By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published March 17, 2011
A friend of mine sat near me during a retreat session on the writings and religious vision of the late Southern author Walker Percy. The subject turned toward the novel “The Moviegoer,” for which Percy was awarded the National Book Award. My friend smiled as he listened to the different points of view offered during the discussion and then mentioned that he had bought the book many years ago, not long after it came out in 1962, and that he had read it but parts were not clear to him. He kept the book and said that recently he reached for it on a shelf in his bedroom and started reading it again and how, this time around, the meaning of the novel came to him more clearly. He seemed glad about that and sighed and said, “Maybe with age the reach into a challenging novel becomes easier.”
The word “reach” has been turning in my mind ever since my friend mentioned how he reached for a long kept book. As near as the novel was to him, for many years, there came a time when he needed to reach for it again and read it. And that time, something clicked.
I think of all the reaching we do in life. There is a lot of it. We reach for something off a shelf. We reach for our shoes to tie them to our feet. We reach high over our heads during an exercise or for something high that with a stretch comes within our grasp. We try and reach with words those we love and are afraid to lose, or hurt, or suffer being misunderstood. We reach for just the right words, even though they may be hard to find. But we look as best we can for words that match as closely as possible the words of our hearts.
Physicists reach for the stars and the theorems to draw their mysteries close.
A baby reaches for his or her parent, long before he or she can speak.
But the infant knows to reach, to pull close and to keep.
We reach for hope.
We reach for peace.
And we reach for God. We do so not only with words but with all the longings that are known to the human race. Longing for mercy, for justice, for beauty and goodness are wondrous reaches for the divine.
It seems that whatever we may need in life only comes our way with a long or short reach—be that a reach of our hand, arm, heart or mind.
My friend reached for a book when the time was right and the world of the novel came to him, and he was ready to receive it. It took time for that to happen.
God reaches for us, the God who made time and lives in it and who, according to his own time and design, will reach out to us and bless us with the fullness of life. Till then, he manages to touch us with the reach of his love, his goodness. God may seem far away, removed from the pains and joys of this life. But when people close gaps with acts of compassion, with acts of generosity, with deeds of valor and goodness, a divine reach has made its way into and through human lives.
A friend of mine turned his head and reached for a book that had long been near him. I like to think we can do that, too, when we turn our hearts and reach for the God who is always near, waiting to reach out to us as well. Such a reach becomes easier, less a stretch, with age and the wisdom of years.