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Starting Point

Shining for each other, like the mystery of blue


Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:5-7).

It was easy enough, many years ago, to abolish the word later from my Yuletide consciousness. I longed to peek into what I thought was the meaning of Christmas. And I did. I found out where Mom and Dad hid our Christmas presents. I did not want to wait. Whether my brother or sister forced upon me the destruction of my belief in Santa by showing me the hidden wrapped presents, or if I suspected that gifts were to be discovered and not awaited, I cannot recall. But I do remember the banishment of the word later.

Easter is different. Its secret, its gift, is not as easy to find. The mystery of eternal life -- where is it wrapped and where can I find it?

I was reading behind the barn on Good Friday. There was not a cloud in the sky. It was spring and everything all about me told me so. The brown paths through the woods were turning green with growth. The sounds of birds and squirrels and insects were all around me. It all promises new life -- new plants, new animals, a new summer, a new path through the woods. The “later” that slept through winter has matured to the now of the present.

Damian pulled up to the barn in his truck and waved at me as he stepped out. He first went into the barn, then came out, pulled up a cinder block and sat down.

“What are you looking for?” I asked.

“A bell,” he said.

“A ringing kind of bell?” I asked.

“No, a sounding bell, a big metal thing. Looks like a bell. I saw it someplace and thought I saw it here. No matter. I’ll get it later.”

He looked around. “Beautiful down here. All the green and new things growing.”

He took his hat off, scratched his head and then looked at his arm and said something about his wrinkles and laughed. Then he said, “Ever look at just one flower? Just one? And the beauty of it, the design and the perfection of it? We could never make something like that. Even the color. Can’t invent blue. And there are billions and billions of them. They all came from someplace.”

There was a light in his eyes and a delight in what he sees, in this instance a flower. I could not see the billions of blue flowers dancing in his head. Yet I saw what they were doing to his face, his heart, his eyes.

“We think we know so much but we don’t know much about anything. Just that things are and that they are beautiful,” he said. “Even blue. Never thought about that before, about it coming from someplace. Well, one of these days we’ll know. Later, so much we will know later.” He looked at his watch. “Gotta go -- see ya later in church.”

“What about the bell?” I asked.

“The bell? Oh, the bell. I’ll get it later. I think I know where it is.” And with that put his hat back on his head and walked off to his truck.

And it is now later and I feel good that I saw Damian today. I told him not long ago how much he means to me. Like the color blue, we are given love from God and we speak it, hope for it, share it, and yet understand so little of it. It hides its secrets, revealing them only as we trust in it, risk what it can mean for our lives by simply loving.

So much in life asks that we wait, that we trust time, that we give our lives to what will only be disclosed later. The heart looks ahead, hungry for all the goodness coming in all these laters. Love yearns for it all but love can only know itself through all the laters that come in a day, in an hour, in a lifetime.

History is not merely more time. It is a revelation, a deepening disclosure. Paths turn green and Damian’s arms wrinkle with age. God’s love has different ways of making new all that is of life.

I want to risk taking God to heart. Let him wash me over and over, and later I will know what I do not know now. How much I want to understand Easter and eternal life -- but such will come later. Yet I trust that they are in the making right now. Brilliant blues and old eyes that shine and laugh and make me want to better know love.

A yearning for peace and for what is truly good, and our being what we can to shine for each other, like the mystery of blue, knowing we come from somewhere and will be called back again, later -- the “knowing” of our loving is coming, later.

Happy Easter to you and those you love.

Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Ga. His e-mail address is james@trappist.net

National Catholic Reporter, April 13, 2001