By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO | Published May 2, 2019
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jn 8:7
Around this time of the year, there will be graduation speeches all across the country. If this year is like last year, and the years before, many of the commencement addresses will urge the graduates to be men and women of vision. It may well be that a speaker or two will invoke a message of Robert F. Kennedy so as to inspire a sea of graduates to see a better life for all and to do what needs to be done to make it a reality: “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.”
Listening to these words and others like them, I imagine that more than a few students set their sights on future projects that will make a better world. They are encouraged to follow their dreams and make them come true.
But there is another, no less important way of seeing ourselves and the world. It is a way of seeing God’s dream for us, and not our own. In a recent homily, Brother Peter Damien, one of our transitional deacons, mentioned how we are called to see with the eyes of God. To see with the eyes of God is to see a person as he or she truly is beneath appearances, biases and a prejudice that blinds.
Consider the story of the Gospel in which an adulterous woman is condemned to death by stoning. The woman is saved by the intervention of Jesus who exposes the sinfulness of those about to kill her. They drop the stones from their hands and walk away.
There is that saying that some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Each of us are born with a stone in our hand, equipped from day one to hurl it at anyone we perceive as different, a threat, an enemy. The stone could be slander, gossip, hatred, indifference —traits which are the root causes of human estrangement.
Becoming a monk does not mean that we leave our stones at the cloister gate when we enter this life. Hopefully, this life puts us on a path on which we realize we have stones in our hands. We gradually learn ways to avoid throwing them.
We learn in a monastery that countries, cultures, institutions and individuals are all victims of blindness. We just do not see each other well. And our blindness is often legitimized by those who stand to benefit from it.
In this monastic community life, we can help each other see the goodness in each other, the truth embodied by each other, the presence of the God who sees through us into each other. We are not about seeing a way to revamp a society, or build a great bridge or city. We are here in this tiny plot of land tending as best we can to the growth of each other and our guests. That takes time. And learning to see as God sees takes time. There will come a day when we are able to let go of the stones in our hands and walk more lightly on this path to the kingdom.
Until that day comes, we persevere, knowing both the feelings of clenching the stones and letting them go. With the grace that only God can give, a time will come when the stones fall from our hands, never again to be picked up.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers.