Wednesday, March 3

Celtic Spring on Clear Creek

My dad found this post on the Celtic Spring blog from back during their visit to Clear Creek about a year ago. I had fun reading over it and thought I would pass it along to those who like reading about the happenings here.

From Dallas we drove on to Oklahoma, where we would be performing on St. Patrick’s Day. We were performing in the small town of Pryor, about 45 minutes east of Tulsa, and also about 45 minutes north of one of our favorite monasteries in the United States, Clear Creek Monastery. (Are you, reader, detecting that we like monasteries?) Clear Creek is another Benedictine Monastery that has a very interesting and very recent history. About 40years ago, a wonderful man, John Senior, started the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas. He loved the “Great Books,” and his love was infectious. After studying under him throughout college, a group of young men embraced the Catholic faith and then went in search of the heart of Benedictine Monasticism at the 1000 year old Monastery of Fongombault in France. The Benedictines follow the rule of its founder St. Benedict, whose motto for his monks is Ora et Labora, Prayer and Work.

In 1999,the American monks at Fontgombault were asked to bring their Benedictine spirituality to the United States and they began to build a monastery in the wilds of eastern Oklahoma, a huge undertaking. We had the pleasure of visiting them early on and even performing for them in a rugged clearing next to the creek with a large fallen tree for their seating, and then performed later in Tulsa for one of their fund raisers. Our first visit Mass was said in metal roofed shed-like buildings. We had heard that they had since built their residence, and also the crypt for their , Church. They have had to become rugged pioneers, clearing rocky, tree covered hilly land to grow their own food to provide for themselves. Families have begun to buy land in the surrounding countyside and are also taking on “pioneering.” We knew one of the families, the Lawless family, who had moved from Southern California and we had it on our itinerary to also visit them. Greg and I have also held on to a dream of buying land out in the country near a monastery and attempting self-sufficiency, and we are awed by families that have done this.

Our soundcheck was scheduled for late afternoon and we were grateful to have a morning and afternoon to go to the Monastery. We got directions from Tim Lawless, the dad, and our first stop would be his house. From there we would go to the Monastery for 11:00 Mass. Because the Benedictines have hospitality written into their rule, Mass is at a very civilized hour. Of course the monks rise very early in the morning for prayer.

We drove for about forty minutes, taking all kinds of turns off various highways until we finally turned on to a road that very soon became a gravel road. We traversed this road for a long while before making several turns at odd roadmarks. The road got rougher and rougher and we bumped more and more with our big black St. Michael van (just washed right before our CA departure), finally arriving at a very rugged property with a big house, quickly emptying of a lot of happy faces of all ages. We were re- introduced to Tim and Teresa Lawless, and met seven of their eight children. (We had met the family once after Mass in San Diego, and our girls had gone to college with the oldest son.) We were graciously welcomed by the whole family. The children went off to meet the horse and cows, Greg went off with Tim to hear about their country life, and I visited with Teresa. Tim and Teresa were both native Californians and seemed quite happy in their rugged OK life. The land looked quite harsh to me--- all tree covered and rocky. Spring had not yet come, so everything looked dead and bleak. (This made California look like a tropical paradise!) I measure a land’s viability by whether roses could thrive. I am not sure one could even dig a hole to plant a rose in this place, Teresa showed me her new wooden planting boxes where she would plant herbs. It seemed that every project there was labor intensive--- but families were moving there and some were further along in actually being able to farm--- the Lawless family hoped to clear land to raise cattle. Suddenly we realized that it was past time to leave for Mass. As the crow flies, the Lawless family was about three miles from the Mastery, but by the rough roads it was nine miles. With Michelle Lawless as guide we sped our way through the nine miles of bumps and pot-holes, and made Mass just in time. (I was beginning to feel very sorry for our St. Michael van--- he was not used to these OK country roads.)

The Mass was awesome--- the monks chant the Tridentine Mass in Latin. Even the readings were chanted in Latin. I was following along in a missal and for the first time was deeply moved by that particular liturgy. I was too young to remember the Tridentine Mass from childhood and we have attended several since Pope Benedict made it accessible to all. My children have complained that they had had a difficult time following, but I am sure that all is needed is more familiarity. The missal explained the significance of every action of the priest and there was a richness that has been diminished in the Post Vatican II liturgy.

There seemed to be many monks--- about 40, and Elizabeth recognized young men from Thomas Aquinas College. After Mass, Fr. Bethel gave us a little tour. He explained that there are many vocations but not enough money to build fast enough. There are not even enough rooms for all the monks, so some live in shed like buildings next to the monks residence. Fr. Bethel explained that a hardship of building a monastery in the modern world is that funds have to be in place for the building of the church, instead of just being able to build one stone at a time, and take 100 years if necessary. It is either all or nothing--- well not exactly nothing. The crypt is built and that is where Mass and prayers are sung. But these beautiful and worthy monks need a church--- so if any of our dear readers feel so inclined, please remember these monks in your generosity. Fr. Bethel took the male folk of our family into the residence, and the girls and I visited with Fr. Bachman, a wonderful monk from Canada that I had known when he was student at Thomas Aquinas College more than 25 years ago. I remember when he was a senior and telling me about his vocation to be a monk at Fontgombault. I do not think he ever imagined what God had in store for him. But his countenance reveals nothing but joy and acceptance of the Divine Will. He always looked to me like an angel, fair skinned and blue eyed, and somewhat frail, now he is tanned, rugged and hearty looking from the manual labor at Clear Creek: clearing forests, raising goats, farming.

We made a hasty visit to the bookstore, bought a stack of books, including John Senior’s Restoration of Christian Culture, which we have loved! Greg, always eager for the next meal, was worried that we were overstaying our monastery visit, and compromising our time for lunch with the Lawless family. So we made a mad dash of the nine bumpy miles back to their home. Michaela Lawless, a cousin whose family had first moved out and bought land near the monastery, made a feast of a lunch--- real California Mexican food, including a pile of freshly cut avocadoes. (They must have come at a dear price to the wilds of OK) We ate more than our fill---which proved to be propitious as we were at the door of our misadventure. Again, a sad time had come. It was forty five minutes to our sound check in Pryor, and again we had to rush off. Back to another death-defying dash over bumps and holes towards our destination.

We were almost off the gravel roads when the girls announced that there was an odd sound underneath their side of the car. Our van is so long, that we could not hear it, but the car was beginning to feel strange. Greg pulled over to investigate. We had a flat on our right rear tire--- not just a flat but a completely torn up tire. So much for all those speedy rides... I was just marvelling the day before how with 75,000 miles of travel with St. Michael in two years we have been very blessed to have had no breakdowns, and little problems. (If you remember, a semi backed up into us on an exit ramp off a freeway at 3:00 a.m. as we were crossing into Canada, but at least we did not have to at a soundcheck.) I think these troubles happen to just remind us to not take anything for granted. Each day and moment is a blessing that is not owed to us.

We had never changed a flat on this van, and found the jack, which did not look quite up to the task for our very long and large vehicle. We called Tim Lawless thinking that we might need some help and he might have a heftier jack. Greg and the boys set to work, and Tim soon joined. I called AAA knowing that if we needed help, we were miles from anywhere, and they would take a long while to get to us. All seemed to be going fine, so I cancelled the AAA request. As the men were tightening down the lug bolts on the spare, they were not all tightening properly. Something did not seem quite right, but three seemed very secure, so we though we could at least get to our sound check and deal with the tire the next day. We piled in and Greg proceeded to drive, but the van would not move. OH NO!!! IT was hard not to PANIC. We have never missed a show--- we nearly did recently fighting LA traffic this past Christmas Eve, but even then, we managed to get there in time.
Furthermore, this was a rather important show, on St. Patrick’s day and well promoted. (We even saw a video of us on a large marquee, when we arrived at the hotel the night before.)
We called the presenter and explained the situation, but assured her that we would arrive and still have time to do the sound check and perform. I called back AAA and asked them to send a tow truck. We knew the situation was rather bleak, as the nearest Dodge dealership was an hour away in Tulsa. Furthermore,we had to be performing “Live” on cable TV in Birmingham two days later. Tim, most kind and gracious, piled us into his large van somehow fitting in all of our equipment, the floor, keyboard, instruments, and all of us except Greg. We would go on to Pryor, and he would deal with the van and the tow truck. We had never had to set up and sound check before without Greg. But you do what you have to do. (The band had left Sean and me behind one time, when Sean had a ruptured appendix and was hospitalized for two weeks.)

We were able to successfully set up and sound check, and Greg showed up far earlier than we ever expected him. (I would have been satisfied if he showed up just in time for the show.) Most kind and gracious Teresa Lawless and Michelle took Greg in another car as soon as the tow truck showed up. So all went well that night, and that crowd celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in fine style. We were happy to meet other families from the Monastery “neighborhood” that had come out for the show. The presenter, Kim Risner, was a very gracious woman also, taking all the stress in stride and having a lovely vegetarian dinner for us just to our tastes. Since we were still car-less, all of our equipment was very kindly delivered to our hotel by the mayor of Pryor. The Lawless family invited our children back to their home and the plan seemed fine, seeing that we were not going anywhere until we at best went to Tulsa to pick up the van the next day. Tim and Teresa left us their little car and piled all their 7 children and our six into their van. We now had two empty hotel rooms and our room full of all the equipment. I felt rather homeless, because our Sprinter van, St. Michael, is like our home when we are on the road. I could only imagine how much running around we would have to do the next day, and Greg mentioned the unimaginable scenario that the van might not be repairable in one day, and we still had to be in Birmingham on the 19th, with an eight hour drive before us.

We received the dreaded news that next morning. Greg and I decided to head to Tulsa for Mass at the Cathedral, since we knew we would have to pick up the van there. On the way I received the phone call that we had put in the wrong sized lugbolts on the spare tire and we had ruined the axle and the brakes, and the nearest axle replacement was in Michigan, The job would be finished on Monday or Tuesday. (We had obligations in California on Monday.) I explained the situation and asked if the axle could be flown from Michigan. I was told that that was a possibility. The soonest the car could be ready if the part arrived by Friday morning via plane was Friday afternoon. We still had to be in Birmingham what was now the next day.

To explain the lugbolts... we had in the usual manner put the original lugbolts on the spare tire. I was told that we were supposed to use new bolts which were shorter on the spare. That info came 12 hours too late. Where was the warning on the spare tire??? I am in friendly negotiations with Sprinter/Dodge Headquarters about this $1000. repair bill and $700. van rental bill.

After Mass we began to pursue van rentals. That is not usually a problem, but it was spring break and every large van was rented, and most companies did not even have mini-vans. The only three mini-vans we found were three times as costly as usual--- supply and demand economics at work. At this point I called our contact at EWTN cable TV, thinking that maybe Michael Masney would have some ideas. Maybe EWTN had access to cheap flights and we could fly to Birmingham from Tulsa. I must have scared him as well, because we learned later that he had told Doug Barry, the show co-host, that the show was cancelled. We would never not show up, but Michael did not know what stuff we are made of. Our main purpose for this tour was our invitation from EWTN that we received immediately after being on EWTN at this time last year, and we would be there. We drove to the Tulsa airport to rent the van for $230. per day for three days. There was a fellow renting a mini-van at the same AVIS counter at the same moment renting a nicer van for $69. per day. He had just made a reservation earlier.

We left the airport with the van and returned to Pryor where we now had to store our floor and keyboard, and everything that was not essential for the TV show. We had to fit eight people and instruments and sound equipment in the mini-van. We called the Harrison Library in Pryor, who had co-sponsored our show along with the OK Arts Council, to see if we could store our extra equipment there. More graciousness, as we were told that that was fine. We loaded up the mini-van with all the equipment, and it did fit, with seats down and no extra bodies. We unloaded at the library, again feeling quite homeless and humble---these folk had never seen our spiffy, shiny, black, Mercedes-made Sprinter van.
I did not want to drive on those horrible roads again, but our children were still happily at the Lawless family’s home. (They had wanted to spend more time with the family, so they got their wish fulfilled!) So back out again to the wilds of the monastery “neighborhood” where we were reunited with our children. We departed for the nine hour drive to Birmingham at 7:00 p.m. It was going to be a long night and I knew who would be driving into the wee hours.

The children entertained us with tales of their day. The girls had gone to the cousins’ home and were happy to tell us that their place looked much less intimidating with regard to ,
farming. This other Lawless family had bought an already working farm and had cattle,goats, and chickens. They were able to do much for themselves and the older children were already buying land from the parents on which to someday farm themselves. Our younger children had spent the day riding horses and exploring. They told us that upon arriving back at the Lawless home at 11:00 p.m., the cow still had to be milked and the job belonged to 16 year old Katie who went out to the animal enclosure with a big knife and the two German Shephard dogs, because there were many eyes to be seen glowing in the forest... probably just deer, but intimidating nonetheless. My young people learned the definition of “redneck” during their stay. The Lawless family says, with much humor, they are “rednecks” because they have three cars that don't move and a house that does. I think half our gang thought homesteading in rural OK to be the life, and the other half prefer the civilities of paved roads and towns nearby with health food stores and cafes. I just want to be able to grow roses and to be near a monastery, and have a milk cow, and a forest for wood, and a large field for a garden. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know???

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