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Starting Point

Aimless, yet creative flight


Every Sunday morning, bright and early, we have what is called chapter at the monastery. It is a weekly meeting, called by the abbot, who shares with us what is going on in our order. He reads reports and letters from all over the world. He also keeps us up to date on the current events of our home. All in all, the meetings are interesting.

Last year time was given to the processes for election of a new abbot. Our former abbot, Bernard Johnson, had reached the mandatory retirement age. So he did whatever he could to make the transition smooth and beneficial to all. Not all, however, agreed on how such is to be done. Some wanted a facilitator brought in to help clarify where we are going and what our needs are.

Others wanted no process at all. They insisted that prayers and an honest election are sufficient.

Without going into the merits or deficiencies of these positions, I want to share with you something that caught my eye at one of those meetings.

One of the monks was making an appeal for patience and trust. He was making a pitch for the facilitator and his comments were directed at some of those among us who resist change.

I sat across the room from this monk as he bobbed and swayed in his chair, emphasizing his words with movement of his hands. Directly behind him rose a tall window. Just outside the window are bushes, very tall ones. I could see the roof of our welcome center in the distance and the clouds in the sky. The window offers a very generous view.

I was listening to the monk and at the same time spotted two birds flying in what looked to be a crazy pattern. One was chasing the other, in and out of the bushes and then high above the bush and back again. I could hear the flapping of their wings and the rustle of the branches as one chased the other right through the bush. Suddenly, things seemed to settle down. The chase had stopped, and I think that they were doing what birds do at this time of the year. Their frenzied courtship was over. It had graduated to more life-giving and permanent things.

The birds were mourning doves and they are always seen in pairs. They were doing the pair thing.

I thought how nice. How wondrous it is that two creatures settle in on one another and from that comes mating and life, bonding and companionship, an egg and a baby bird.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, monastic thoughts were flying fast and furious. Expressions of mental processes were hitting the air, rising and falling, looking for a place to land.

How I wish our thoughts were like the flight of those birds, seemingly aimless at first, but in time, creative and lovingly one.

Perhaps in truth they are.

For now that I think of it, the symbol of the Spirit is a dove. The Spirit inspires, soars through creation and drives forth from hearts and lips words of hope, wisdom, compassion and courage.

It takes time for thoughts to settle, to move hearts to a place of rest and life. So speak we must, hope we must in our efforts to think and love and find each other. This is God’s world in the making, and we need to open our hearts and mouths to let his ways of being fly, soar and seek a lasting home.

Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Ga.

National Catholic Reporter, February 1, 2002