Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Longings that burn deep in the hearts of each of us

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published January 8, 2015

At the first kiss I felt
Something melt inside me
That hurt in an exquisite way
All my longings, all my dreams and sweet anguish,
All the secrets that slept deep within me came awake,
Everything was transformed and enchanted
And made sense.

Hermann Hesse

I share from a Christmas letter from a friend: “In October at a restaurant for lunch with Dad and other family members, I left the table early because I was cold and wanted to warm up outside and the older persons were having their coffee and conversation. Dad, on his cane, followed me. There we are on a bench outside the restaurant, a warm breeze in the palm trees, and he begins to talk about his cancer. He closes with ‘I am not in any pain but I understand it’s what in store for me.’ And then ‘Can you get my cigarettes and lighter from the truck?’ I think the truck is locked. No, it is not, he says. So I go and swallow my discomfort, knowing I would not do this for any other person but him. It takes me forever to find the lighter. We sit on that bench and have his cigarette in silence. Before leaving that day I bend down to kiss him on the forehead and comb his hair with my fingers.

He mixes things up this time. Before my lips make it to his forehead he reaches up and takes my face with both hands and pulls it to him so that he can kiss my cheek. This move, his sudden strength, takes me by surprise, and I do not hear what he says but the look in his eyes and how long he keeps them with mine are both felt and recorded in a special place in my heart. He has always been a quiet man, yet he has his way to say I love you. Even now. God is like this, too. The best silent friend ever and he is always saying I love you, even when I am mad at him. Love, you see, always defeats me.”

And so she wrote. It is a beautifully written letter, about a father and his daughter, and a seemingly very ordinary event amidst the palm breezes while sitting on a bench. So much is in the few sentences—love and longing, our need to give from what is deepest within us, the near approaching of death and, amidst it all, the need for a cigarette.

On this morning, our hearts are filled with joy and rightfully so. It is a joy that will fill houses and churches and perhaps many a bench all over the earth. A child has been born to us. And He has blessed us with a very special gift. What is ordinary, and necessarily so, is now the birthplace of the sublime, the eternal, the wondrous. Those longings that burn deeply in the hearts of each of us are the very life and fire of God. Yes, love defeats my friend. And it defeats us all.

For it is a love that will overcome our fears, our deaths, our failures.

The silence of God is subtle. He is hidden in our daily and perhaps humdrum lives, awaiting the time and place to emerge from our hearts and speak. Like a dying man, gathering the strength he needs to pull close the face of his daughter, kiss her, saying I love you the best way he knows how, kind of like God, wordless, of the flesh, longing and desirous, pulling us close to kiss us with 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