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talking to myself

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On Knowing and Loving Differently

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This is an essay written by my good friend and author Fr. James Behrens.  He has been a member of our community
since 1994.  Before that, he was a parish priest.  He has a way of seeing deeply into ordinary life and bringing the reality
of God and grace into it.  I have Fr. James permission to print this. 
On Knowing and Loving Differently

“Variety is the spice of life.”  It is a very well known rule of thumb
we are fond of saying when we ponder the many and astounding differences
in life.  Yet there are dimensions to human living that resist taking
the maxim to heart.  We do not deal very well with human differences
when they fly in the face of what we assume to be the true the good and
the beautiful.  Whenever and wherever people live or work in close
proximity to each other – be it a religious community, a marriage, an
office – sparks can and do fly over our befuddlement as to how to
happily manage human difference without resorting to blowing a fuse.
I was thinking about all this a few days ago.  What started me thinking
about it was John, the guy who maintains our computers here and, on
occasion, my sanity.  I had lost several tons of emails and got in touch
with John, asking him if there was any way he could retrieve them.  I
went to supper and when I came back all the emails were sitting on my
computer screen.  I called John right away and thanked him.
I know nothing about the world of computerese.  John is a whiz.  And, to
boot, he is an exceptionally kind and patient person.  Smarts and
kindness are a nice blend when it comes to dealing with a computer
illiterate like me.

I do not know what led John to dive deep into the world of computers.  I
have met other people over the years who excelled in things that
astounded me: a typewriter repairman who seemed to inhale any and every
aspect of typewriters.  And a cook from my seminary days – her name was
Catherine and she loved making desserts.  And she also loved fabrics.
Her small apartment was filled with bolts of all kinds of fabrics.  She
knew seemingly everything about their texture, their durability, their
suitability for this or that type of garment.  She also made wonderful

I have watched John as he was working on a computer problem, his eyes
focused on the screen, his hands resting – and then moving – on the
keyboard.  He was traveling in another world that was very unlike mine,
a world far from my comfort zone.  And I remember watching Catherine at
her sewing machine on a hot summer’s day, making a hem or buttonhole,
oblivious to the beads of sweat on her brow.  She too was absorbed by
another world, a world of color and designs that she loved.
Maybe it all comes down to trying to understand that each of us is
invited to explore different worlds.  There are worlds of computer
technology, typewriters and their histories, fabrics, and patterns,
desserts and other culinary delicacies.  And there are as well different
ways of being and thinking in this world.  Here at the monastery, we all
live in one place but is in this place co-exist many worlds of meaning.
The monks embody different approaches to God.  Some are captivated by
Latin.  Others take to heart the teachings of saints long gone, while
there are as well monks who scan the horizons of contemporary thought
and culture for signs of hope and the transcendent. There is a kind of
love involved with it all, a love that is expressed in a very varied but
rich search for God.  Most importantly, love moves any one of us to
respect and learn from the differences that exist among us.  It might be
said that we are all looking for God and that God is one and the same
for all of us.  But I have a sense that God not only loves difference –
he is manifested through it.  Learning to live and love with that
awareness is, as Catherine might have said, the “icing on the cake.”

James Stephen Behrens, O.C.S.O.
Monastery of the Holy Spirit
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