The question raised by Jesus, "Who do people say that I am?" has moved men and women through the ages to seek a definitive answer.
Our presence here, the blending of monks and our guests, our retreatants, is a lived response to the troubling question raised by Jesus. Troubling, because the answer is elusive, impossible to neatly keep and frame. Yet here we are, a living quest.
No small part of that quest is meditation. The contemplative life is an immersion in the living presence of the ineffable, the giving of a life in the hope of communicating with God, and sharing that relationship with others.
People come here, hoping to discover the paths of the contemplative experience, and take some of those directives home with them and better walk with God.
I was recently chatting with a long time friend of mine. She asked me about meditation. She felt that I knew something about it because I am here, and that she lacked something of its import or method.
Our conversation moved through one topic after another and as she spoke, her struggles with her attempts at meditation hovered in the back of my mind.
She told me that she gets up early in the morning, makes a cup of coffee, and sits on her porch. She waits for the birds, and watches them when they come. She feeds them.
Her favorites, she told me, are the cardinals. They are beautiful, she told me, and skittish. They dart about and then fly away at the slightest sense of disturbance.
Mourning doves are, she told me, more peaceful, more restive.
She has noticed in her morning time on the porch the difference in the calls of the birds, as they signal to one another, looking for companionship, perhaps a mate.
She was worried that such observations distracted her from meditating. And I wonder.
Perhaps the beauty of the morning, the birds, the sweet sounds they make and the steaming cup of coffee bring to her eyes and heart and lips the presence of God, a presence that is, for us, always fleeting.
But the beauty that is God arrives to each of us, be it on a porch or in a cloister.
One thing I am learning through this life is that watching, looking and listening are rich in what they reveal. God comes, in fact God is always there, if we are still and look about us.
Lynda Barry is a writer and a cartoonist whose work appeared in the Village Voice.
She once wrote an essay on happiness, based on an experience she had when a little girl. She was in her bed, and a window in the room was open, and a beautiful bird flew into the room, hovered in the air for a few seconds, and then flew back out the window.
She wanted to capture it, and keep it. But that was not to be. She realized, as she grew, it could never be.
Beauty flies into our lives unbidden -- if we leave a window open -- and then returns again from whence it came. But it comes, stays a while, and it is real.
It comes with no name, no telltale signs of its origin, but it teaches us as we long for it and hope to keep it.
We must arise, and go about our lives, and keep an open window and open heart and wait. God will come, and may well appear as a beautiful but skittish bird that a woman waits for and sees in her early mornings. A seeming distraction that is in fact a grace, with wings, a brilliant red color, and a need to come, and then go, and come again.
In due time, the bird, and all the beauty it symbolizes, will stay.
Till then, we wait. And watch.
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.