Driving through downtown Des Moines, I am stopped at the corner by Wells Fargo arena on a sunny, warm fall day. Colorful leaves skitter across the road; the breeze teases a longer summer; and pollen triggers my allergies. Looking at the arena – empty now – I remember the late August day when a small team gathered at that same corner to pray the rosary to prepare the arena for the upcoming Christ Our Life conference, and the sign the Holy Spirit gave me that this would be a special weekend.
Our little group huddled up, prepared for the task at hand. We had rosaries, a jar of blessed salt and a bottle of holy water to sprinkle around the perimeter for protection, the anticipation of an amazing weekend in September, and a desire to ask the Holy Spirit to come and – as Ellen always says – put souls in seats to glorify our Lord.
At the appointed time, the rosary began. Marilyn asked Mother Mary for her intercession, the saints for their prayers, and Fr. Joe for his. She dedicated the conference to Jesus and Mary. Walking along the perimeter of the building, Marilyn sprinkled blessed salt, Vicky sprinkled holy water, and our prayers soared to heaven.
It was there, in that quiet, our voices “calling out in the desert”, that it happened. As the evening traffic drowned out the rosary leader, forcing me to listen all the harder for his voice, sound fell away and suddenly, I heard the loud click of a switch, the buzzing of electricity and was aware of a light. I turned to the building, and there, shining up from one of the concrete corners, was a light – just the light – like a search light, going straight up from the arena into heaven. Glancing around, it seemed no one else noticed it, as bright, loud and shining as it was.
I was quite awed by the light. It was joyful, strong, purposeful. I sensed the Holy Spirit was claiming His territory, setting a boundary, preparing this building for what was coming. I paused for a moment, taking this in. I imagined the Holy Spirit was pleased with the group blessing the arena, cleansing it, as it were, for Him to come and make it His home for the weekend of the conference, and showed His approval with the lights. Looking back, they seem like pillars of fire sent to protect the building, the city, the conference so that people could come, gather, and worship together and be fed.
The group had moved on, praying into the traffic sounds, the breeze, the skittering leaves, unaware of the light. Fragments of the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and Glory Be broke through the surrounding noises. As we rounded another corner, another loud click, another buzz, and another search light shining brightly. Twice more we rounded corners, and twice more, the search lights came. Now the arena was surrounded by them. Four bright lights shining up to heaven, one on each side of the arena.
We completed the circle. The blessed salt ran out. The holy water bottle was capped. The final light was next to the bench on the corner. It was shining so brightly. And still no one else noticed. I felt comforted by the lights. I knew they were a sign that the weekend would happen and it would be a blessing to many.
Reflecting on the lights, “preparing the way” comes to mind. By preparing the arena, we were blessed with an amazing conference…that reached out to the world in a way we never anticipated. The lights? I think they were the Holy Spirit’s way of telling us that. On that weekend, over 2,600 people gathered in person. Speakers were at their first large in person conference in months. Vendors were excited to be out. Emails and letters and comments of the blessings still bring tears to my eyes, just hearing what the very fact of being able to gather as a group and pray the Mass together meant to so many. And the livestream – that unexpected complexity we felt so called to add this year – allowed so many to participate who would otherwise have missed this event, and found new friends from around the world!
We didn’t plan for this, but by preparing our hearts and conference home for the event, the Holy Spirit took over and did what we couldn’t: Brought the world together to believe, live, and celebrate our faith!
What was YOUR experience in the arena during the conference? We would love to hear from you.