Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

A house without a pen

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published October 16, 2014

When I came to the monastery in 1994, there were, if I remember correctly, just a few computers. There were no cell phones, either. Telephone calls were rarely made, and we had to fill out a little form indicating who we called and when.

As time passed, things gradually changed. We have plenty of computers now. Many of the monks have cell phones. Phone calls are made and received with no need of forms, permissions and the like.

The former ways passed very quietly, taken over by the needs demanded by changing times and customs. It has all happened so fast that we have yet to stop and take account of the impact of such change in our lives. We live a cloistered life here and yet it is undeniable that our contact with the outside world is a daily occurrence. We are set apart from “the world” physically and yet are very much a part of it, and a chatty part at that.

There is one thing that gives me pause. I read an article not too long ago written by a woman who needed a pen to sign something and could not find one. She searched her house from top to bottom and had to call a neighbor to borrow a pen. She wrote the article bemoaning the demise of the pen, of writing, of a world that is losing touch with the BICs and Paper Mates and, for the elite, the Montblancs and Pelikans. I read the article with interest and with a growing sense of sadness. I realize that change is inevitable and that texting, emails, notebooks and the like have ushered us all into a means of communication that is faster, has immediate response times and even the capacity to “write” hundreds of people at once. But I hate to let my pens and paper go.

I wonder what it would have been like if Jesus came to us in this day and age instead of when he did. Early Scriptures were written with great care and with insights that took years to mature. The Scriptures were cherished documents, written on delicate parchment, incapable of being Xeroxed or emailed. It is amazing, when I think about it, that they survived at all, given the many upheavals that could have easily led to their being lost in the ashes of the past.

Maybe we are moving into a pen-less world. Instead of writing “longhand,” people will poke away with rapidly moving fingers on little machines of all colors and with all kinds of “apps.”

Well, no doubt that we all live in rapidly changing times. And we must change along with them.

I think it is very nice that the woman’s neighbor came to her rescue with a pen. And even though we may be venturing in a world devoid of ink, I do not think for a second that God will abandon us. When Jesus came, men and women used whatever they had to remember him, to hold his presence as near as possible with written words, ink and parchments.

And the same is true today. And it will be as true tomorrow. God is in our midst and he is communicating. We share him, share his life, through words, no matter how those words hit the page, or the keyboard, or the voicemail. We indeed go through massive changes in times and customs, and God finds ways to abide with us, be with us, sustain us.

So I will continue to keep my pens and papers, and write letters and articles, and find no small comfort in the God who is in and of this world and who inspires all who write, type or leave voice messages. We live in a world made meaningful through the sharing of words. And there are more ways than ever before of sharing the one Word that gave us life and each other.



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