Shimmering, rolling fjord behind the altar. The snow on the fields and the mountains beyond the fjord intensify the sunlight. A sparkling, March-blue sky speaks clearly, yet gently of the mercy of God. Everything is incredibly light, incredibly beautiful, incredibly bright, exactly as it was on this day 7 years ago. The Solemnity of The Annunciation of the Lord, the day Mary received the message from the Archangel Gabriel. That day, the altar was swallowed up in a huge tent that held 200 guests. It was the beginning of the new Cistercian monastery on the old Cistercian island. Today it is calmer, more secure. Today we celebrate becoming rooted, paradoxically in an unfinished church. There are fewer guests, only 100 of our "closest family": the support group which has prayed for this for 15 years, our neighbors on Tautra, our Cistercian family and other religious in the diocese. The large church seems the right size, at this first celebration of the Eucharist here. Light plays in the glass roof, plays on the icon and on the concrete floor as the sun rises higher in the heavens. Yes, this will be a wonderful space for worship in the new monastery. Mother Gail Fitzpatrick solemnly declares Tautra Mariakloster an autonomous monastery of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. This moment of deeper implantation of the monastic community of Tautra Mariakloster into the soil and soul of Norway is both gift and promise. All who have desired, prayed for, believed in and supported this monastery recognize today the gift of God - the answer to their prayer. The sanctuary light that will radiate through the very walls and roof of this church day and night will be a sign to neighbors and strangers, near and far, of the promise that God dwells here and that God draws this community and all people to live together in love and peace. Autonomy. Six nuns who are changing their stability from America to Norway, and form the root of a monastic community which we hope will grow larger and stronger over the years, and fill the monastery which will soon be ready to move into. The bishop has blessed the walls of the church with holy water. The fjord shines behind the abbots and priests. Seven years after the beginning, a holy number which means perfection, a beginning which has come to completion. Now it is a new beginning. Abbot Brendan Freeman of New Melleray delivers a poetic homily about the waters speaking from Creation until today, as a welcome to the nuns who have made a home at the water’s edge. We remember the angel gliding over us on the sea of Galilee on his mission to Nazareth. Then we knew why the Psalmist called upon all of us, the waters of the deep, the waters above the heavens, all streams and water courses to praise the Lord. It was the moment he took a body from the Virgin. We loved St. Bernard’s use of the words, "and the Virgin’s name was Mary." We whisper these words to you as you go by, "and the Virgin’s name was Mary". Listen to us softly murmur this to you day and night. We never sleep. Just as Mary conceived him on this day, you conceived him in your spirit in baptism. We were the water poured over you. From that moment your heart never sleeps either. For deep in the core of your being our savior
prays unceasingly like a hidden river within you saying "come to the Father". We received the body of the Lord in the Jordan and were made holy that very day. The Lord uses us to bless you at the end of each day. We were even used today to bless the walls of your church and in a few minutes a drop of our water will be added to the chalice as a sign of the mingling of the human and divine at the Eucharist. Blood and water flowed from his side on the cross and out of this stream the church was born. Well, sisters, if the creator uses water to come to us in so many ways, how much more will he use your new community, the very body of his Son Jesus? What an historic day for Norway. Your words of prayer will express the deep soul of all Norwegians whether they are aware of it or not. For at the core of each person’s being is the thirst for God. Your vocation is to represent this thirst by thirsting yourselves. You are to experience the words of Jesus on the cross, "I thirst". He is thirsting for our love. Sisters, you know and have tasted this river of living water within you, this fountain leaping up to eternal life. You have followed it to the source of your very being and there have come face to face with your creator, though it be night. Your monastic life, your monastery is a mystery. No one fully understands it, but you have drunk deeply at the spring within you. You know the depths of love at the core of your life. You have sacrificed all for this one precious pearl found only in the deepest waters of your soul. In this way you reveal the essence of each one’s heart so they may know the love that is in them from the Father. You bear them in your heart. You may never see the fruits of your labor because we live by faith not by sight. But you are a mother and a sister to all humanity. You are the voice for those who do not know their own voice. You are the cry going up from the ends of the earth to the Father. We call the ceremony about to be enacted a transfer of your vow of stability. What it really means is that you are transferring your heart to this place. To this safe island, to this monastery, to the people of Norway. For the last seven years you have known the love of the Norwegian people for you. Their presence here today means they will not let you down. They will care for your heart and support you. My nephew, who recently became a father, described it this way: "having a child…is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body". This community is your child, needing your care. Your heart is in it. Jesus is the heart of the invisible God. His heart is in this community too. Together you form one person. He in you and you in him. Abbot Kevin Daly of Roscrea in Ireland, the new Father Immediate, invites the 6 nuns to make their vow of stability to Tautra Mariakloster. It is the first time since the Reformation that anyone has made a vow of stability in Norway. It is fitting that this happens on Tautra, an island with ruins from the Cistercian monastery that was founded in 1207, in a monastery that bears the same name as the former: Sancta Maria de Tuta Insula, Our Lady of the Safe Island. I, Sr Rosemary Durcan, a solemnly professed member of the community of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, Dubuque, of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, promise my
stability in accordance with the Rule of Saint Benedict, Abbot. I do this before God and all his saints in this monastery of Tautra Mariakloster, Tautra, of the same Order, in the presence of the founding abbess, Mother Gail Fitzpatrick, and abbot Kevin Daly, Father Immediate of this monastery. The profession is heard clearly over the whole assembly, which has fallen totally silent. One by one the sisters profess their vow of stability and sign the document on the altar. I, Sr Mary Marjoe Backhus… I, Sr Mary Elizabeth Simmons… I, Sr Mary Sheryl Frances Chen… I, Sr GilKrist Marie Lavigne… I, Sr Hanne-Maria Berentzen… No cry pierces the air as the umbilical cord is cut. It is severed both to the motherhouse and, for most of the 6, to their country. Now it is for real. Now it is here we belong, here we send down roots, here next to the blue fjord, between the pebbles on the shore and the potato fields, here in mid-Norway in the Trondheim diocese. Here we will live and here we will die and be buried, in the cemetery a few meters outside the church floor where we now stand. Here we belong, as Cistercian nuns who are "lovers of the community and the place." The documents remain on the altar until after Mass, when Abbot Kevin removes them. This is the canonical sign that the vows are accepted by the Church. The nuns stand in a semicircle before the altar as Abbot Kevin prays for the newly-formed community. Father of mercy, we pray that our sisters may fulfill with joy the promises they have made today. May they live by faith, rooted in hope, always ready to receive your love and to show it to others. Help them to be free from care and selfish desires, and to listen obediently to every word you send them. May they perceive all their trials and difficulties as the shape which the cross of Christ is taking in their lives and as a way of laying down their lives for one another. Lead them into that interior wilderness where they may grow in the love of silence and solitude. Strengthen in them the gift of prayer, that they may be eager for the work of God and for seeking you within the depths of their hearts. May they be as a city, set on a mountain, a sign of your love and a source of your life. Outside the winter wilderness sparkles. The sun plays in the waves of the water, which has become even more blue as the day has progressed. God receives the vows of stability with rejoicing and gladness. The ancient island could not possibly shine more brilliantly on a March day. And the people are glowing too. With love from the Church of Tautra
Clockwise from upper left: Many found their way to Tautra Mariakloster March 25; Entrance
procession; Bishop Georg blesses the walls and congregation; Mother Gail declares Tautra Mariakloster autonomous; Sr Skjærild changes her stability; Sr Hanne-Maria pronounces her vow; the first 6 members of the Tautra community: Srs Sheryl, Lisbeth, Marjoe, GilKrist, Rosemary, and Hanne-Maria; Sr Marjoe renews her promise of obedience in our present chapel. Lætare Sunday, March 26, Sr Rosemary was elected our first Prioress, for a 6-year term. We celebrated the special services of Holy Week in the still unfinished church. Palm Sunday; Holy Thursday procession; Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday; Lighting the Paschal candle; Liturgy of the Word during the Easter Vigil; Paschal Candle early Easter morning. We hope to move into the new monastery in July. The cross on the belltower; chapter room; view from the cloister; Mother Gail and Sr Lisbeth admire the wood panelling in the interior gardens; view of the monastery from the south. You can see more photos of the building on www.tautra.no. Sr Sheryl has a solo show called "Between Heaven and Earth" at Galleri Tautra May 24 – June 18. As the daughter of an artist and a physicist, she is drawn to the beauty both of Tautra and of more manmade processes. These are some shots of "found art" from the building site. Her photos can be seen in the Nettbutikk at www.mamut.com/Sheryl. Almost finished: view of the monastery from the north, showing the east façade of the church. To the right of the sanctuary windows is the nuns’ private chapel, the cloister, refectory and cell wing.