Wednesday, October 5, 2016

God's Many Chapels

Make my heart a dwelling place, a Temple, just for You
A consecrated resting place, a vessel ever true
Set my heart afire, with the brightness of Your Son
Make my heart a dwelling place, for the Holy One
Artist Jim Cowan

Lori, Celeste, me, Cindy and Jarod in Springfield, Missouri

A recent road trip to the Midwest led me on somewhat of a spiritual journey as well.  Although the trip was not originally anything like a pilgrimage, it turned out we spent a good part of the week in various chapels along the way. To see the immense diversity in the beauty of God’s creation can, in its own right, be like a chapel as well.  When we started on our journey to Missouri and the neighboring states, we planned to visit many tourist spots, none of which were chapels.  Being open to new experiences and unplanned side trips, I learned much about what makes a true chapel, and how we are all called to be church or chapel in the world. Intertwined in this journey, between the experiences and stories of people trying to live their lives giving back to God for the blessings they had received, was a journey through my own past. I discovered that even in what I considered my darker years, God's Light was still shining brightly.

The first state we visited was Indiana, where my first spiritual director, Father David Mary, now lives.
Lori, me, Fr David Mary, Cindy and Jarod
Fort Wayne, Indiana
I first met Father David when he was still Brother Dave and I was only sixteen years old. The greatest impact he had on my life came when I was nineteen; he began a youth group at my home parish. With the encouragement of Father David, I later directed that youth group as well as became a foster mom-- along with my sister-- to three fifteen year-old girls and two little boys. These were some of the most basic years in my spiritual life. If I was measuring in human years, I would say I was in spiritual toddler-hood. I was just learning how to walk and talk my faith, learning the basics of what it means to have a friendship with God, and Father David was an important part of that time in my life. On my stop in Indiana, Father David and I got to see a friend, Sister Stella, a cloistered Poor Clare nun who was a member of the youth group when I was running it. She told me how much my actions during her years at youth group meant to her, and as I listened, I was in awe. Those were some of my darkest times of depression and even self-hatred, and the picture of me that she painted was quite beautiful.  It helped me to see that even in the darkest times in our lives, God can shine perhaps more brightly because we don't get in His way so much. It seems that my role in Sister Stella’s life during that time was that of “chapel.” I can't wait until Heaven someday where Sister Stella and I can really sit down and just talk.

The next stop was St. Louis, Missouri, where we briefly visited with Sister Lea, one of the
Me and Sr Lea
St Louis, Missouri
daughters of St. Paul. She was one of the Daughters in charge of my formation as a Cooperator, and I would say that she got me when I was a spiritual adolescent. During that time, I was trying to figure out how to integrate my spirituality with my personal life, and how to not be distracted with fits of giggles or getting off track-- something I still struggle with, although not quite as often. She probably even faced some “know it all” moments as I tried to embrace the fact that we are given so much control of where we go in life.  Sister Lea was my “chapel,” during this time, accepting me and all my “adolescent” tendencies, offering a safe place and a guiding light.

After visiting Sister Lea, we headed to see a few locations from the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I grew up on her stories, loving the idea of a more simple and family-centered lifestyle. I love all the images her writing creates-- everyone gathering around the fire, Pa playing the fiddle, walking to school with your lunch pail and slate.  I admit, I frequently Google things and love technology, but the idea of a time of simplicity has always appealed to me. I bought a bookmark with a quote from her that says, “The real things haven't changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”  What a perfect description of the kind of chapel I want to become.

Thorncrown Chapel
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Precious Moments Chapel
Carthage, Missouri
The next two stops were physical chapels, Thorncrown Chapel and the
Precious Moments Chapel. Both chapels were made as a way of giving back to God for His blessings. They were both very different and very beautiful. Thorncrown Chapel is plain with large glass windows on all sides and even on the ceiling. The amount of natural light as well as the view of God's beauty in nature is breathtaking. Words don't even begin to capture it. Precious Moments is a chapel built by Sam Butcher, the creator of Precious Moments. The chapel features hand-painted murals and stained glass windows of different Bible stories as well as a large mural containing people Sam met or who wrote to him, painted as the childlike images for which he is known. I was struck by the fact that Sam Butcher left part of the mural unfinished to recognize that God is the only perfect artist. The symbolism and little details he incorporated are mesmerizing.

Each of these visits got me thinking about my chapel.  I want to become a beautiful chapel.  I want to always shine His Light brightly, as Sister Stella showed me I once did to her.  I want to be a safe place, a guiding light, like Sister Lea was for me.  I want to be simple, honest, truthful, and courageous, like Laura Ingalls Wilder described.  I don’t want to only let God in.  I want for him to consume me and for others to see His Light shining through. The song in the beginning of this post that has been written on my heart says it most perfectly.  What will your chapel look like to the world around you?

Christine Dufresne has been a Pauline Cooperator for almost 3 years. Originally from New Bedford, MA, she served at a mission in Kentucky for 16 months before settling in Waltham, MA. In addition to being a foster parent, she has been working with children in various ways for the past 20 years and is currently a nanny for several families. She serves as a Eucharistic minister in her home parish of St. Mary’s in Waltham.


Association of Pauline Cooperators said...

Great reflection!
Sr. Margaret Charles

Maryann Toth said...

Beautiful post, Christine. Thank you.

Maryann Toth said...

Beautiful post, Christine. Thank you.