By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published January 7, 2010
I like handwriting my essays, and then, when the time is right, I shift a bit in my chair and start to type out the words on the computer. I use a pad of paper, which I balance on my lap, and as I am writing I occasionally look up at the computer screen. I have a screensaver. It is a slide show. It is, now that I am thinking about it, an inspiration for me. Ideas come as I look at the randomly selected images—something that the computer does, as if by magic.
There are images of people who have been here as guests and retreatants this past year. There are many photos of young people, for we had students from St. Pius X High School, Holy Spirit Preparatory School, St. Peter Claver, Academe of the Oaks, Sacred Heart Youth Teen Group and many more. So, I can see hundreds of faces if I gaze long enough at the screen. But then an idea comes and I lower my head and write it down.
Other photos are of us older folk. They are good, too, placed as they are among the youth. The faces that smile at me are of course silent.
But the smiles, the eyes, the beauty of one face after another communicate a world of meaning to me. The faces beam delight, wonder, curiosity, hope, joy, peace … I have a picture for each one of these and more.
And I saw the faces again and again when writing in response to the verses from Matthew (25:34-40). In a sense, I want to write for those screensavers, for in writing for them I write for you as well. The images have something to do with saving my screen. That is their technological function. The lives of those wondrous faces have everything to do with taking part in the saving of our world. That is their—our—divinely given function.
If God looks down at us, he does so with eyes that shine with a plan for salvation. We are on his screen, very much so. And I like to think we are his screensavers. We move with a purpose, though we have to look for that. We pass across the horizons of life, drawing ever near to the likeness of Christ.
I remember asking some of the kids what they wanted to be. I was impressed with how many said they wanted to do something that would be good, that would benefit the world. Money did not seem to be a concern.
What was of obvious concern was that they find something into which they could put their hearts, or, as I heard often, “something real.”
Their religious backgrounds are as varied as their smiles. Those who come here come from many faith paths. Generally, they find the monastery interesting and ask all kinds of questions. Some are engaging questions, like those that inquire about our life and call. Others are quite funny, like those that want the specifics as to what we do as monks “for fun.”
Theology at its best provides us with a lodestar of sorts as to where to find God in this life. But it can happen that we are dealing with the presence of God in all of our daily encounters in life but may not yet know that. Life comes first. The refined words about what that life really is may, or may not, come later. God seems to delight in trumping our attempts to frame him with words.
And so I look up and gaze at those faces, those lives that have graced this place. And I know some will find their hearts in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick or imprisoned, welcoming the stranger, offering drink to the thirsty. I heard them say as much to me. They are looking for ways to do these things. And it is God who is preparing the stage where my young friends will encounter him: meet him in the poor, the hungry, the voiceless.
Oh. There is one more thing.
I know there are a few among my screensaver people who hope to be writers. If compassion is in the flow of their ink and the urging of their muses, it may well be that one or two or three will someday give us the words to better see the God who is in everyone we meet. I think that is what the King in the story as told by Jesus meant in saying to the righteous that they served him in serving the least. Words will come from those who seek God with love. History will become clearer with such words. For they will be the words needed for a better grasp of how much we can mean to each other, and how we can go about finding lives and loves that indeed are of a saving quality.
That seems to happen when God looks up from his screen and has a new thought or two for a world that needs it, and has a new chapter in mind about filling our lives with his grace and where that grace can be found. He does so when the time is right.
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.