. I then took a delicate tool called a screw driver and attempted to force it between the silver parts. Nope. No separate parts. Well now I was getting a bit upset. All that work and all I had was a cross with a figure that I could not get off of it. Wait a minute. If all this effort could not make the two parts separate then maybe I should just finish the job and leave well enough alone. Just what I did. I polished and shined and rubbed the piece into a shining finished product. With a real sense of pride in my shabby workmanship I put the cross on and went home.
I shared that experience with my friend who was the Episcopal priest in that town. He just laughed at my ridiculous attempts to undo what was not to be undone. I know that the process was correct but the finished product was not to be as I planned. The process of soldering was correct and the heat was not enough to weld the two parts together. So why did it “work”? Even in my stupidity the truth finally penetrated my brain…….IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE and so it was. The cross and the figure are forever bonded together in an act of forgiveness that nothing can undo or change. Jesus, the Son of God, forever bonded to that cross as the final act of love from the Father for all and for all time. His love gave up His only son that we might have eternal life through the act of the cross. I was wearing a symbol of that act. I was wearing His promise of that eternal life through Him. Even in my ignorance I was given a sign of things to come and a promise of what had already been given. So, my lesson in silver making came to an end with the most precious gift ever……the knowledge and the assurance of God’s love.
This cross was with me when I met Jesus face to face at a Holy Week retreat at Mount Calvary Monastery in 1964. The cross was given to a friend years later and I have no idea where it is today. I just know that whoever wears it is being touched by the hand of God.