By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published July 5, 2018
“The desire is thy prayers; and if thy desire is without ceasing, thy prayer will also be without ceasing. The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer.”
– St. Augustine
A few mornings ago I was feeling restless and decided that the best thing was to go for a walk. It was early and still cool—the heat of the day had yet to arrive, so it was quite comfortable as I ambled along. I had my film camera and several rolls of black-and-white film with me.
I knew that Chaminade was working down at the pump house so I headed in that direction. When I arrived, he was clearing some shrubs and small debris from a patch of ground near the pump house—he smiled and waved, and we chatted a bit. We entered the monastery a year or so apart from each other and have been friends ever since. He is a kind, easygoing person, and I have long felt at home with him. I asked him if I could take some pictures of him, a few while he was working and several portrait-like photographs, and as is his usual, he kindly obliged. Afterward I let him be and sat down on a plastic chair near the pump house to change the roll of film.
It was very quiet, save for the sounds of some birds and the steady but soft sound of Chaminade’s shovel. I spotted a small insect making its way into a crack in a wall to my left. It flew about a bit, then honed in on the crack and crawled in. A minute or so later, it emerged, flew off and returned a bit later and reentered the small crevice, which I assumed was its home.
My mind wandered a bit. I thought back on the restlessness I felt earlier, which had given way to a more peaceful feeling. And I thought of home and the desire that all living things have for it. We all seek shelter in life, the great and little creatures of this earth.
On the way down to the pump house, I passed a muddy stream and spotted a turtle on a log. The muddy water is, I guess, his version of home, and he seemed satisfied with his modest resting place. Had I ventured about on our property, I am pretty sure I would have seen a bird or two foraging for small twigs to build nests—little tree abodes for shelter and the raising of their young.
On the way back I walked across the porch in front of our bakery, and my presence there caused a bit of a panic with some birds that were nesting above the door and windows. They darted about, letting me know that they were not amused with my presence. Instinctively they were guarding the only homes they have.
The desire for shelter, for home, is pervasive, and if you look hard enough you will see its variations in every species on earth. We humans, though, are a bit different. Whereas we too are in need of a home, desire moves our hearts to seek something more, something lasting, even eternal. And that is not to be found in this life, though we often attempt to make earthly dwellings and aspirations far more than they are capable of being. Why is it that all about us is temporary while the desire that burns in our hearts longs for the eternal?
I take comfort in the above words of St. Augustine. They offer a beautiful interpretation of the heart’s longing that is open-ended. All desire is for God. All of life is for God and all prayer is for God. And all of life is a prayer: the restlessness I felt that morning, the desire to see a friend, the taking in of the wonders about me as I sat in a plastic chair.
The world teems with such wonders every second of every day and night. Wonders that came from the craftsmanship of God’s hands and heart, a God who is drawing all things to himself and providing us with shelter, friends and even muddy water till our desires come to rest in him.
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.