St. Kateri Tekakwitha and the Tornado

6 April 21 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Events, History, Saints, Supernatural

In his book, Tornado God: American Religion and Violent Weather, Peter J. Thuesen compares tornados, windstorms, and other especially violent weather events to human conceptions about God, punishment, and gratitude for coming through them.  “Tornadoes, and weather generally,” he writes, put us in touch with the origin of religions, which arose in part as humans struggled to account for the forces of nature.”  Thuesen explains that God and weather are unknowable and have uncontrollable power, so it is not surprising to see that the two tied together in the human psyche.

One night in August 1683, a tornado hit the Jesuit mission at Sault St. Louis, (the Mohawk village of Kahnawake) in Quebec, Canada. “All the monsters of hell” were unleashed against the mission in the form of a “whirlwind” which destroyed the chapel.  Miraculously, Fr. Claude Chauchetiere and two other Jesuits who were in the chapel at the time of the tornado survived without serious injury.

Fr. Chauchetiere credited their deliverance to Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk convert to Christianity. Earlier in the day each of the men had prayed at her grave nearby. They attributed their prayers at the site for their salvation from the tornado.  Surviving the destructive tornado was the second miracle Chauchetiere attributed to Kateri Tekakwitha. Three years earlier an oak tree next to the chapel had been struck by lightening but the chapel was left untouched.   

Fr. Claude Chauchetiere (September 7, 1645-April 17, 1709) was a French Jesuit missionary priest and painter.  He met Kateri Tekakwitha at Kahnawake a year or so before her death. His oil painting of her hangs in the sacristy of St. Francis Xavier Church on the Kanawake Mohawk Reserve near Montreal, Quebec, Canada.





The Stone Man

5 February 21 | Posted in Spirituality, Supernatural


We built a stone man on our land in Pennsylvania.  We built him from rocks from a nearby stone fence, and from a stone cairn nearby. I felt a breath of air when we displaced the cairn rocks. Whatever had been there was freed.  I felt its sigh when I lifted a large stone in the center.

The Stone Man came together easily and balanced perfectly.  He had a discernable head, stumpy arms, long legs and looked like he was riding on a surfboard.  He had a hole in his center. Once I spotted a hunter’s lost cap looking through him.  The Stone Man was more than a marker. He was a familiar and friendly presence. We felt a great affection for him and the feeling was returned. I was always glad to see him, and I never felt alone when he was within sight.

He stood near the border of our property in the woods. Once we passed by the Stone Man, a trail began along an ancient lake to Mud Pond. The trail went up a hill through dense clumps of mountain laurel, black ash, birch, granite boulders and some white pine. Mud Pond was surrounded by a boggy area, so you needed to be careful where you walked.  We also needed to be careful of the bears which used the trail.

I got the idea of building an inuksuk from photos of inuksuit created by the Inuit in Alaska.  The word “inuksuk” means to “act in the capacity of a human being.”  These stone figures acted as hunting and navigational aids and message centers.  A familiar inuksuk on the landscape is a welcome sight when a hunter or traveler is a long way from home.  Many Inuit retain strong attachments to Inuksuit built by their ancestors. Some of the old inuksuit are mentioned in Aya-yait, the traveling songs passed from one generation to another to help travelers remember a series of directions.

Traveling northward in 1834 toward the Arctic Ocean on the river that now bears his name, George Back, captain in the British Royal Navy, was amazed to see “a man” looking down at him from a high hill. Closer inspection revealed it to be a stone man “placed there by the Esquimaux.”  Stone men guided Inuit seafarers along the coasts. In the 1940s, while working in northernmost Labrador, Canadian archaeologist Douglas Leechman saw inuksuit “on many headlands…gazing steadfastly out to sea. Their principal purpose is to serve as landmarks, and an Eskimo knows the shape and color of every one in his district. Should he be overtaken by fog or bad weather he will often be able to save himself from going astray by the timely sight of a familiar cairn.” “A long time ago near Cape Dorset, (on Baffin Island, in the Canadian territory of Nunavet), there was a special inuksuk,” elder Peter Pitseolak told historian Dorothy Eber. “In the old days people from our side who were going to cross (Hudson Strait) used to go to the inuksuk and give presents. They would say, “I give you this. I wish to return again.”

There is a spiritual presence, and dignity, in each inuksuk.  I felt it immediately when we placed the last rock to build our stone man. He wasn’t alive in our human sense of the word, but an energy and connection was present.  We always felt his kinship and care as we passed by, and he felt our respect and affection in return.