By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published January 26, 2017
It is a place not easy to find. I know where it is because I have been there before. The Chinese restaurant is a few twists and turns off the main road. There is a good buffet and it attracts a good number of people.
I was there yesterday. I was alone and the waitress guided me to a table in the corner, and I ordered a Coke and headed over to the buffet table. I reached into my pocket for my glasses—the little signs above the food items were hard to read—and dropped my glasses on the floor. I stooped to pick them up and the right lens had fallen out. It was on the floor, but I could not see it.
A woman next to me immediately bent down and picked up the lens and handed it to me and said, “Now you can see again.” I thanked her and moved along, placing on my plate a steaming mound of lo mein.
When I got back to my table, a man was sitting in a booth next to mine. He had a full plate before him but before he partook of the food, he bowed his head, folded his hands and prayed. What I was seeing was in such contrast to the rest of the activities going on around me. People were talking about real estate deals, baby showers, wedding plans, the low price of lead-free gasoline. I could hear them all. I guess being alone, it is not really eavesdropping. I do not know how to “turn off” the voices that were all around me.
I thought of that man saying grace as I was falling off to sleep last night. A few minutes earlier, I had sat on the bed, thinking about the day. It was a full day, a lot of words, things to do, places to go. A mixed bag, like most days. But as I crawled into bed the man came to mind.
I do not know if such thoughts are some kind of prayer. They lack the focus that I saw in him. But I felt good thinking about him. There was a kind of resonance, a mutual awareness of God’s presence in this life and the need to give ourselves to him. We do that in countless ways—heads bowed over a meal, psalms chanted in an abbey church, and even in the kindness of a lady who found my lens for me.
I find hope in the Christian awareness that all of creation is being transformed in and through Christ and shall one day be offered to God in a glorified state. That transformation is slowly being consummated through the most common and ordinary of human gestures, and kindness is one of them. God works through all of us. I thought of that lady, too, last night. She helped me see in the restaurant, and thinking of her and the man saying grace helped me to better see something of what God is about in this life.
Here at the monastery, prayers make up a good part of every day. We really do not have to carve out time for praying. Specific times for prayer are included in the monastic “package.” Which is why I am always halted in my tracks when I see people setting aside time for praying “off campus.”
There seems to be a conscious on the part of those who pause to pray, say, in a Chinese restaurant, that is somewhat different in quality, maybe attentiveness, from the given nature of prayer that is built into monastic life.
The Chinese restaurant is not easy to find. It is worth the effort to follow some twists and turns off the more familiar highway and to stop in for a meal. The food is wonderful, the people as friendly as can be, and as a freebie you might see a man praying and a woman looking to be of help to a stranger who may have lost something.
And in that instant, you may take heart that it was worth the effort to leave the familiar pattern of your life and see in a Chinese restaurant signs of grace and beauty that are in fact all over this world. It is like being given a lens that you lost and, once given to you by a kind stranger, will allow you to see once again what was always there, right before your eyes.
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.HolySpiritMonasteryGifts.com.