By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published July 10, 2014
Not long after I came here I was walking past what was to be the pottery barn. A shiny object caught my eye. It was lying in the grass just off the road. I walked over and picked it up. It was a silver heart that just fit in the palm of my hand. I put it in my pocket and when I returned back to this building I put a note on the board asking if anyone lost a heart on the road. There were monks visiting from another monastery and later that day, one of them approached me and said he had lost the heart. I gave it to him and he was grateful that I had found it.
Some time later I heard that he had moved on from his monastery and I guess he took the heart with him. Whatever hopes he attached to that heart, I hope those hopes came true. I hope the symbolism of the heart became a living part of his life.
Monasteries are curious places. They draw men and women to lives that are cloistered, quiet, laborious, hidden, contemplative. All of these are not automatically bestowed upon an applicant when he or she enters this life. They only come with the risk of giving your life to a God who, like the heart in the grass, awaits being discovered and perhaps kept or given away. There are no ready-made maps that might give a clear layout of the roads that lead to fullness of heart. The life of a monk is solitary to an extreme—there are no significant others with whom to share and unravel the heart’s secrets, its mysteries. But we feel at home with that. It is where we have found that we can best learn to love, to obey, to listen, to live with our strengths and weaknesses and to help each other do the same.
A man recently asked me what drew me here. It is a question to which I have become accustomed. And so it is one that I have thought about a lot over the years. I told him that I felt drawn to a community life. I wanted to share my life more intimately with others. He then said that this life entailed so much sacrifice, so much of giving up the many things that others have, that others do. And I told him that the older I have grown over these years, the more I think about my parents and what a life of sacrifice they had. Like all parents, they gave up much to raise seven kids. In marriage, they set many other aspirations aside and learned through many years of fidelity, of good times and bad, sickness and health, stormy times and calm seasons. All of this came their way when they found their heart in a field in the early years of their life and picked it up and shared it. And it gave them all the joys and sorrows that human life invites a man and woman to share through marriage. It was where they had to be. It was where they discovered who they were and what they had to offer each other. I think they were at home in this world in a marriage that weathered well the storms of life.
And so it is with us here. We learn by staying.
We feel at home here, as strange as this life may seem to a lot of people. But oddly enough, many people are drawn to this place. They sense it to be a place that offers a few days of peace, a chance to spend some quiet time in the presence of God, a chance to learn something about the heart of God and what a beautiful gift that heart is to all of us. And so people come apart from their busy lives, and rest here a while with us.
There may come a time when someone will lose a heart again on one of our roads. Maybe someone will find it—and maybe they won’t. But we can tell them that the heart we know here can never be lost. People can be forgetful of it—and then it is time to come here, and to listen to its steady and faithful beat in the rhythm of our life together.
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.