How a Power Outage Brought Out My Inner Franciscan
“Here it comes!” my husband said, as the wind slammed our hillside house and a storm of heavy, wet flakes descended onto our deck. It felt as if the sky were turning itself inside out and then falling on top of us. Beautiful, yes; scary, just a bit. The furnace stopped humming and embraced silence as a spiritual path. The refrigerator subsided, muttering, then was quiet. All of the lights were snuffed, as if light itself were being hoarded within the bulbs until a better day presented itself.
We sprang into action. Luckily, we had a half-filled hot tub in the basement where we could dip buckets and haul water upstairs for flushing toilets. We got out the candles and the hurricane lanterns, one so old it barely worked, a relict from hurricanes during my own childhood. My husband ran out onto the deck and started piling wood into a leather carrier, lugging it indoors — along with a blast of wet, cold air.
After a spurt of activity, we settled in front of our fireplace, chairs drawn close and blankets ready at hand for when the air grows colder, as it soon would. Silence wrapped around us, palpable and close, demanding nothing except that we just be. I grew mesmerized by the red and golden flames licking the wood, not thinking of anything, not responding to anything, just — looking. And then St. Francis’ words came to mind:
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire through whom you brighten the night.
I thought of my favorite saint, squatting on the dirt floor of one of his ravaged huts, holding out his hands to the fire and praising God. Always. In every situation, in each moment of the day.
When my husband brought in more drinking water from the deck where he was keeping it chilled, I again thought of my saint’s words:
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water, she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
“Useful” did not describe how delectable that liquid tasted to us; the very fact that we had to work to get this water made it more precious, and we seemed thirstier than before, snatching nips of water as if it were some fabulous single-malt Scotch. But far, far better.
As the wind continued to slam the house and trees creaked and groaned outside — some dropping their limbs with a thunderous crash — I managed to say aloud,
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storm…
Though I was finding it difficult to praise God for a storm. Perhaps new things will arise out of this, I thought; perhaps we will be linked more closely to our neighbors because we are all in need, all in this together.
The whole world was suddenly transformed from something that I used for my pleasure — from continuous messages and information that stream in relentlessly through the day and night — into a world bringing its own messages of divinity, of creation, of God’s care for us in fire and water even in the midst of storm.
But I think St. Francis, were he alive now, might add one more sentence to his beautiful “Canticle of the Sun.” It would read, Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Silence who holds us close, who shapes our thoughts, graces our lips, and reminds us of the great silent heart at the center of creation.