Back at the cloister of the good Sisters of Mary Magdalene in Flemington, word went around that Hurricane Sandy was coming and the sisters should prepare to evacuate since the South Branch of the Raritan was expected to reach catastrophic flood levels. The sisters had never received such a challenge before, and some of them interpreted the warning as a test of their faith. As you might expect, there was a small group (a very small group, maybe two or three) of sisters who proclaimed their unwavering faith, and said they would weather the storm in the cloister, trusting in God and their faith to keep them well. The other sisters methodically brought inside anything that could be moved, pack up a bag each and relocated to higher and drier ground.
And the winds began, and the rain came.
As the wind and rain were beginning, a state police officer came by in a patrol car, and offered to drive them to safety. Our friend Sister Septimus, the pragmatist, thought for a moment, and got in the vehicle urging the others to join her. The two remaining sisters looked askance at her and the state trooper, and proclaimed their faith and trust in God, saying, “God will protect us. We will stay here. Firm in our faith we will be fine.”
And the wind and the rain increase in intensity and strength. The night wore on and just after midnight, driving through two feet of flood water, a volunteer fire fighter drove up in a humvee and offered to take the two sisters to safety at the shelter that had been opened near the public library. The sisters looked at each other, and Sister Bryda told Sister Ludwika that she was going to go to the shelter. Sister Ludwika laughed at Bryda, and told her that her trust in the Lord could not be shaken by a little water and some wind. Sister Ludwika said she would remain strong in her faith. She was staying even if she would stay alone.
And the wind and the rain howled through the night. Just after midnight Mother Magdalene herself, the sister superior of the cloister returned in a borrowed SUV and entreated Sister Ludwika to come with her to a safer location. Ludwika refused, again inveighing against the failure of faith of the other sisters, and proclaiming that her faith would shine like a beacon to them all. And so, Mother Magdalene left Ludwika to her own private vigil.
As the night wore on, Sister Ludwika became ever more resolute in her vigil, her faith growing ever stronger even as the winds howled, and the rain waters engorged the normally quiescent South Branch of the Raritan River. As the winds raged, the cottage that Sister Ludwika had chosen for her shelter was lifted off its foundation by the winds and tossed like so much flotsam into the raging waters of the Raritan. The cottage and its contents – including Sister Ludwika – were tossed by the raging waters and batter along the river banks. Early that morning before sunrise, Sister Ludwika met her maker.
Upon arriving at the Pearly Gates (which Ludwika thought to herself were not quite as pearlescent as she had expected), Sister Ludwika saw a ragged looking fellow wearing a contractors’ tool belt. Since no one else was around to greet her, she approached him, introduced herself, and asked who he was. He smiled, and said that he had been was waiting for her. “I am Jesus” he said simply.
“Oh, my God!” Ludwika said, and blushed.
He smiled and said, “Yes.”
Then Ludwika’s anger got the best of her, and she burst out, “but why did you fail me? Why did you not save me after all my years of prayers and my unwavering faith in you! How could you let me down when I needed you the most?”
Jesus looked at her with a mixture of compassion and frustration. “Ludwika, dear, I did reach out to protect and save you. I sent the state police, the fire department and Mother Magdalene. I sent you a car, a Humvee, and an SUV! What did you want a Chariot of Fire? Your prayers may propose, but up here we are the ones to dispose! Indeed, praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition. Not that I am advocating fighting (since you can be kind of literal, Ludwika) but it really is about developing your god given skills and abilities and building communities of love and interdependence. It is not faith versus action, it is faith and action.”
(the heart of this story is a bit of an old chestnut that often centers on a man of faith caught in a tree as flood waters swirl around him. I hope you enjoy my version.)