Published March 16, 2006
My mom lives in an assisted living facility called Christwood, in Covington, Louisiana. It is a beautiful place, and I know that she is well cared for there by her friends and a wonderful staff. Christwood has a strong connection with the local Episcopalian church. It was founded by that church, and I remember when the board of directors visited our home, before Mom moved, and went over all the attractive qualities to life at Christwood.
That was more than 10 years ago.
A lot of Mom’s friends moved there, so the transition was not as hard as it would have been had she been a total newcomer. A strange place, at an advanced age, brings with it a lot of fear.
We all like and need the known and familiar. Everyone seems to take the name of the place for granted—they do not talk much about whatever relationship exists between Christ and the name of their home. But there is a fairly recent arrival who took notice, in a very lighthearted way. Her name is Doris.
I was there on a visit shortly after Doris arrived and was struck by how friendly she was. She made the rounds of all the tables, introduced herself and gradually took a sincere interest in the new lives in her midst.
She soon found out I was a priest, and she told me of her Jewish faith. As far as I know, she is the only person of Jewish faith in Christwood. I know of no temple or synagogue in that area. Christwood has become the place where she lives her faith and, in her own way, shares it with others.
While I was there, there was a party and she offered to take pictures of my family with her digital camera. It is said that you can tell something about a person by the way that they drive. Well, you can tell a lot about Doris if you ever see her handle a camera and work the crowd in front of the lens. She was so happy to be of help—she told us all to smile, made jokes, and encouraged us to feel at ease in front of her lens. She handled her camera like a pro.
I could not help but notice that she was not at all afraid of it. She knew every dial, angle and trick of that camera. She had obviously read the manual and that was that—she went to town with her new gadget and did so with joy.
She is a living example of how user-friendly things can and should dispel fear.
The Gospel is as user friendly.
There are many passages in Scripture that ask us not to fear. We are encouraged to trust the Lord and not sink into the rough seas of life.
Yet, as familiar as we are with the gentle command of Jesus that we need not be afraid, it is at times not easy to take to heart. Fear can be too pervasive an experience in life. We all need occasional, if not daily, reminders to let go of our fears and do what we can to live life with faith, hope and love.
We know that God’s presence in our lives can be as subtle and as everyday-like as a whisper. God is always there, in and through the most ordinary things.
My mom was recently sick. I headed home again to be with her, and on the night she came home from the hospital, there was a knock at her apartment door. I opened it and there stood Doris. I asked her in and she said she did not want to bother us, but that if she could do anything, to just let her know.
“I’m never that far away,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for whatever you need, okay?”
She said that in a whisper and quietly peeked into the room and told my mom not to be afraid because she was home with friends.
“We are always here,” she said.
Some day, I hope to ask Doris how it was that she overcame whatever fear she had of befriending so many people—how it was that life has become for her something of a temple where she has daily found a sense of God.
She may just tell me, in a whisper, that it is easy to find what is always there.
Father James Stephen Behrens, OCSO, is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. He is the author of “Grace Is Everywhere: Reflections of an Aspiring Monk,” which is available at the monastery Web store at www.trappist.net.