By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published June 5, 2008
There is an ancient custom in all of our monasteries of having a book read to the community during the main meal at mid-day. We take turns as readers, and this week it is my turn.
The book is a collection of meditations on the Incarnation, by Ladislaus Boros. In the section I read aloud yesterday, he referred to the writings of St. Therese of the Little Flower—Therese of Lisieux. She was a French Carmelite nun and was only 24 when she died, in 1897. Her writings were published after her death and became a literary sensation in France and then all over the world.
Her spirituality, as reflected in her writings, became known as “The Little Way.” She embraced small, ordinary things throughout her life. She believed that a way to God could be found through attentiveness to and a love for the little things in life—the things that make up any ordinary day.
I believe that the reason her writings caused such a huge sensation among average readers was because her words helped people see and love God in the ordinary. As simple as that may appear, we need to hear again and again in our lives words that help us take to heart the presence of the divine in our everyday lives. We tend to look at some far horizon for a sight of the miraculous when all the while it is right at our feet.
In the brief selection I read yesterday, Boros wrote of how Therese could look at a flower, or a rubber ball, a sunset or a scene from a train window while passing through the Alps, and from these she would ponder the loving presence of God and write of that love. It was as if God spoke to her through windows, through flowers, through a bouncing ball.
As I read the words from the book, I occasionally glanced up to see the clock, so as to be ready when the bell rang, to finish the section in an area where I could pick it up again the next day. I looked from the clock to the monks in front of me, who were taking their meal in an attentive silence, listening to the words of the ordinary as I read them. Sun streamed through the windows, casting a lovely light all through our large refectory. My voice filled the room, sharing words written a long time ago about the very things I saw in front of me. The sunlight was beautiful, as was the scene of the monks, their heads lowered in a kind of reverence, taking in the nourishments of words, food, water.
We intake so much during any given day in order to live.
I suppose it is normal that few of us pause to give thought to all that we absorb in a day in order to live, to understand, to appreciate what we see. We need food and drink to live. We need words and symbols to understand and to see. We need each other to learn how to love, how to live good and peaceful lives. We need saints to help us look at the lives that we live, and to see the sublime in and through the ordinary.
God is, for many, a far and lofty Being. He may seem so far—be it in the heavens or in some imagined life beyond this one. These days, his existence is debated in several books that have reached best-seller status.
But every now and then a person comes along who sees things with such beauty and who writes about them. And so it is that a train window becomes a tabernacle. A rubber ball becomes an orb of revelation, and a flower speaks the eloquence of God.
And we listen—and recognize that God is here, in our midst. He may seem to be silent, but he speaks through the saints. And what he says through them can be salvation for any one of us. For the words of saints rivet our eyes and hearts to the right here in our midst—to the seemingly ordinary things and people that come our way every day.
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.”