Issue Date: May 19, 2006
By JAMES STEPHEN BEHRENS
Our abbey church is beautiful. It took many years for the monks to build it. I admire it every morning. As sunlight pours through the stained glass windows, it is transformed into blushes of blues, greens, golds and reds on the walls, choir stalls and the faces of monks and guests.
I have taken pictures of the church at different times of the day and year, for the light comes in differently according to the hour and season. I know I cannot hope to capture the raw as it is beauty of it.
I suppose that without trying, I have developed something of the eye of a photographer. At times when words are being said, instead of listening I am looking, looking high and low and near. I get taken by a certain blend of light I had never before seen, or the play of light at noon on the face of a monk and how enhanced that face becomes by the clean beauty of light.
I have done a lot of thinking over the years about beauty and God. I guess you might call that theological reflection. But there is a theological seeing, too. There are no pages to be read, no traditions of orthodoxy or the heretical. The truth is in what one sees and there are those whose eyes and consequent artistic expression find what the printed words mean.
It is easy to be distracted by beauty.
When I read behind the barn, I am at times distracted by the close flight of a bird. I raise my eyes and see the rich red of a cardinal perched in a tree. He soon flies away. I go back to my book, black print on white, into another world, hoping to see better what just flew away. Beauty, always there, seductive, never seeming to stay long enough to be captured. Just as well -- or at least it seems that way, when I look at the light in the abbey church, coming and going on the walls, the faces.
Fr. James Stephen Behrens is a monk at Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, Ga.
National Catholic Reporter, May 19, 2006
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