Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Telling The Christmas Story

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published December 23, 2010

This may be the first year in a long time that I have not written Christmas cards. It is not that I have lost interest. I am running out of time. We are busy here at the monastery, especially with the shipping of the Christmas gifts. There seems to be more to do this year, perhaps because there are not as many monks who are available to help with the work. And there are many more orders than there were in previous years, which is good.

Maybe I will take some time in January and write my cards. I have always enjoyed that, keeping in touch with family and friends through writing. Many cards have already arrived and a good number of them contain nice handwritten letters. Those letters carry news, good and not so good, as to what has transpired this past and rapidly fading year. I hope to respond to those letters first.

I remember reading a while back how handwriting was a highly practiced art. Before the advent of radio, television and, of course, computers, people used to set aside time at night to write in journals or to write letters. I suppose that was before the presence of the telephone, too.

There were wooden boxes in which folks kept their writing paper and their pens. And there were desks made to order that met all the needs of writing, with inkwells and compartments for storage. I remember the desks we used when I was a kid in grammar school and how each desk had a round hole into which one could place a bottle of ink. And as I am writing this, I can still see the stains of blue spreading on my white shirt, caused by splattered ink. We used fountain pens. I guess the sisters thought that fountain pens were better for improving penmanship.

Well, they were good for more than writing. We also used them for squirting ink on each other. We had ink blotters, too. A small piece of cardboard with a soft, fuzzy back that would, when pressed down on freshly written script, absorb the excess ink. I still have one from 1962 up here in this room where I write. I have no idea how it survived all the moves I have made in my life.

I miss writing the cards, now that I am writing this. Writing brings back memories, and I like sharing mine and reading the memories of others. Many are as beautiful as they are ordinary. It is as if time does something special to human events. Time adorns them even more as memories, as they fit into the flow and pattern of a human life and can be written about or told, shared over and over.

When you think about it, there is no such thing as an isolated event. Everything is alive and connected. The past has a voice and can still be summoned. The past is yet alive and can make a difference to those who look back and attune their ears for wisdom, for the truth that lives there. Writing brings new life to all of this.

This week the Christian world will celebrate the Child who came to us from a far-away place. God spoke, and we have Christmas. We have a Child, a redeemer. All is given life through him, forever and ever. He is a cause for joy, for song, for hope, for writing and more writing and spreading the news of his birth near and far.

Yet, as I write this, I am reminded of something I am sure is happening this day, perhaps this very moment. Somewhere, there is a person who never heard of Jesus or Christianity or even organized religion. And he or she is offering something good to someone in need. It may be a piece of clothing, or some food, or a place to stay—some warmth, friendship, maybe love. It is all because of the gift of a birth and is the reliving the gift of the Child. We are all made in his likeness.

I suppose God loves anonymity, hidden as he is throughout all he has created, sustaining it with life, guiding it all along.

Someone from afar came to us, shall be born to us. It is a birth that made of life a telling difference. Stories will again be told and cards written and the carols sung, gifts large and small exchanged—all of this the movement of God in our midst as he brings heaven to earth.

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 online store at