JAMES BEHRENS: Learn to press the mute button on everyday life and listen to God

James Behrens

James Behrens

My dad liked to watch football on TV. I do not remember him ever going to a game. He seemed to be content watching from the distant sidelines afforded him by the television, his chair, and a few beers.

He watched the game, but he did not hear it. He used the mute button on the remote to kill the sound.

I once asked him why he did that. He replied that the commentary drove him nuts. His revulsion for commentary was also the reason he remoted to another channel when certain news anchors came on the air, supplementing and interrupting the flow of the news with their opinions.

I wonder if commentary drives us all a bit off the wall. We go through our days as living receptacles for an unrelenting flood of advice, advertisements, points of view, updates and the like.

It hits us from all sides. Internet sites, chats among ourselves, even our private musings about the affairs of the world, the church, the foibles of being human as these are generously displayed here and elsewhere.

It is non-stop noise. And it causes problems. One of the problems is the inescapable need to listen to whatever comes our way and to make sense out of it, for better or worse.

A few weeks ago the first reading at Mass offered this passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “You, O man, are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment.”

It seems that there is no way around the need to judge what we see and hear, and to judge each other for what the other sees and hears. We are all guilty to some degree.

The need to judge what we see and hear is forced upon us from so many directions, it is impossible to turn off. There is no dial on the volume that might lower the noise of modern-day life.

Ideally, monasteries offer a refuge from the ceaseless din of life. But the modern era has made it increasingly difficult for a monastic community to wall out the sounds of life. It is a challenge for us to find ways to maintain an undisturbed day to day existence.

We, too, are pulled by the currents of this age and drawn into the deep and heaving swells of life. We monks struggle through the daily onslaught of things that must be heard, discerned, judged.

We do not have much of a consensus among ourselves as to what might be considered universally good and binding for all. We routinely fall into the trap of sizing each other up in light of our individual preferences concerning the good and the holy.

I do not think that there is a once and for all cure for the damage we inflict on each other through our tendencies to judge. It is such a pervasive part of our culture and our lives that the best we can seem to do is try and keep in check our roving eyes and loose tongues.

But there is a way, I think, that we can look about us and learn a bit of wisdom we might use to filter out some of the noise of this life.

God has placed among us those who are living and loving reminders that some progress is possible on the journey towards the non-judgmental. There are those among us who we know have never said a bad word about anybody.

One such person went from us and home to God a few weeks ago. Brother Alphonse said more by what he did not say. I am pretty sure it was not an easy thing for him to learn. But learn he did.

He somehow learned to mute the volume, and when he did that he liked what he heard, and shared it with us in his beautiful, quiet way.

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