JAMES BEHRENS: Everything finds its meaning in the cross

The basement of our retreat house has been unused for many years. I venture down there every now and then.

There are many remnants of the days when that area saw more use. There is a washing machine and a dryer. There are shelves on which are arrayed pipes, plumbing fixtures, coils of wire, empty glass jars.

Books are scattered here and there. Stuff is strewn on the floor -- old clothes, "Have a Heart" traps, empty boxes and discarded pieces of luggage.

There are some large wooden cabinets that contain all sorts of tools and different sizes of pipes. And, on a post in the midst of it all, is a cross with the body of Jesus on it.

It is dark down there but there is just enough light to take pictures. So, one morning I headed down there with my camera and took a lot of photos. I especially like the windows. There are cobweb wisps galore and the windows are in need of a good cleaning, but I suppose that does not matter since the area sees so little use.

Besides, the pictures look better, maybe more artsy, with the wisps and the shadows that the webs and windows afford.

So I clicked away.

When the pictures came back, I stared at one a long time. It is a picture of the crucifix.

There are other crosses, in fact there are many of them, on our property. There are the Stations of the Cross that line a path near the lake. There is another set that winds through the woods behind the retreat house. There are the crosses that mark the graves of our deceased monks. There are crosses high above -- on our water tower and steeple.

But there is something about that cross in the basement that fixed my gaze, my attention. A photo is silent. But it seems that the less it communicates, the more it says.

The cross in the basement is not set apart. It fits in with everything else. There is dust on it and probably cobwebs. The picture is black and white, which enhances the sense that the objects in the picture blend together. Nothing stands out more than the rest.

But when I look at the picture, the cross suggests itself as a key to what everything else means. Everything finds its meaning in the cross, even though it may lay far from it and seemingly divorced from it.

So much in the basement there has to do with human labor and demise. We work, we sweat, we fix what we can and then we grow weak and die. In between birth and death we muster a few ways of loving, of tying things together, but then we move on, and leave behind everything.

Much will be forgotten and gather dust. It will all eventually turn to dust.

But the Cross, wherever it is found, points to the mystery of our lives, a mystery that we cannot of ourselves solve. Monks place crosses in many places on our property to serve as reminders that Jesus is near, is to be remembered, is to be our life. Yet we forget.

And at least one cross looks out over a dirty basement and is covered in dust.

But that is OK. The truth still holds. It is a stubborn and eternal truth. The Cross is a gift to us, a response to our search for the answer to the mystery of our lives. It is certainly not an answer that we have devised for ourselves. It is of and from God. All things shall pass. All things shall fade and diminish and rise to life again.

It is mid-morning. A nice light must be shining through the windows of the retreat house basement.

But there is another light that is always there, even in the darkness, while we sleep, it is there, vigilant, becoming a part of each of us.

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