Sunday, January 16, 2011

Alarms, Excursions and Stained Glass: A night at Wernersville


On Wednesday I drove up to the Jesuit Center in Wernersville to see Patient Spiritual Director and spend a day and a night in silent silence (as opposed to the less quiet silences I've been writing about here and there.) Going at all was a near thing, as we had snow and howling winds the night before. But Math Man dug me out and once the boys were on their way to school, I headed out in time to make lunch, if not Mass.

Stained Glass

About a year ago, I wrote about this stained glass window by Dennis McNally SJ, depicting key movements from the Spiritual Exercises which I'd found through People for Others. I, along with Stratoz and others, wondered (to no avail) where it was - in hopes of spending some time sitting contemplatively in front of it. On Wednesday, I was walking down the 3rd floor hall and ran into a Jesuit friend. He was chatting with another gentleman. First names were exchanged, but when my lanky Jesuit friend mentioned that Dennis was an artist, at St. Joe's University, my brain put two and two together and asked, "Do you work in stained glass?" Yes, and yes, he was the artist who imagined this gorgeous window. Dennis McNally, SJ - you can read about the window here.

Alas, it does not exist — so sitting in front of it is not in the cards (unless you have a 8'x8' square in a wall somewhere that is crying out for a stained glass window). Apparently the center window — The Two Standards — was deemed too modern for the intended setting (the chapel at the Maryland Province Infirmary).


Around 9:30 at night, I finished up what I was doing in the library, cleared up my books and papers and went off to pray in the main chapel. I went in my sock feet, clutching shawl and breviary, to sit on the floor in front of the altar. (There's just enough light there to pray the Office by!) I blessed myself from the holy water font at the front, and as I took a step in to the chapel proper suddenly lights began to flash (including around the tabernacle) and alarms began to hoot. My first thought was I'd transgressed some boundary - had I missed a message that said the chapel was off limits? Surely both Lanky Jesuit and Patient Spiritual Director would not have failed to mention this. Second thought was, Lord, I am not worthy to sit at your feet? Rational thought kicked in about 30 milliseconds later. Fire alarm. I headed (in my sock feet, no coat, the wind chill is in the single digits, and did I mention there was snow on the ground?) out the door, pajama and robe clad retreats streaming behind me. Mercifully the alarm stopped before I got out the door.

Just in case, I retrieved my shoes from my room. Back to the chapel. I sit on the floor, compose myself and breathe. Suddenly, I hear an alarm again. This time it's softer; it sounds like it's coming up through the floor of the altar. "The crypt?" I wonder. I get up, seeing if I can find the source. I track it out of the chapel and into the front foyer, where the alarm station reads "Fire Auditorium" Uh-oh. No sign of a response anywhere, so I head for a phone. On the way, I run into a security staff person. Yes, they know. Yes, they're working on it. I go back, alarm is off. I settle to prayer again. Breathe. Chirrup, chirrup…there's the alarm again.

I've been having trouble with distraction in prayer (which is the subject of a post for my conversation with Robin about Into the Silent Land!)- and all I could think was, "God, this is not funny." In the end I did manage to stay my hour. In silence. No further alarms.


  1. cool that you met the artist. I can imagine the pain of a design not coming into being.

    I was out there when temps and humidity came together to create ponds of condensation which caused the alarms to go off.

  2. Sounds funny from the outside, but I can imagine it wouldn't when you were actually there! Thanks for sharing the story.

  3. Wayne, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who's been alarmed there!

    It was cool indeed to meet the artist.

    Rev. Dr. Laura - It's funny now, and even at the time I could see *some* of the humor in the whole thing. Adrenaline is not always good for meditation!