By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published August 30, 2013
Earlier in the week I roused myself from my desk and went for a walk.
Going down to the rear of the retreat house, I followed the path down the hill to the heavy equipment garage. I had my camera with me and took pictures of the tractors, trucks, large mowers and other pieces of equipment that are parked there. It was a cool morning and I decided to keep walking. So I took the path that winds near our largest lake. I took more pictures along the way. I could hear talk and laughter—two women were sitting in the picnic area, which was a good distance from where I was. Human voices—and laughter—carry easily across the lake.
The water was still, broken only by an occasional light breeze, a falling leaf, the quick movement of a fish. I looked about and then resumed walking. There is an old building, kind of like a large shed, at the far end of the lake. It is close to a large field. Some old rusted equipment lay on the side of the road—an old wooden trailer and what looked to be a harvester for hay. I liked the way the light and shadow played on the wood and the metal, so I shot some more pictures and turned my attention to the shed. There, too, the light and darkness played off each other. The shadows on the steps and the walls looked to make some decent photos, so I snapped away. Three geese came along on the road, making their way to the lake. I took more pictures of them.
So much of what I saw spoke to me of days gone by, the days when the monks worked the fields of the monastery, laboring to grow what they could and to earn their keep. We have had to change with the times, with new ways of sustaining ourselves. The decline in the number of monks has forced a lot of changes in how we go about making a living here. And the skills of the modern day monk are quite different from the skills that built this place in the “old days.” Times change. We change. Methods of labor change.
There was a time when it was believed that God created the world and then took a long, very long rest. As a kid I envisioned God as being up in heaven, surrounded by billions of angels, and sitting very near to Mary, Jesus and Joseph. We were down here, and he was up there.
As I walked back to the monastery, I was thinking about God and labor. I had run out of film, so the camera was no longer a temptation. I looked at the scenes about me as I walked and believed in my heart that God is near. I believe that God is everywhere and in everything. God made it all and continues to sustain it all with life, with grace, with beauty and yes, with hope that makes any kind of darkness mysterious, finite and passing. All things are being gradually transformed into an existence that God and God alone will bring about—but not without our help.
And that is what we all seem to be about with the labors of our lives.
We share in God’s work in and through the things of this world. Human labor, indeed, the labor of all creation, is a slow but sure participation with God in his activity of bringing a new and lasting creation into being.
What will endure from the present order of this world? Hard to say.
But I hope there is laughter that can be heard for miles, laughter like I heard across the lake. And maybe rivers and streams with fish and geese and the ripples caused by their movement. And, when the geese see me with my heavenly camera, maybe they will smile. And the fish will jump out of the water, and pose in mid-air, share a laugh with each other, and dive with joy into the waters of life.
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.