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Starting Point

Blessings given over and over


I once selected a book to be read aloud in the monastery’s refectory during the main meal. Monks have a long tradition of having a book read during that time. They take their meals in silence and listen. I suggested Thomas Berry’s The Great Work: Our Way into the Future. It is an urgent wakeup call to humanity. It is a spiritual book written by a man who seeks to share his concern for our damaged earth and to invite us to a more intimate relationship with all living things.

One of the monks approached me and without knowing that I had selected the book began to complain about it.

“Kind of boring, don’t you think?” he said. “Repetitious. He keeps going over the same thing again and again.” I did not want to let on that I had picked the book so I said that I had read it and that it got better as it went on and that Berry was aware that many readers would not be familiar with the enormous problems and challenges he was laying out in the book. So, I suggested, some repetition was necessary.

The monk nodded his head and walked away. Later that day, as we sat down to the main meal, which was the same meal we have had on the same day of the week for the last five years I have been here, and as I looked about me at the same faces that have been there in the same places for the last five years, and as I looked at my watch and noted that it was the exact same time that I had been doing the same thing nearly every day for the last five years, and as we said the same grace, I looked out the same window I’ve looked out for five years and sighed. Right across from me was the monk who made the comment about repetition. And I thought of Jesus and the gospels, how repetitious those stories are, yes, the same thing over and over again, and how familiar I am with them.

And here I am in the same room at the same time typing away, though it is a different morning and the start of a new day. I think of my mom and dad and what I heard from them when I was growing up. I still know their voices in my heart. I can hear them. I love them. They are a part of me.

“Be good.”

“Tell the truth.”

“Call when you get there.”

“Be home on time.”

“Take the garbage out.”

“Do your homework.”

“Clean your room.”

“Comb your hair, wash your face,

brush your teeth.”

“Kiss me goodnight.”

“Say your prayers.”

“I love you.”

All said with love, thousands of times. Love needs thousands of times. We are slow learners, or at least I know I am. I need to hear what is good for me over and over.

It is Sunday. A new day, but nothing new under the sun -- the same schedule, the same monks, same sky and birds, same beauty and sadness to the way the day will go here and elsewhere. Things do not change that much.

The gospel today caught my eye. It is an account of Luke’s, one of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. The disciples are terrified when they see Jesus. The Lord bids them peace. They are understandably terrified of the new, the radically unfamiliar -- the presence of the Divine in their midst.

Jesus asks if they have anything to eat. Jesus is hungry. Imagine that. A Divine Being who hungers, who needs.

I look back on my life and think of all the things said and done in love, in encouragement, in hope.

“Come and sit down,” my mom must have said a million times, “the food is going to get cold.”

And so we sat and shared a meal. A million times. Repetitious, sustaining, so ordinary, and, in light of how we grow and learn of God and each other, wondrous, miraculous, full of grace.

It is all in the ordinary. The meaning of the universe is in a piece of bread, in a kiss goodnight, in a face, in the wind that carries the songs of birds and the rains. It all comes and teaches us, giving us something wondrous over and over, until we learn not to be afraid and to see that love is in everything. But such a revelation takes time. It takes repeating what is good, what needs to be heard.

I hope I have not kept you too long. Perhaps it is nearing supper -- and you must go and share a meal, before the food loses its warmth. Go and eat, and talk and laugh -- lose yourself in the ordinariness of it all, the all of blessings and grace, given us over and over.

Fr. James Behrens lives and writes in Covington, La.

National Catholic Reporter, July 5, 2002