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JAMES BEHRENS: God thrives on our individuality

We all have different likes and dislikes. I like handwriting. I like using a pen and paper.

I also like thinking about how other people go about the craft of putting words to paper. It fascinates me that a writing style differs from one person to another. I can tell by now which monk leaves notes on the board, just by looking at the handwriting.

Some of us put a lot of care into the way we write words, and, perhaps, think about them, think about how best to transfer what is in our heads to lines on a page.

Two friends of mine have penmanship that floors me. Elyce and Marion write in near flawless script. Beautifully shaped letters, arranged on perfectly straight lines on non-ruled paper.

Others are at the opposite end of the pole. Their handwriting is wretched, hard to read, each sentence written with seemingly no sense of line or perspective.

But difference is the name of the game. It is the way we are, how we were made. Yet most of us were taught by the same method at a very young age -- the Palmer Method.

I remember the little green books, with all the big fat letters, all sitting on lines, and my first and second grade teachers using a chalk holder that held four pieces of chalk, dragging it across the black board to make four lines on which they would write the letters and tell us to do the same in our marble notebooks.

Big fat pencils. Big pink erasers that smelled good. The sisters would make their way down the aisles, stopping at each desk to check the progress of each kid, often taking a kid's small hand in their own to better force clarity and legibility.

But in the long run, the urge for difference won out. By the time a few years passed, styles were as different as they were hardened in the writing habits of the students. The Palmer Method gave way to the human method.

The gospel lays down a method to be used for following Jesus.

John the Baptist says that he must decrease while Jesus increases. Those words are probably broad enough for a wide range of interpretations. But at bottom, they touch on a root truth of Christian life. We are not masters of our own destinies. We are born, live, and die as recipients of hoped-for gifts. We live by, and will die unto, the mercy of God.

We cannot but help teach each other how to live. We have methods, long tried and true practices dealing with the Christian life.

At the outset, they are like the Palmer Method. Neat, perfectly arranged, a model of lettering to follow and practice. But for whatever reason, we are not good at that. We write and gradually our penmanship varies so, from person to person.

So we live, and our styles of life, of following our inborn instincts to be good, to lay down our lives and follow Jesus, seem to take on the same wandering roads as pen on paper. I think that is the way it should be.

Each of us moves toward something or someone to which we can give our lives, a gift of self that decreases in us self-centeredness and increases in us the capacity of life lived for others.

These movements are as different as there are people. Just as human handwriting is so rich in its variations and waywardness from the alleged norm, we are offered a perfect script and follow it as best we can. That always means a generous array of difference.

It is, I think, a way to look at how God takes difference and fashions it to His own purposes. In His eyes, we all write quite well. God thrives on difference, even when an identical method was given to everybody, using fat pencils and pink erasers.

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.