This is an essay written by Fr. James Behrens, a fellow monk here and a good friend.
and has a number of books published. He has given me permission to share his writings.
I will be sharing more of his writings.
There are certain little mantras that I think to myself when a day’s
load seems too heavy to carry. Of course I have always managed to get
through all my days, mantra or no mantra, but that thought does not
easily come to mind when a day arrives that seems to hold more than I
can handle. One of my favorite mantras involves the male Emperor
Penguin. He sits on a slowly maturing egg for two months while the
mother returns to the sea to feed. He stays on the egg through all the
bitter cold and snow and wind that is an Antarctic winter. When the
mother returns, she takes over the nesting of the egg, which hatches
shortly after her arrival. The father then heads out to sea to feed –
he has, all in all, fasted for one-hundred and twenty days since
courtship days and is understandably a bit hungry. So, that is my mantra
for endurance, for getting through a day.
I recently heard another one that I will use when tedium sets in.
A friend of mine raises chickens. Recently he was telling me all about
them. How he ordered them and how they arrived as chicks in a little
carton. How he built a coop for them in his back yard. He showed me a
picture of the coop and it looks like a Chicken Hilton – a nice little
two story structure. He has studied a lot about the world of chickens –
what they eat, what they like, what they do not like. And he has also
developed an interest in the many different kinds of chickens that peck
and strut in different parts of the globe.
He told me about the Austrolorp. His eyes widened as he told me about
this particular chicken and my eyes widened too when he told me that it
is most famous among all its brother and sister chickens for laying the
most amount of eggs in a single year. A new record was set when an
Austrolorp hen laid 364 eggs in 365 days. They are also known to be good
nest sitters and mothers. Well, I would hope so, given that number of
eggs. I hope that they are not, for the most part, hatch-able eggs.
365 chicks in one year would surely ruffle the feathers of the mother.
Indeed, she would fly the coop.
In any case, chicks or no chicks, the Austrolorp gives me pause to
ponder. If my thinking is correct,that record setting hen had but one
day off. Not much time for a breather if you ask me. I presume someone
picked up the new egg every day. It would have been calamitous to leave
the hen sitting on a mountain of eggs. The hen teaches me plenty about
learning to deal with routine,the everyday, the inescapable pressures
inflicted by being a chicken or a human (or a penguin). I tend to moan
and complain when some things come my way. I have learned to avoid some
of them but there are others with which I must deal. But a little
meditation or mantra on the Austrolorp chicken brings home to me the
sobering truth there are those among us who have no way of getting
around what comes their way – or in the chicken’s case, comes right out
of it. And come it does, every day save one. And I hope on that day
she catches up on a few things, like maybe reading some Chick Lit or, to
see how her distant relatives are doing, perhaps a good Penguin Classic.
God made the Austrolorp and the Emperor Penguin and blessed them with
patience and endurance galore. And God made us humans and sends us
mantras to learn from the creatures in our midst whose ways may bind
them to a nest or a sheet of ice. Out of these places new life is born.
My little mantras can and do ease my life. They lighten my load –
offering a kind of new and fresh life.
James Stephen Behrens, O.C.S.O.
Monastery of the Holy Spirit