Starting Point
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Issue Date:  July 28, 2006

Starting Point


There was an electrical fire here at the monastery. It was a while back and happened very early in the morning. Smoke filled the halls. The abbot went from door to door, waking each monk and yelling to get up and get out. We gathered in a safe area, and it was not long before the firefighters told us that the damage was slight and contained.

The normal routine of that morning went -- dare I say it -- up in smoke. The reactions to the situation were interesting.

At first, when there was a sense of panic, one old monk became so disoriented that he started to cry. Another monk calmed him down and led him to safety. Some monks prayed. Others went for coffee. Several walked over the hoses in the basement and through the water, on their way to shave. A few monks went into overdrive, takeover mode, yelling orders though no one seemed interested. A small group headed to church for the Vigils Office, at 4 a.m. Wisps of smoke wafted heavenward along with their psalm tones.

Later a group of us were in the pantry and by then all the danger had subsided and the smoke had cleared, though the smell of it would linger for a long time. The mood in the room was one of heightened care and interest in each other, as if we had met for the first time. I suppose that is crisis bonding. I remember thinking how human we are, a blend of the strong and the weak.

A poet once told me that the world is on fire. She said this over lunch.

A man once said we should be of service to each other. He said that during a meal.

Such ordinary places to speak of momentous things. Yet those are the places where we live most of our lives.

Mystics tell us to embrace the ordinary, in all its weakness and strength. Perhaps it is the only fire we can touch with our hands and not get burned. We catch the flame, in different ways.

Fr. James Stephen Behrens is a monk at Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, Ga.

National Catholic Reporter, July 28, 2006

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