Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Living on the edge, trying to remain relevant

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO | Published July 4, 2013

I have long been a creature of habit. I think monastic living has reinforced that trait even more. This life is one of routine. The days are pretty much the same. Days add up to weeks, then the weeks fold into months, and the months pad into a year. My experience is that the years pass quickly. I have become more aware of my aversion to disruptions and unanticipated changes in my day. I suppose that is understandable, though I do try my best to roll with the punches when they come. I do quite well with most of them. Some I have learned to duck when I see them coming.

Recently I had something that might best be called a rude awakening. I have a radio. It is here, right to my left. I have had the radio for 15 years. I keep it on all the time—all during the day and all night long.

I can only get one channel up here, an all-news channel. It used to be a soft rock channel but a few months ago the music died, and the news took over. I did not bother looking for another channel.

Well, the news is okay. At least most of it is. There was a story a few days ago. I was here, typing away and half listening to the story as it unfolded. The opening lines caught my ear. It was about two men who, for whatever reason I never heard, made the news headlines. “Two elderly men, one 62 and the other 65,” were the words that were the opener. I froze. I was startled. I was immediately transported from whatever world I was trying to create with my words and plopped onto the terrain of a place where I apparently had been, but never really gave much thought to.

I am 65. I have not yet made the news. But that was not the point that pierced my ears and my ego. If being 60-something is a passable and socially recognized age for being elderly, I somehow missed the cue. I suddenly felt as if I had been rudely but truthfully ushered headlong into geezer land, a place I had thought still lay way, way down the road.

In my mind’s eye, I guess I still looked at myself as, well, a youngish man. I still have my old bell-bottom pants. Some flared ones, too. I lost the hip-huggers along the line. I listen to rock n’roll when in the car. I try to keep relevant, try to understand the hooplah about Justin Bieber, keep current with different cultural icons like Jennifer, Brad, Angelina, Lady Gaga and many other figures that, even though they live very different lifestyles, do keep me au courant. If you know what I mean.

It is a big world out there, and well, more than a smidgen of it finds its way into these cloistered walls. And I was blissfully making my way along this road of life keeping up to date when that radio report about who is elderly froze me in my tracks.

“Near death” experiences are a popular topic here at the monastery. Now I am wondering if I have not only heard about such things, with a mild level of interest. Hey, maybe I AM a near death experience. Not good.

The guy on the news right now is saying that we should all be careful and drive with our headlights on. I think he is talking about the darkened roads brought on by recent storms.

Okay. I only have this day. I may not be driving anywhere but I will take the words to heart and move ahead with my lights on. That kind of news is very helpful.

Now that I think about it, we are all living on the edge. Life is always a delicate and fragile gift—it does not come so just at the end, when we may think our lights go out for good. This whole monastic life is about being light, and trusting in the light we can be for others who long for it.

I can live with being, uh, elderly if the culture insists on it. I just need a bit of light to get me by, and, when my time comes, to get me to heaven. With my radio and bell-bottoms.

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