JAMES BEHRENS: Moving toward a world of Christian Unity

Father James Behrens

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13-15

A recent week was set aside by the Church to offer prayers in the hope that ways might be found to bring about Christian Unity. We live in a time that has seen a remarkable transformation in our church’s approach to peoples who live by different expressions of faith. We learn from them, pray for them, hope for them, marry them, work with them, live with them.

Bernard Lonergan was fond of saying that when cultures change, the church is slow to follow. But follow it does. The cultural changes have been taking place so rapidly these last decades and the response of the church has been one of trying to get its bearings in a new, and to my way of thinking, exciting situation. Piet Schoonenberg once wrote a book the title of which is “God’s World in the Making.” Our church these days is trying its best to follow the designs of a God whose plans for the world differ greatly from our own. The God of Jesus pushes for inclusiveness, openness, the removal of any walls or barriers that keep people from seeing and loving each other as brothers and sisters.

In this big world, our monastery occupies a very small place. But big and momentous things happen here. In my time here, we have welcomed Buddhist monks and listened to their chants, their prayers to God. They partook of our Vespers service and shared a meal with us in the retreat house. They were from Tibet, and I asked one of them, through a translator, what he liked best about America. He responded with so many words, I wondered if he got the question right. When he finished, the translator looked at me and solemnly said “pizza.”

Brother Mark recently wrote an essay about a Muslim couple who stayed in our retreat house and how much he learned from their kindness and willingness to share their faith. They, too, shared in our church services. It is an almost everyday occurrence to have in our choir stalls brothers and sisters of different Christian denominations. They benefit from our retreats and we as well learn from them and welcome them.

Not long ago, these three examples would have been unthinkable at a time when faith traditions were isolated from each other by fear, or geography, or the church’s teachings on who is in and who is out in the religious ball game. All that has given way to the churches we know today. It has been, at one level, a natural progression as people grew more at ease with and less threatened by adherents of other faiths. At another level, God’s designs are taking shape.

After 9/11 our monastery hosted a gathering of men and women from many religious walks of life. We met in an upper room in the retreat house and the pressing issue of the day was the terrorist attacks on this country. Individuals expressed their hopes for peace, for a way to God’s life for us. There was and could not have been any commonly shared language of God. And that way of speaking shall never be. But people gathered that day, and they spoke and hoped for the coming of a God who enjoyed no commonly shared name. But he was the gatherer, the one whose life brought us together prior to our naming him, finding him. It was the Spirit of which we all drank, and from which we spoke. The same spirit who offers us all that is good – a future, each other, and, on occasion, even pizza.

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

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