By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO | Published June 23, 2017
We occasionally get groups of high school kids here at the monastery. I have often given them brief talks on the ways of our life. I share with them what the average day is like, offer a brief history of the monastery, tell them a bit about myself. Then I invite them to ask whatever questions they like.
There is one question that crops up almost every time. It might be phrased differently but the gist is the same: Do I miss getting out of here?
After that question surfaced more than a few times, I found myself thinking a lot about an appropriate response, one that would touch base with their own experience.
First of all, I tell them that I am at home here and do not find myself looking for chances to leap over the wall. Admittedly, when I first came here in 1994 the move was a drastic one and back then I relished every time I had, which were not many, to venture out into “the world.”
But as time passed, the distinction between this monastic way of life, seen as a world unto itself, and the world “out there,” gave way to an experience of many-layered oneness. There really is no getting away from the world—it lives within us, and we swim in the flow of its life as best we can.
Secondly, I invite the kids to think about the sure-to-come time when they will have to stay put, settle down and sink roots in one place. Ideally, it will be a free choice on their part. The human heart longs for something to which it can give itself for a lifetime. And so it is that people get married, become monks, or discover a love for someone or a kind of lifestyle through which they can live and love with passion, with fire.
I have wondered, looking out at all those young faces in the church, if there are warnings on their interior radars that I am leading up to popping the big question—asking them to consider being a monk, a religious or a priest. I suppose that thought may pass somewhat whimsically through their minds, but if there is anything real to it, it will come back again and hopefully they will give it the attention it warrants.
What I hope to impress on them is the importance of settling into a way of life in which they can find and express their true and deepest selves. In finding that—in being that much at home with who they are and what they do and who or what they love—they will find that they will learn so much: how to be patient, how to endure loss, how to share the good times and bad, how to learn from mistakes and how to forgive those mistakes made by others.
I am slowly learning these life lessons through staying here, through staying put. I made a choice to come here and found that it is a place that offers me a way to be myself in ways that would not have been possible anyplace else. I have been given a home. And I hope that every kid who comes here finds theirs.
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.