Weeds: 20 years waiting in silence


February 25, 1998 saw a confluence of events in my little world. It was a now-mostly-forgotten birthday. It was Ash Wednesday, a favorite day of mine on the church calendar. And it was the beginning of Perpetual Adoration at St. Mary’s in Sleepy Eye that continues 20 years yon.

Perpetual Adoration is continual worship by a community of people in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. It is a Catholic thing. There are a lot of Catholic things. People can be Catholic their entire life and never fully plumb the 2,000 years of rituals, music, and spiritual practices within our faith legacy. I like that. To my non-Catholic friends some of it may seem a bit quirky. I can see that.

We believe Jesus is present “Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity” in the Eucharistic host, which has been consecrated at Mass. While God is certainly present everywhere, we consider Jesus to be present in the host in a unique and powerful sense. In the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus is with us as he was with the apostles.

So for 20 years, excepting Mass times and a couple of blizzards, someone has been in Adoration at St. Mary’s, an hour at a time. It was first located in the convent chapel. When the convent was taken down, it shifted to the back of the main church. It also spends part of each week at Divine Providence Community Home in the beautiful chapel there. Last year, Adoration moved to the dedicated chapel in the new north addition. God willing it will continue there for many years.

That is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is remarkable when you think of twenty-below days, 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. time slots, and busy weekends. Every hour. That means in our little parish here on the prairie, more than 200 people are taking turns in prayer. It is an amazing feat, really.

I have had the 5 a.m. Wednesday hour for those 20 years. Sometimes I have been with someone, sometimes alone. One time I slept late and got there late. I usually miss a couple times each year for travelling. A little figuring means I’m coming up on 1,000 hours.

I wish I could report those were 1,000 hours rapt in deep spiritual devotion. When this began, I was wildly enthusiastic, ready to save the world with prayer. I remember the first few times, kneeling the entire hour and making excruciating effort to pray deeply.

After realizing my knees and brain were fighting me on this, I relaxed my regimen. I kneel a while at the beginning and end of the hour. In between, I sit. Often I write or read something religious. Intense focus has turned into trying to keep my thoughts from straying too far.

In meditation, we are told to let random and distracting thoughts float by as if in a stream. Don’t focus on them, let them go gently past. I try. But sometimes the thoughts climb up on the dock and jump up and down demanding attention. Thoughts that range in gravity from “Soybeans are up. Should I sell some today?” to “Will the Twins beat the Yankees in my lifetime?”

Some days the hour goes by quickly and others it drags. Regardless, I am glad I have that time. Sunday Mass and Wednesday Adoration are fulcrums that the rest of my week pivot on. I know Jesus is fully present, even if I am not. Some days all I can offer is, “Here I am Lord.” There is an old saying that goes, “Half the battle is showing up.” I’ll lean on that and give myself credit for those 1,000 hours.

Thinking back, there has never been a shortfall of things to pray for, on, and about in these 20 years. Later in 1998, my father passed away, and my mother the following spring. Our three children have grown and left the house; now we have a grandchild. If you are a parent, you know those prayers. Friends and family have battled afflictions. Several close friends have died. It has probably been no different than any 20 years in any of our lives; challenges are a constant.

Regardless of our faith, we all have varied ways of seeking and being present to the Creator. Many take time in nature. God is in the spectacular: sunrises, sunsets, mountains, oceans. He is also to be found in smaller matters: bird song, an intricate leaf, snowflakes.

Then, we meet God in the unlikely mix of people we encounter each day. God is in circumstances, some we create and others that are thrust on us. The chance to help someone, to listen to someone who needs an ear, to disrupt our own plans for someone else’s. Or are those God’s plans?

At Adoration, outside of short conversations of greeting with the persons who have the hour before and after, it is quiet. The room is simply adorned. The host is displayed in a “monstrance” on a small altar. There are a few candles, sometimes plants, and stained-glass windows above. The overriding characteristic is silence. Once you encounter the quiet, then comes the task of quieting your head.

Silence is not common in our world. Our ancestors would have known silence better. In the last century, generation by generation has added tools that are wonderful, but each added to the noise: radio, telephones, television, computer. Now we have phones that are all those things.

In the First Book of Kings, we are reminded why we need silence. Elijah is told to go to the mountain and wait for the Lord. “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. a still small voice.”

That was God. The still small voice. Whether it is in a chapel, or the woods, or our homes, it is good to be in quiet sometimes.