Friday, September 2, 2011


The hurricane came and went. We did as much preparation as we could at the monastery. There were a lot of leaks. The crypt underneath the chapel flooded. It was renovated last year, and the flooding was interesting. The water came up from under the altar, not from the outside drainage area, which had been the problem before, and not from the floor in general. The new heating system was installed in a way that seems to have sealed that part from the source of the water. So once the water was pumped out and the carpet dried and cleaned, little damage was sustained. Our area had a power outage that lasted for a day, but we have a good generator which kept us in electricity.

But that was not the case for our bookkeeper, whose property is by a creek that is tributary to the Wallkill River, and which was badly flooded. At least one car was totaled, and parts of the property so damaged that little could be salvaged. They will be dislocated in various ways for months. And they were lucky. Their power was restored in a day or two, while others in the area are not so fortunate.

Because a lot of the damage was in small towns and out in the country, the news of the effects of the storm is a lot slower coming in than if it had been in more populous areas. It seems that the edges of the storm carried more water than more central parts, so the northern areas, in New York State and Vermont, turn out to be the most heavily hit. A lot of bridges are out. A lot of farms and towns are built in low-lying areas around rivers and streams and were in the way of the water. Schenectady, west of Albany along the Mohawk River, is particularly hard hit. Small towns in the rural areas near us are reported to have basically disappeared. This is not big news in a media sense, but it is significant in our area. There is not a lot of economic activity in New York State once you get away from the New York City commuter areas and the Albany area, where the state government people live and work. The loss of a farm or two, of a small community, can be permanent.

It is increasingly clear to me that the monastery has an important positive economic role in our area. We employ people, purchase a lot of local products, bring people to the area from other places, and work to share what we have with the wider community in various ways, including cooperating with those who help disadvantaged people, of whom there are plenty around here. On a normal week 50 people or more are here doing one thing or another, on retreat or at a meeting or coming to pray with us, in addition to the community, which at this point numbers 15 or so. This is not insignificant, especially in an economic area which, while not precisely depressed, is not flourishing either.

The way we live, the Christian monastic way, is of course not the way for everyone. But we share what we have communally, we practice simplicity (to some extent at least!), and we work cooperatively. These are values useful beyond the monastic context, I think. What we do puts me in mind of the classic Benedictine monasteries of medieval Europe, which were literally centers of their communities, and whose cooperative economics were both stable and dynamic for wide areas around them.

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