Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

On Love And Living A Transfigured Life

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published March 26, 2009

The Transfiguration is an awe-inspiring breakthrough. The disciples are taken to a high place, and it is there that the eternal shines through the ordinary. The two cannot be separate, save only for reasons of abstraction. There is no such thing as the ordinary without the eternal—nor is there the eternal without the ordinary. The Incarnation weds both into one.

We are given this story by the church at this time in Lent to help us better see what it is we are striving for when we fast, when we repent, when we pray, when we set aside things to follow the call of the Lord and to go with him. Unlike the disciples, we may not see a blinding light or hear Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah. But we can take heart in the mystery that is revealed—that something is shining through all the ordinary things of life. In short, things are far more than they seem to be.

The saints and poets among us tell us love is everywhere. Lent is a time to focus our energies to believe this wonder and take it once again to heart.

I want to share with you a story that I read not too long ago about a woman who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her name is Cordula Volkening, and she is the single mother of two teenage children, a boy and a girl.

When her doctors told Cordula that she had a year to live, she decided to do something she had always wanted to do, but never was able to find the time. She started to paint. She found that painting kept her in the present moment, instead of regretting the loss of a better past or worrying about an out-of-control future.

She rises early in the morning every day and rides two subways to her rented studio, where she paints away her fears and wondrously, draws nearer to love. Her paintings are filled with the joys and sorrows of life. She says that she has never felt more connected to her canvas and her creativity. It is as if the terminal illness banished worry, fear and dread and in their stead gave her images of brilliant, worry-free color.

The nagging, worrisome preoccupations are gone. An awareness of dying has been like a gate of life to her. She entered that gate and left fear behind and became absorbed in the creation of beauty. She hopes to sell her paintings, wanting to secure some financial future for her children.

I do not know if Cordula is still alive. If she is, she is probably painting right now. And if she has moved on, she did so by entering more fully into the beauty she expresses through the love of her children and her painting.

We need to find the time to savor what lies beneath every second of it.

We need to set aside those things that distort our capacity to see good in each other, to see the hand of God at work in everything and everyone. God is the artist of our lives, and each day he holds us like a soft brush, gleaming with color, beautiful shades of deep, rich color that make up the lives of each of us. It is his hand that creates the vast beauty of each day.

Lent is a time to die a bit to our busyness and to risk slowing down and expressing something good from our hearts—whether that be through a prayer, a letter to someone we love or picking up a brush and palette.

The disciples wanted to stay and rest with the Lord. But he told them to go back—to go back to the ordinariness of life, but a life that held a promise within its very being. They could go back with hope because they knew that life had within itself the very glory that they witnessed on the mountain.

Our lives, too, are lived in the low country—the place to which the disciples returned. It is not yet our time to rise to the heights. But we have these days to remind us that there is more in our midst than meets the eye, that things are not what they seem to be. They carry a light, leading us to the One who rose from the dead, the One who inspires a dying woman to paint, the One who asks that we follow him into the gift of this 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