Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

First light

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published April 1, 2016

Early morning is, for me, an optimum time for meditation. I do not set about reading from a text or pondering this or that mystery. My mind is refreshed from a night’s sleep. It is also relaxed and far more receptive than it will be during the coming day, when I will be involved with conversations, distractions, doing things, reading things—all the details of a day that tend to so easily drain energy and attentiveness.

So I am drawn to getting a cup of coffee, finding a chair, and easing into it. Then I gaze into the darkness of night and the vastness of the ocean. Several hours before dawn, it is hard, if not impossible, to see where the ocean ends and the sky begins. Everything is dark, save for the stars above and an occasional moon. It is a very rich and giving experience for meditation. Something as immense and as wondrous as the ocean at night speaks its mysteries with no effort on my part to nudge from it a word.2016 03 31 cross

It spoke to me of Easter not too long ago. Watching the darkness and listening to the ebb and flow of the waves, I wondered what it was like for our earliest ancestors to live from day to night and then watch for the dawn. I have read that in ancient times, prayers were offered to deities to bring once again a new day from the darkness of night. As time progressed, the prayers became petitions, carried out faithfully every day, to maintain the very life of the universe. Prayers were deemed necessary to keep the universe alive, giving, fruitful. It was feared that if the prayers stopped, the cosmos would collapse.

Well, we have come a long way. We can safely go to bed at night, and if we skip our night prayers, the morning will still come. And when it does come, we will confidently rise and enter the activities of a new day. We sort of believe that we do not need any divine help to keep our lives and universe humming along.

But I wonder about some things. I am drawn to wonder as I have the night sky and sea before me, and wait for the first light of dawn. Thoughts go through my mind—memories of loved ones who have died. Memories old—others quite fresh—of my own failures and weakness. Hopes of dreams that might come true but probably won’t. Attempts to try harder to be a better, more honest person—and how the attempts have fallen short. The darkness seems to overwhelm whatever I did to make me a light unto myself. It isn’t a bad feeling as much as is one of sobering self-realization.

Without God, we are nothing and can do nothing. God really does make the whole world go round. God does keep the stars in their places. And God watches over me as I try to figure out who I am and what life is about—while sitting in a chair with the coffee getting cold, and the first traces of light showing on the horizon.

Easter is light. Easter is the promise of a time when there will be no more darkness—for darkness itself will become as light. The Resurrection of Jesus is the foretaste of the resurrection of all that there is—when life will rise anew and live forever.

As I watch those first streaks of light banish the darkness of night, I feel such a hope that no matter what failures may lie in my own future or in the future of humanity itself, a light is on its way. The darkness that is human history was given a light that is burning from within—in each of us, and with the promise that someday we will learn to live from it and enter an Easter that will never end.

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