By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published March 13, 2008
A friend of mine recently wrote to me, and in the letter she mentioned that it was much easier, and more pleasurable, to sit and write a letter than to balance her checkbook. The reason she wrote that was because the task of the balancing of her accounts was pressing upon her. It is something she loathes, which is understandable, and so she probably lingered long and affectionately over the pages she wrote to me. She closed the letter with words to the effect that she had stalled long enough—she had to get down to doing her digits.
The reason I understand her stalling is because I do it often myself. Things that I find tedious or difficult, I put off as long as possible. I can easily find other things to do, things that seem to radiate an irresistible attractiveness when compared with the drudgery I am avoiding.
Balancing a checkbook is not something I have to deal with here in this Trappist life. Those kinds of digits I left behind some years back. But there is another and perhaps more important kind of accounting that still presses in on me, and it is one that keeps my heart balanced.
The human heart does far more than pump blood. Its true life and purpose are best understood in terms of its capacity to receive and give love. This is something we all know because all we have to do is take a look inside of ourselves and ponder for a while just what it is that makes us human, what it is that can make our lives and this world a better and more loving experience. The finest gifts we know in life are given through love. The human heart is at its best when it finds someone or something it can love with a passion. A life lived from love is a life on fire with a heat and light that gives genuine warmth and comfort to other lives.
It takes a concerted effort to engage one’s mind with the power and gift that is one’s heart. For many, it is a major effort to disengage from the feverish pace of contemporary American life and to simply take time to learn from one’s heart. It offers the most important lessons that life has to offer—if we take the time to better know who we are and what we really need.
It is easier to do many things than to wrestle with questions that lay deep within each of us. It is easy to put off until tomorrow that gnawing need to apologize, to express genuine affection, to be vulnerable to the sufferings of others, to care deeply for those we are living and loving with. If each day can be considered a ledger-in-the-making of the human heart, a day-to-day balancing is the best way to sustain and live from a heart that is healthy, wise and connected with others.
Christians all over the world have entered the season of Lent, a time set aside to allow for the examining of one’s heart so as to better know it and live from it. Here at the monastery, we have the help of our liturgies, the words of each other in homilies and writings and the daily chanting of the psalms to help us look within and then at each other.
Lent is a way of refreshing how we experience our worlds, be these of the monastery, of Conyers, of our country and planet. Lent is an invited awareness to slow down a bit and risk seeing the places where we live through love. It is an awareness that may mean that we not put off living lives that are good. It is as simple as that—and as difficult to do. Yet we all know the effort we will employ when it comes to putting off dealing with what is deepest in us.
Monks are not immune from wandering into more attractive activities when the very one that is called for is no farther than a step into solitude. We, too, can fill our lives with less important things so as to mute, at least for a while, the call of God who speaks within each of us.
I believe that there is something of the monk in each human being—a need to set aside time to be at home with oneself, one’s heart, and to learn from that necessarily solitary place. Lent is given us to find that, be it here in a cloister or in the larger enclosure that is the world.
God is here, and we can best learn from him if we take the time to really learn from our depths. That is where he has made his home—and how easy it is for any one of us to wander from it.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery Web store at www.abbeystore.com. His new book is “Portraits of Grace: Images and Words From the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.”