A Post By Richard Lebsock
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 entryway with its huge heavy wooden 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.
I remember my cell with its fabric “door” and the Spartan furnishings. The bed, such as it was, with the depression in the center that caused my 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 for Holy Week with my friend? 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, the incense and the 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 we were not allowed to talk at all. 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 the Sacraments would be taken to a side chapel 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 had clacked and chimed keeping me awake all night long, was just down the corridor from my cell. I went into the library to check out the books. There were a lot of books. Most appeared very old and some were 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 or 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. Right!
Since I could not talk to my friend or any of the brothers that were still around 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 these 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 kneeling 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 to the alter and kneel and pray. I put my Bible on the top part of the kneeling bench and folded my hands to assume an 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 am I here? Why is no one willing to tell me what I want 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 once more. 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 one else there except me and the altar.
Okay! So maybe someone is trying to get my attention.
This time I determined to close my eyes and pray for real, just to see what would happen. I closed my eyes and took a couple of breaths and began to just thank God for my being there 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 had penetrated His body.
He looked at me with eyes that seemed to be the color of a blue white flame.
Slowly, He raised his hands over His head and the light began to retreat, to 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 for a moment. 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, walked out the door 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, thanked the Prior for his hospitality, got in my friend’s old Cadillac and left.
As we drove home I tried again and again to tell him about what happened in the 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 nothing 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.
My silence only added to his growing fear that something he had done 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 who 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 through the flood of emotion and 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?”Of course I had no idea.
“In your vision, then Jesus raised his hands over his head like that? That is the Apostolic blessing! You are called as 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, my 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 later that night, when we broke up, no one was the same. Like the little monastery everything changed by the fire of God. Forever.
Now many 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 clacking and chiming 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.
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. Romans 11:29 AB
Read More from Richard (known as D or Dick around here) at Isaiah496.org
Follower of Christ, writer & artist.