31 May 2020

The Miracle of the Carpenter

The nine full days between the Ascension and Pentecost are called the “Novena” in some Christian traditions. In recent years, the wider church has adopted the theme “Thy Kingdom Come” as an international prayer initiative across the denominations when we pray for our neighbours.

Here is a Novena story with a remarkable message! The year was 1878 in the US frontier town of Santa Fe and the sisters of Loretto had overseen a five year building programme for their chapel. Modelled on the Saint Chapelle in Paris, it has a delicate sanctuary with an altar, a rose window, pews and a choir loft. Everything was complete except the choir loft – it had no staircase and could only be reached by a ladder! The designers said a staircase was impossible to build in that space. The sisters had travelled from Kentucky to Santa Fe but they now faced a challenge greater than their journey. All they could do was pray, and the nuns prayed for nine days.

On the last day of the Novena, a bearded Mexican carpenter with a weather-beaten face appeared at the convent. He had heard they needed a stairway and thought he could help. The nuns had nothing to lose and he set to work for eight months.

One morning the sisters went to the chapel and there it was: a masterpiece of carpentry that spiralled from the floor to the loft. There are two complete 360 degree turns with 33 steps held together by pegs and no central support. The wood is an ancient fir not found in New Mexico!

When the sisters turned to thank the craftsman he was gone. He never asked for money. He never asked for praise. He was a simple carpenter who did what nobody else could do so that singers could enter the choir loft and sing! You can go there or see the pictures on the internet! It is a monument to the fruit of prayer.

The American author Max Lucado, in telling this story, puts it this way.

“You can talk to the Master Carpenter yourself. He has already performed one impossible feat in your world. He, like the Santa Fe carpenter, built a stairway no one else could build. He, like the nameless craftsman, used material from another place. He, like the visitor to Loretto, came to span the gap between where you are and where you long to be.

Each year of his life is a step – 33 paces. Each step of the stair is an answered prayer. He built it so that you could climb it and sing! Let me tell you of another chapel. The Christian hospital in Nazareth has an extraordinary Communion table or altar – it is constructed as a carpenter’s bench!

In Zambia, many years ago, we sat round a camp fire with a large crowd of school students, their attentive black faces glistening in the glow of the embers. The speaker was an African evangelist. He said: “We can easily forget that Jesus was more than just a carpenter of wood – he is a carpenter of lives”.

God bless you.