Building a Cathedral in the DarkI suppose that no one outside our community would call the new monastic church, being built a few hundred meters away, a cathedral. Its modest size (about 224 sq. meters (2411 sq. feet), with accommodation for about 120) simply would not qualify it as such. But for us, who have lived in what feels like a match box these past seven years, this new church being built in the next field seems vey much like a cathedral. Our present chapel was formerly a living room. Most often we move in and out of the monastic choir going sideways as there just isn’t enough room to go the normal way. When a visiting sister comes, we calculate her size before deciding where we should place her in choir. And when a large group of guests arrive, we often must pray outdoors because the present chapel allows for only 15 guests. At other times as many as 30 young people have sat on the floor, scattered all around us. So yes, that church they are building is for us a cathedral. We have watched it go up almost every day. We have prayed in its space. We have marveled at the way the workers do their jobs. We have measured and inspected each centimeter both on paper and in person. When we were told that the entire monastery would be built in a little over a year, I was a bit sceptical. "What about the winter?" I asked. The architect and project leader, with discreet smiles, answered : "And what about it? We always have winter in Norway. We work weather notwithstanding." I pondered that, when they said it, but then didn’t think about it much more. Later, it became more concrete when I saw workmen up on the roof of the church, in the midst of high winds and sleet, acting as if it were a warm summer day. But what I was not prepared for at all was the darkness! Of course we have darkness in Norway. Everybody knows that, and I have lived throughseven winters now. And yes, for about 3 months there is only about 4 hours of daylight. The workmen are sometimes there from 7:00 in the morning until 7:00 at night. What I wasn’t thinking about was this simple mathematical calculation: If they are working for 12 hours a day, and there are only 4 hours of light, then, of course, they are working for 8 hours in the dark. So they are building a church in the dark, through winds, rain, hail, sleet and snow. Sure they have lights on, but do those lights shine all the way up to the roof structure? No, they don’t. I asked one of them once: "How do you use those electric saws up there in the dark?" The workman laughed and answered: "We’re used to this. We always have to build in the darkness in Norway…all winter long. It’s nothing new." At times when I hear their hammers up there in the dark, I just begin to pray. I pray for their safety and also for their morale. What is it like to spend so many hours of your workday in the dark, and in such unpredictable weather? This has led me to meditate about things that grow in the dark. When we make soap, for example, we must pour it into a large form, cover it with blankets and put it in a dark room for two days. During this time, the batter actually becomes soap, and not before. But many things grow in the dark: flower bulbs, a child in the womb, dough raising to become bread, a bird still in the egg. So many beautiful things come out of darkness. Perhaps our own lives grow in the darkness. We usually do not see it ourselves. Often enough, it’s those around us who notice the growth, and we are perhaps unaware that we are changing. Perhaps we have become a bit more compassionate, a bit softer or more flexible, wiser in some hidden way. Of course, we do see our new church in the light sometimes. Then we are amazed at what has happened since the last time. However, I find that it looks most dramatic in the darkness, with the glow of some light at the bottom. It becomes a kind of burning bush. I sense the presence of the Lord there, and I find myself praying with passages of Scripture, especially the Song of Songs: " I am dark, but lovely, oh daughters of Jerusalem." Each year at Passover, the Jews say, "Next year, in Jerusalem!" The longing of our hearts is being fulfilled—this year, in Jerusalem! Our own cathedral, built in the dark.

Sr. GilChrist