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Starting Point

Accept what God offers


Every morning very early we monks meditate. There is a half hour between the chanting of the psalms of the night office when the lights of the church are turned off. Then we go to different places to savor the stillness, listen to silence and meditate. Early morning is a good time for that. A peaceful mind more readily absorbs what God offers.

Some monks remain in the church. Others go into the cloister. One paces the porch outside the rear of the church. Some go to our reading room of our library and browse words, hoping that the reading stills their hearts enough to draw God close.

This morning I picked up a pamphlet and read a few passages by a Benedictine monk, Father Lawrence, on meditation, and liked it. I finished the passage and sat in a chair and closed my eyes and felt at peace, thankful for his words on gathering oneself and inviting God to come and be.

Before the bell rang I got up and placed the pamphlet back in its assigned place on the rack of journals, periodicals and newsletters. There were a few minutes left before the bell would summon us back to our respective places in choir. I saw the recent issue of National Geographic and took it from the rack and opened it. I turned to pictures of a vast desert -- the photo was taken from the air. Sand stretched for miles, baking in the heat of the sun. In the lower corner of the same page another photograph caught my eye. It was a photo of two beetles, very close to each other, looking as if they were going somewhere on those same vast sands. I looked for the sidebar to read about them. I found it. I read it and was fascinated, but the bell rang and I quickly put the magazine away.

I went back after the night office finished, opened the magazine again and read the sidebar more carefully.

The beetles look very much like ordinary beetles. They are called Toktokkies. They live with all their Toktokkie beetle family and friends in the Namib Desert, in southwest Africa. Water is, of course, very scarce in a place like that. And that is what the little sidebar was about: what these small creatures do to survive, what they do to get water.

Every morning they make a trek at dawn before the sun has evaporated the moisture of the cooler night air. The beetles find a convenient or comfortable spot and then stop. They elevate their rears, hold them high, and wait for the fog to condense on their bodies. Soon, tiny drops of water form -- I could see these in the picture -- and the drops slide down their bodies and into their mouths. When their thirst is quenched, when they have enough water to sustain them, the Toktokkie do what all living things do: They go about getting through their day. Night comes, then morning, and another trek, another raising of their rears for replenishment from the gift of night moisture.

All about me this morning were millions of words. I was also comforted by the chanting of the psalms, the beauty of our church, and, later, the still visible moon, stars, the clouds and sounds of night. So much is given everywhere. So much to learn, to absorb.

Those tiny creatures have learned to get what they need to live. God somehow blessed them with the wisdom to raise their rears and to wait, and then drink.

I raise my eyes and voice every morning and know that I have yet to learn the patience and humility of the Toktokkie. Their tiny raised rears are postures of gratitude, prayer, providence.

Maybe some day God will call me to a desert and teach me ways to accept who God is and all that God offers, drop by drop, as God is always faithful to that promise to sustain. Until then, I hope I learn from God’s wisdom, which is everywhere, in the fullness of every day, a fullness that comes drop by drop to raised eyes, hearts, hopes and, for some, rears.

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

National Catholic Reporter, February 15, 2002