Muscular Prayers from Skeleton Crews

When I was growing up, my grandparents’ house in North Royalton, Ohio seemed immense—especially for the few souls living there. And, indeed, it was a large house situated on the 12 acres of land it shared with an apple tree orchard, a picnic area and a well-stocked pond. But without the grounding spirit of love multiple generations of our family shared with grandma and grandpa whenever we visited them there, that house would be a tiny version of the tower of Babel site we read about during Pentecost: a city and a tower with its top in the sky. (Genesis 11:1-9)

But the spirit of love in our family had the effect that every loving family has on a house: turning it into a home. While each family member has his or her own likes and dislikes, all are united in a love that speaks a wordless language, like a prayer. This spirit puts soulful sinews on the beams of a house, turning it into a stronghold defending the inhabitants against the world’s evils.

This particular house had many large rooms, each dedicated to a certain activity—sleep, recreation, dining, biological, etc. But one small room just outside my grandparents’ bedroom served as this house’s communications center: the chapel. In this small space, I believe the smallest prayers of each of our family members were heard over the outside world’s noise. This tiny room sustained the household surrounding it through the hardest times of the 40s, 50s and 60s.

In this way, the property on which that house is situated was like the bone-strewn plain we reflect upon in the reading from Ezekiel–another of the scripture excerpts selected for this weekend’s Pentecost vigil (EZ 37:1-14):

Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: See! I will bring spirit into you, that you may come to life. I will put sinews upon you, make flesh grow over you, cover you with skin, and put spirit in you so that you may come to life and know that I am the LORD.

When that homestead finally got too big for my grandparents in 1970, they arranged to let the Byzantine Poor Clare Nuns turn it into a monastery. Since then, under the terms of a trust, for 50 years, this house has continued to be alive with prayer, not only those of its skeleton-crew of seven nuns, but of other religious groups that use it for meetings and get-togethers—and soon, the Byzantine Franciscans of the Order of Friars Minor. Local Boy Scout troops even help with maintenance as they use the property for camping and skills training.

Rev. William Skurla, administrator of the trust, says over the years, this small core group of nuns have kept the tradition of prayer in this house alive to make a big difference in the eyes of God:

“It’s hard to realize the great effect of their prayers of support and for healing both to those who lived near and far from the Monastery. … Once the virus restrictions are lifted, we hope that very soon incense and campfire smoke will be rising up to the heavens once again.”

From my Roman Catholic grandparents, to these Byzantine Catholic nuns—and the Boy Scouts of many faiths and God-given talents in-between them, this homestead has carried on the spiritual tradition of Pentecost as described by St. Paul for the Corinthians (1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13):

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

I’ll drink to that.

–Tom Andel

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