Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Asleep or awake

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published October 24, 2013

I can still hear the voice of my mom as it was when she called up to the third floor to wake me and my brother up to get ready for school.

Her call always ended with the words “get up now or you two will miss the bus.”  If we were too enmeshed in slumber and fell back to sleep, Mom then summoned Dad and his thunderous voice woke us up very fast.

I do not remember missing the bus. But I do remember Mom’s voice, and racing down the stairs, grabbing a glass of juice and a piece of toast, and running out the door to the bus stop.

Many of the Gospel readings warn us about the necessity of being awake, being aware, being attentive. We apparently can miss so much in life if we go through it with drowsy eyes, a sleepiness that deadens our attentiveness. But life lulls us to a near inertia. It seems impossible to live life in a constant state of vigilance. We need sleep and seem to need distraction—prolonged moments when our senses drift off and are dimly aware of what we see, touch, say. Maybe those are the times when we do not hear what God is saying. But even in our dull responsiveness, he makes sure we do not miss the bus.

God is with us in our sleep and wakefulness.

Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and Nobel Laureate, wrote beautiful poetry, beautiful words. He passed away a few weeks ago, and with his passing the world lost the vision of a man who saw in the ordinary events of life the many signatures of God. He was a master of attentiveness to the world about him, and with observations gleaned from the ordinary he revealed the sublimity of life—of rest, of sleep, of hope. In one of his poems he wrote, “God is a foreman with certain definite views who orders life in shifts of work and leisure” (“Docker,” line 10, from “Death of a Naturalist”).

When I was a kid, the high school bus passed the corner of Bloomfield and Watsessing avenues. It was a busy corner with a traffic light and a lot of cars and trucks. It was also a bus stop. On that corner was a bench in the shape of a broad “V” and carved on the back of the bench were the words, “Come ye apart and rest a while.”  It is a memory etched in my mind. I at times wonder why I remember such things. Maybe it is one of those things in life that, oddly enough, call us to wake up to the truth that we are beings who need a space apart, who need to take a break from the busy-ness of life and rest. At least for a while. It is necessary to let things go and refresh ourselves.

And then God calls again, to rouse us to life, to activity, to trust in him.

So we work and rest in God, do our best to listen to his call to us in our waking moments, and trust that when we sleep, he will take care of the world. And we can trust him with our lives, to get us on the big bus, when it finally comes to take us home.

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