All the years that I have been here, at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, we have never had such a crowd for a monk’s funeral. Father James Behrens’ funeral was a touching, and beautiful, experience for the whole community. Our lives are interesting, we go through our lives meeting others on a daily basis. We interact with one another, yet for the most part, it never occurs to us how we have influenced those around us. We do remember those who have touched us deeply.
What we become is made by one choice at a time. There is no such thing as a small matter when it comes to how we treat and relate to others. There are those who spread pain every day with those that they meet. Others, give themselves away in a healthy loving manner. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.
Perhaps Jesus told us to love one another because it is there that healing occurs to many, often not known by the one who was kind, or listened, or told the truth in love, and not in anger, or in contempt. Yes, just one person at a time.
A Gentleman With Struggles
James was a gentleman. He was not laid back. There were many inner struggles that he went through every day, just as we all do. Sometimes he felt overwhelmed, yet he would see people, write to them, because he really wanted to. It came out in his stories, his love, and compassion for others.
One day he asked me if I thought he was a man of deep faith. I said yes, because what he wrote about, which delved deeply into the human condition. About two years ago, I was talking to him and tried to get him to write articles that were different from his observations on the human condition. He told me that he would think about it. About two weeks after that, I reread two of his stories, and was drawn deeper into the saga and was surprised at the depth that I was touched. So I called him and told him of my experience, and to ignore my misplaced advice. He needed to use the gifts that God gave him.
We all touch many lives, just as many as Father James did, and on the same levels. I doubt James expected the outpouring that happened after his death. If the Lord allowed him to be present at his funeral, I am sure he was overwhelmed with the love that was manifested to him. Because he did not keep score over who he helped, talked to, gave a retreat to, or wrote letters to. He just acted out of his nature that was truly informed by grace.
One reason he could write so profoundly was that he himself had many inner struggles, and yes, like all of us, if we are old enough, had quite a few sorrows. This lead to a depth of self-knowledge that allowed him to enter deeply into the lives of others.
So the prayers, the Eucharist, the burial, brought us all together, and for a time the illusion was taken away that we are separate, alone, isolated. Perhaps we entered more deeply into the very Mind-Of-Christ, experiencing perhaps a level of love for others that we may have been unaware of. Sorrow does unite us because we must all experience it in our lives.
Br. Mark Dohle, now seventy, has been a monk of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, since 1971. He runs the monastery’s retreat house. Excerpts from Father James’ sermons can be read here and his columns for the Georgia Bulletin can be read here.
Photo of the monastery chapel taken by Steve Karg and used under a Creative Commons license.