Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

First days

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published February 24, 2017

It was his second week in kindergarten. His grandmother, Marlene, took him since his mom had to work. His name is Teddy, and Marlene, a good friend of mine, wrote me about the event.

She writes to me often and mentioned Teddy’s kindergarten ordeal in a few sentences, how he rode silently in the car and when they arrived at the school he made it to the front steps, turned around and waved to my friend, who waved back and waited for Teddy to go into the building. Teddy did not go. He waved again, went inside the building and turned around and came out again. He was crying. Marlene tried to comfort him and was still trying to ease his fears when Teddy’s teacher came out, said some soothing and comforting words to him, took him by the hand and led him back into the school. Marlene wrote that Teddy gradually felt more at home in the kindergarten, making new friends and liking his teacher.

As I read her letter, I found myself thinking back to my first day going to kindergarten. I do not remember much, if any, of it. There must have been some kind of trauma, going to a new place and leaving the familiarities of home, parents, brothers and sisters. I remember my teacher, Miss Temple. I remember cookies and lousy lemonade. I remember a bunch of Styrofoam blocks caving in on me when we were building a supposed castle and I was in it when the whole thing fell down. So I wonder if maybe that was traumatic. Miss Temple took me by the hand and eased me out of the rubble. Which was very kind of her. I do not remember crying. Maybe I was a brave and fearless kid, but it is more likely that I was too embarrassed to cry.

I do not think we ever really reach a point in our lives when we no longer have need of a helping hand, a hand to lead us to new and perhaps discomforting places. And also a hand to reach our own and help us out when the world seems to fall upon us. We may get through the first days of school, or climb out of any varieties of Styrofoam mishaps. But there are times yet to come when worlds both big and small will fall apart and we will not be able to piece things together on our own.

In the beautiful painting that adorns the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, Michelangelo depicted the hand of Adam and the hand of God. The hands are very close to each other, but not touching. Adam’s hand is outstretched to God’s, and God’s hand is extended in response. God is reaching for us—and we are reaching for God. We have yet to fully grasp God’s hand and the fullness of life that we hope for when God’s hand firmly and lovingly takes ours. Someday that will happen—the gap between our lives and God’s will be eternally closed.

Countless millions of people have raised their eyes and looked at the beauty of Michelangelo’s work. And so there have been many more hands than people. And each of those hands has at one time or another reached out to someone in need and offered hope, comfort, assistance to enable a friend, a family member or a stranger to make it through a small or large crisis. Each of those hands has as well been open in gratitude, perhaps raised to heaven in prayer or receiving a needed charitable gift.

God has made us to help each other close the gap between the divine and earthly worlds. It is done every day, all over the earth, through the grace of human touch, hands reaching out to heal, love, help, like guiding a little boy into a new and strange place that wasn’t so bad after all.

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