This is the story of The Trees Community, a semi monastic Christian group that left NYC on a bus in 1971 on a journey of faith. When most of our money burned up the first night, we relied on God for all our needs and he provided! We traveled the United States growing in our new faith, finding a ministry in music and eventually becoming artists in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Seven years, seven "stories" are woven into this amazing journey.

His Banner Over me is Love: Three Rivers Monastery

St. Gregory's Benedictine Monastery
Three Rivers, Michigan

From the moment we arrived at St. Gregory’s Abbey, I was impressed with how welcoming and kind the brothers were. As we pulled up to the monastery, I felt a quiet stillness that filled a deep longing in my heart. As we were greeted by the brothers in their long robes, what struck me first was their gentleness and affection. Over the next three weeks, we either stayed in the guest house or parked on the grounds when the guesthouse was full. It was the perfect place to write music allowing us the freedom to create free of criticism, or pressure. Even during heated discussions with the brethren, there was an underlying foundation of camaraderie and respect that built up our admiration for each other and eventually led to delightful exchanges with a healthy dose of ribbing, bantering and jokes.

We quickly settled into the rigors of monastic life. Matins began at 3:30 in the morning, then Lauds at 6:00 a.m., followed by our own service, the Tree’s Liturgy at 6:30 a.m., which ended our time of silence. Breakfast was at 7:00, Terce at 8:30, Mass at 11:30, Vespers at 5:00, followed by our own prayers or a prayer meeting usually at 7:00 p.m., Compline at 7:45 followed by silence and finally bedtime. Typically after our Trees Liturgy, we would meet together amongst ourselves for confession, meetings, and sometimes heated discussions to work out differences of opinion or clear the air.

We pitched in to help with whatever was needed: we picked grapes, chopped wood, cleaned, or did other chores the monks had for us. We broke bread with the brothers and on Sunday evenings everyone enjoyed Brother Bernard’s splendid "mead". For me it was wonderful to be able to go to private confessions with Father Anthony. It was refreshing to be accepted warmly and openly without a hint of judgment or criticism such as we had experienced elsewhere. New songs poured out and our music flourished.

Some evenings we sat around exchanging simple guitar songs. Other nights there were delightful conversations with Brother David, a gentle man with a gift of reconciliation who always seemed able to resolve conflicts and calm our differences of opinion.

About a week after our arrival, a disturbing situation developed reminiscent of our exorcism experience with Laura at Love-Inn. The monks had a weekly charismatic type prayer meeting in their chapel led by a monk named Father Leo. He was an excellent speaker with an easy manner and a commanding presence. I enjoyed listening to him as I found his message clear and easily understandable. On that particular Wednesday evening, Father Leo spoke about the power of the Holy Spirit and the importance of making a commitment to God. Various people offered prayers and intercessions and he invited people to come forward for intercessions and laying on of hands. One of the novices named “Richard” knelt down asking that love come into him and asking for deliverance.

Richard had been one of the first brothers we had met the day we arrived. With intense, dark eyes and a haunted look about him, his demeanor reminded me a lot of Laura. After we exchanged greetings, I remember his first question struck me as being rather odd for a monk. After reading the inscription on the side of our bus that said, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever he asked, “Brahma is the same as Yahweh, isn’t He?” I thought, Huh? What? As he rambled on and on about Brahma being the divine reality of the universe, the true Holy Trinity, etc. I wondered if the Lord had drawn us there for a specific purpose? If we weren't there to help in another exorcism, then maybe God had brought us to work on our judgmentalism!

That night at the end of prayer meeting, Richard walked up and knelt in front of the altar. Several monks gently placed their hands on his shoulders. Shipen, Ariel, David and Roger also went up and laid hands on him and prayed. Soon the room was filled with the sounds of praying and speaking in tongues. Richard cried out several times and we “hunkered down” and set to praying, realizing it might involve hours of prayer and intercession. Eventually, Brother Leo asked "Who is your Lord?" and Richard responded, “Brahma.” Then, with a loud, firm voice, Brother Leo commanded the spirits binding him to leave him in peace and asked him if he confessed Jesus to be his Lord? Richard responded in a strange voice, “I move over the land and the sea!” All of us continued praying and after a while Richard fell silent. Eventually, he stood up and slipped out the meeting and immediately Shipen, Ariel, David and Roger quietly followed him out of the chapel.

We women were unable to go with them into the monastery (it was off limits to women) so we stayed in the chapel to keep a prayer vigil for Richard for the rest of the night. Several hours later, the men returned explaining they had found Richard praying and chanting to a skull surrounded by other talismans and relics. They laid hands on Richard (just as we had with Laura) and eventually, he was delivered of the spirits that had plagued him. (I was kind of glad I wasn't able to be there to be honest!) The eleven of us then prayed together in the chapel and finally, exhausted, I retired to bed while others continued praying in shifts throughout the night.

On September 30th, we received some shocking news that would be life changing for our small group. Claudia was pregnant! It came as a complete surprise to most of us. That wonderful romantic evening in the Hutterite farmhouse had produced an unexpected result! We brought out our instruments and poured our emotions into a long improvised raga to celebrate the astonishing new reality. Then we talked for a long time as the news sunk in. A baby. What would it mean? How would this work with our strange, gypsy lifestyle? I remember trying to wrap my mind around the idea and being totally astounded. I just could not imagine why the Lord had thrown us such a curve ball? I don't think I was angry or upset but it was just such an incredible cosmic surprise. That night I prayed offering our future to God: "Lord, bless our dear sister Claudia and brother Roger. Bless this new life you have created. But please Lord, whatever this means, don’t let us lose Roger and Claudia. Let us do your will. Please, show us what to do." Doors were opening but others would soon close.

The Lord answered our prayers the very next day when a man named Jerry Barker from Church of the Redeemer in Houston, Texas came to visit the abbey. He showed a documentary movie about the Redeemer community and spoke at length about their work and lifestyle. It was a fateful event for us. The Church of the Redeemer was a charismatic Episcopal church composed of about forty “households” with members living together in extended families. Suddenly, a new possibility opened up for Roger and Claudia to establish their family in a Christian community with a strong Christian mission. Immediately it struck a chord with Roger and Claudia. After discussions with Jerry and much prayer, they decided they would not continue with us on our journey but would move to Church of the Redeemer. I had mixed feelings about it. I really did not want them to go yet I wasn’t sure how they could stay and raise a child given our nomadic life.

Over the next week, our small family prayed and talked about the upcoming change. It would be hard to lose Roger and Claudia and I felt a deep sense of sadness and melancholy as we prayed and played music together. From the earliest days in the loft, Shipen, Roger and Claudia had been a trio united in their love and friendship for each other. Their ragas over the years had developed into a private language between them. The evening before their departure, we gathered for one final raga with Shipen on sitar, Roger on tabla drums and Claudia sitting serenely on the carpet with the tamboura in her lap. For me it was bittersweet as the raga took on a life of its own, like a shifting, ever-changing conversation - a fluid dance in total harmony. One of the brothers taped the concert and it is the only recording that remains of the remarkable music created by those three beloved friends. As I watched Claudia’s fingers moving gracefully over the droning strings, I kept realizing how much I would miss my sister, her kindheartedness, her beautiful grace, delightful warmth and love. I would miss her laughter and friendship. How could we continue on without them?

On our last night at St. Gregory Abbey, we donned our pastel colored robes and, looking very Benedictine, joined the monks for a wonderful evening with a delightful exchange of conversation, songs and music. The evening was taped and whenever I listen to it I'm struck by the rich sense of joy, laughter, the warmth of our friendship with the Three Rivers monks is incredibly moving. Shipen, and then father Anthony, talked about how our visit had enriched both our communities, remarking that even though we argued about dogma and had our differences of opinion, the camaraderie between us had just grown stronger. Someone watching us that night might have thought it was all kind of corny, but there were lots of smiles and laughter as we sang Blessed be the ties that Bind followed by His Banner over me is love. I always thought the hand movements for Banner were kind of dorky but this time it led to giggling and choruses of laughter. The evening ended after one of the brothers sang a lovely Korean hymn.

October 8, 1971 was a very sad day. Not only were we leaving our new friends at the monastery but more importantly we were leaving Roger and Claudia. After loading up the bus, there was a last minute frantic search for a missing wallet (which was eventually found) and finally it was time to say goodbye. It was one of those moments when you memorize every detail and savor every gesture. I melted into Roger’s bear hug squeezing back my tears. Then I turned to Claudia. All these years later I can still see her smile; her eyes crinkled up at the corners as we faced each other and said our goodbyes. I can still feel her warm, loving embrace as we parted, tears streaming down our faces. Even though I knew this was coming for a long time and that it was the right thing for all of us, it did not make it any easier. She was my older sister. It was incredibly hard to let her go.