JAMES BEHRENS: The ordinary becomes extraordinary with the grace of God

Patti, who is our retreat house secretary, was telling me a few days ago about last Christmas. Her brother Libby was here and they were standing on the porch of the retreat house kitchen.

Libby looked about and said how beautiful this place is. He was, Pattie said, really taken with the view from the porch. The church steeple towers ahead. And there is a path that leads up some steps to the rear area of the monastery.

Patti told me that she had seen the view so often, she more or less became accustomed to it. It was only when Libby commented on the beauty of this place that she looked again with a second sight. and was grateful for what she saw, and for what her brother said.

I suppose we all need to be reminded of the beauty that exists right before our eyes. Familiarity dulls perception. But the beauty is still there. Someone sees it, and shares the thrill of what lies before us.

The first reading this past Sunday morning has a widow taking very ordinary things -- flour and oil -- and when she trusts the prophet Elijah, the simple things yield an abundance of nourishment. Her trust in the prophet saves the woman and her son from death.

Ordinary things become bearers of the extraordinary. It is a common enough theme, but our eyes become drowsy and heavy with the tiring repetition of life. We just do not readily see what is before our eyes.

On Jan. 22, 1938, a play opened at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey. Its New York debut took to the stage of the Henry Miller Theater on Feb. 4. The name of the play was "Our Town," Thornton Wilder's masterpiece about the revelatory magic of ordinary life.

The play won a Pulitzer Prize and it has been said that not a night has passed since it opened that it has not graced a stage. I have read that somewhere, every night, "Our Town" offers an audience the enchantment of their own lives. It is a play that has a very special gift. It opens the heart to see what is always there, latent but real in the ordinary events and people of life.

The heart of the play involves Emily, a young woman who dies giving birth to her firstborn. She is allowed to return for one day to her life. She chooses a birthday. Unseen by her parents, Emily watches as the day unfolds.

She then sees the beauty of every moment -- something she never realized when she was alive. She cries out to the stage manager, who is standing on the sidelines watching. She asks him if anyone ever sees the beauty of every moment, and he replies, maybe some -- saints, or poets.

The play highlights the ordinary by downplaying or removing all distractions. There are very few props. The recurring themes are love, marriage, life and death as these take hold of the characters and work their wonders.

These great themes can only find expression through the daily and seemingly humdrum parade of the ordinary -- ordinary lives, like yours and mine.

It is strange that we chase after great things in life, when all the while the real treasures that can make or break the heart are coming to us through the seemingly mundane, the tedious, the repetitious.

But grace cannot arrive any other way. It may have its origin in heaven, but it soon makes its way to human life, making magic from love and death, birth and life, flour and oil -- or a revelation on a porch on Christmas morning that sees everything anew.

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.