Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

‘Being someone in Lent’

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO | Published February 19, 2015

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a period of approximately six weeks of repentance. Christians are encouraged to practice different means of expressing repentance—fasting, the giving of alms, atonement and self-denial. These are all different ways of making room in one’s heart for a better felt presence of God. God is always there, in our hearts, but an over-absorption in the worries and concerns of daily life can easily stifle the stirrings of the God within each of us.

A Lenten discipline that many people take upon themselves is the giving up of favorite foods, entertainments or other within-reach items so as to do the best they can in living out the word “sacrifice.”

Whereas the above-mentioned practices are fine, there is another and I think just as good a way of going about our Lenten days. That way has to do with doing the best we can to slow down, to gradually ease off of the treadmill a good many of us are on throughout the year. One then begins to notice certain things that zoom past our line of sight when we are moving too fast. They are important things. They are the living gifts of God’s presence in our day-to-day lives. They are gifts that move us and form us whether we notice or not. But Lent can be a time when we allow ourselves the effort to see better what has always been there, and to hopefully learn from it. In this way, we are not so much about doing something for Lent as much as being someone in Lent, being a more relaxed and attentive person.

I have an example.

A friend of mine recently wrote to me. She writes beautiful letters in which she describes the books and authors she loves, her daily ups and downs with family and friends, her hopes for whatever goodness the days ahead may bring, her sorrow for what has passed, what she may have missed.

In this recent letter she writes about driving in Florida with the man to whom she was once married. They took their time, were not in any rush. Some years back they had an amicable parting of the ways but have kept in touch and on friendly terms. She writes that “something special” happened between her and her former husband. “The beauty of it—love—surprises me still.

“A person cannot close the door to love,” she continued. Later, in the last paragraph, she writes that “sin for me is when I fail to love. It is as simple as that … knowing when I fail and acknowledging it.”

I picture the two of them riding in a car on a warm night in Florida, memories stirring in each of their hearts. Memories that may now be embers but may once again come to life, come to burn with the fire that is love.

They set aside time to be alone, moved themselves out of the ordinary routines of their lives, going, as my friend writes, “with the flow.”

I do not know if she knows how beautiful her letter is. The words have a magical effect on me. Here at the monastery, I suppose we highly value words that are written with care about love and hopefully new beginnings. But then, doesn’t everybody?

The world is akin to a monastic place. We are born sensing something of God, of the eternal, and we set about doing what we can to find it and hold it—when all the while it is within us.

It was also very much at play in a car on a Florida highway. In the stillness of the night, in the attempt of lovers to find each other once again, in the willingness to leave the past and enter a new and promising tomorrow. That is what Lent is about, learning from our pasts, seeing what we may have missed, and doing what we can to hope in the best tomorrows—with those we love.

Good things happen when we take it slow.

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