A friend of mine wrote to me recently; the letter arrived a few days ago. She writes of many things, among them the family gathering at Christmas, sending Christmas cards, a novel she has finished writing.
She mentions how she is trying to learn to let go and let things be. It is that time of her life, she writes, when she is becoming more aware of how little, if anything, she can ultimately control.
She writes of Christopher Hitchins, who died not long before Christmas. Mr. Hitchins achieved acclaim for his writings and commentary and, most notably, no small amount of notoriety for his avowed disbelief in a God and his tirades against institutional religion.
My friend muses a bit about him, saying that Hitchins was haunted by God and any notion of God. She says she thinks about him a lot in her quiet moments, and others like him, and how in her moments of doubt, she is like him, too.
Aren't we all, perhaps?
Hitchins seemingly resisted and fought against religious claims of a God. For whatever reason, he, like John in the gospel when he is quoted as not being able to recognize Jesus prior to his baptism, was unable to recognize God on his own.
Hitchins was loved by many, including his brother who was a believer, and knew the joy of maintaining lasting and faithful friendships. There were markers all through his life of a need for something more than he could provide himself. He saw them, recognized them and followed them.
He was not self-contained. But he did not make the leap from the communion he shared to the mystery woven into it. He was unable to recognize the roadblock of his own resistance, like most of us.
In varying degrees, we all know the allure of resistance. It shields us from being involved with others. It lulls us into the sleep of laziness, indifference, despair.
From the time we are very young, we have a choice to refuse different and healthier, wiser paths. We set up our own roadblocks, one right after another.
My friend is a believer and yet recognized something of herself in Hitchins's embrace of the void.
I think she would have befriended Hitchins, if given the chance. I sense she was attracted to his quest, to his honesty, to his wrestling with God.
But now he is at rest and the battle is over. I hope God won and revealed Himself to him.
Hitchins recognized and followed some important and life giving signs along the road of life. Perhaps, if religion was a major road block for him, we might ask ourselves if we were partly to blame due to the arresting comfort of our certitude.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.