James Behrens

James Behrens

I have a letter that means very much to me. It was written by a close friend who passed away a few years ago. I always keep it and other letters that I cherish in a safe place. A few days ago, I was re-reading the letter and felt the warmth and depth of the friendship that I shared with the writer. Along with his handwritten words on several pages of stationery, there arrived a host of memories, memories that rose to life from the corners of my mind by virtue of the summoning powers that are words.

Last night I wanted to reread the letter again, and when I went to retrieve it from its safe little haven, to my confusion and dismay it was not there. I stood for a few moments trying to remember if I had in fact put it with the other letters. I realized that thinking would not make the letter magically appear or disclose to me its whereabouts. I had to start looking. I went through all the papers on my desk. I checked the shelves in my room, thinking that maybe I had absent-mindedly placed the letter on one of them. I went through umpteen magazines — maybe I had mistakenly used the letter as a bookmark. I checked my camera bag, checked the waste paper basket, looked all over the floor, under my desk. Checked the pockets of my habit. All to no avail.

As I was falling off to sleep last night, I was still racking my brain for the letter’s whereabouts. I entered the phase of entertaining the highly improbable but remotely possible: the rechecking of everything again in the morning. I fell off to sleep before falling into the next phase, that of imagining that I really and truly knew the letter was in this or that place and all I would have to do is wake up in the morning to prove that fantasy true.

When I did wake up, I went through my wake up routine: stared at the clock, sat up in bed, stared out the window at the darkness outside, got up and looked for my shirt, pants and shoes. Put on the shirt. Pulled on my pants. Checked to see if I had a handkerchief by placing my hand on my back pocket. And heard a slight crinkle-like noise. A crunchy paper noise. A found letter noise. I reached very carefully into my pocket, a reach that was accompanied by hope and a little prayer. And, indeed, it was the letter. It was a wonderful way to start the day. I felt elated, satisfied, grateful, overjoyed and somewhat stupid. The letter was on me all the time and I never gave a thought to checking my pocket.

Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from the above. Here in the monastery, we go through years and years searching for God. We pray, consult each other, go to daily Masses and spend hours each day chanting the psalms. We read, we study, we pray, we desire in the hope that we can draw closer to God. And this is all well and good. But I wonder if the revelation to be gleaned from all our labors is that of realizing that God is kind of in our back pockets. God is always there. We may think we can preserve what we presume to know of God in a safe place through language or ritual and that if we somehow lose these we lose God. But we cannot ever lose God. He is there, with us all the time, as close and as warm that letter in my back pocket. A letter to be savored again and again. A God to be loved over and over again, for drawing so close to each of us in a way that can never be lost — but only found.

Is it not strange that we are driven to look for God in many places that he is not, when all the while he is asking us to take a look at ourselves for what we think we may never find?

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 SW, Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.


I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.