If you’ve been following our progress on our website, you know that we’ve been having a cold and icy winter. The winter solstice marks the turn of the sun, when our 4 hours of daylight begin lengthening. For us, celebrating Christmas Mass at 11:00 a.m. is the same as having Mass at Dawn! We have been enjoying some fantastic displays of the Northern Lights. Usually they are a low-lying green band like a rainbow stretching across the mountains on the other side of the fjord. But when God wants to ring in the new year with a fireworks display, we are treated to shades of yellow and pink, forming streamers, curtains and spirals that reach the height and breadth of the heavens, with bursts of movement and light seemingly from backstage. We hate to have to go to bed so early and miss the all-night show. There are many myths and legends associated with the Northern Lights. Danish folklore believed a flock of swans had flown too far north and became icebound. The lights were reflections off their flapping wings as they struggled to free themselves. Others thought the lights were caused by eruptions of mountains around the North Pole, or were the Sami people’s torches as they searched for their reindeer. Finlanders thought the Northern Lights were reflections of the waves made by whales and large seals. The movement of the lights led to a logical connection with dance, especially the dancing souls of dead maidens. In western Norway, it was said that a dying old maid would "soon be going to the Northern Lights." Scotland’s "Merry Dancers" refers to supernatural beings fighting over a beautiful woman between the stars. Siberians called the Northern Lights "heaven gives birth" and believed that a woman who gave birth under them would experience no pain. The Northern Lights (nordlys) have also been thought to be reflections of schools of herring (sildelys) and a warning of strong winds (vindlys). People in Finland thought they were sparks thrown off when a fox with a special kind of fur brushed against pine branches. Physicists can now tell us that the Northern Lights are part of a larger, magnetic storm which occurs over 100 km above the earth. Free electrons or protons are carried by the solar wind into the magnetic field of earth’s polar region and collide with gas particles in our atmosphere. These particles become unstable, and emit a photon or ray of light. When billions of these collisions happen at the same time, they produce the Northern Lights. It is oxygen which results in a green display. The color of the lights tells which gases are present in our atmosphere at that altitude. Light and shadow are already dancing in our new church as it comes into being. Jan Olav Jensen’s design calls for three layers of wood beams on top of the gables. This latticework is already very exciting and beautiful, whether it's the winter sun shining in at noon, or us looking up through it, illuminated by NCC’s lightcasters, to the black night sky. We haven’t experienced the finished church yet, but our sense is that the constantly changing play of light is very
Cistercian. Archeologist Terryl Kinder’s theory is that the early Cistercians preferred plain architecture so that they could use God’s light as decoration. That was all that was needed. We can’t wait to sit in our new church and just watch the light and shadow move across the simple walls with an elegance no work of art could match. We have wonderful financial news. We are now assured of not having to stop construction since we have received enough in pledges for 2006 to complete our contract. We should actually have enough to buy some furniture and give the gardens a good start. We want to thank especially all of you who responded so generously to help create beautiful interior gardens. Our next pressing need is larger equipment for our herbal soap industry. We are excited that sculptor Knut Wold is designing our altar, tabernacle and lecturn, and donating his time and exceptional talent. The larvikite (Labrador granite) is also a (3 ton) gift of the owner of the quarry in Larvik, Thor Lundh. Our abbey in Scourmont, Belgium, is giving us our choir stalls and desks, which will be made in ash by their carpenters, together with benches for our guests. We are so grateful to all our benefactors, and we are daily in awe of God’s providence. Like the Northern Lights, God is always there. But we can see the beautiful activity only when it’s cold and dark. So it is with faith: when we walk with loving trust into the unknown, it is then that God bursts forth with the most brilliant displays of his grace. We wish each of you in 2006 a generous share in the splendid, sparkling shower of God’s blessings. With much love from your sisters on Tautra
BUILDING A CATHEDRAL IN THE DARK I 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 through seven 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.