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JAMES BEHRENS: God is found in both love and suffering

James Behrens

James Behrens

I remember the day my dad decided that it was time for me wade with him into the surf at Jones Beach, Long Island. I must have been 3 or 4. He took my hand and walked me to the edge of the surf.

When the waves came in, he took both my hands and lifted me above the waves and then gently set me down again when they receded. He then carried me deeper into the surf and, still holding my hands, taught me how to tread water.

Those were the first stages in my learning how to swim. Dad was once a lifeguard but I did not know that then. But I remember that he did his best to ease my panic and to tell me that it was best to trust him and relax, and eventually swim.

Learning to ride a two-wheel bike was a similar scenario. He dispensed with the training wheels and sat me on the bike. He held the bars and ran with me on the bike. The bike raced along, then he let go, and I was on my own. At least for a little while.

It took a few spills before I got the hang of it and could manage on my own. I did not make the connections back then between trial, error and success. Maybe it was enough that I learned to ride without thinking about all that went into it.

It must have been traumatic — everything was new, different, scary — and lacking all the security of the familiar. But it had to come to pass. To get from one place to another in life, change is inevitable, comfort must be left behind, and we learn to swim, ride, learn, and to do it again and again in all of their variations in life.

Learning something new demands a leap into solitude. There comes a point where we have to learn by the doing, and do it alone. But I think it is important to remember the help we were given. For there comes a time when we are called upon to teach others the rules of the roads and the waves of life.

The Gospel that tells of the Transfiguration is given every year during Lent. It is a hopeful Gospel, a reminder to us that there is light at the end of life. But we must first live life in order to enter the light.

The Transfiguration is a telling event and it says a lot — a lot about Jesus and a lot about us. Peter, James and John are in awe. They see Jesus as He truly is, and want to stay. Jesus is lovingly affirmed by his father, the father who tells the disciples to listen to Him.

They are frightened, and Jesus calms them, tells them not to be afraid, and they leave the mountain and return to ordinary life. They must live life and death and make the connections. The ramifications of what they saw on the mountain were to be found in the world below.

Like all learning events that happen in the youth of life, it took a while for the disciples, for the church, to make some of these important connections. Suffering would soon follow this great revelation of the Transfiguration. The God who spoke would soon be known as living in the Son, in the disciples, in the rich and poor, old and young, in the lives of those who would put to death the very Author of Life.

The disciples would learn that love is inseparable from suffering. One cannot come into being without the other. We say with some ease that God is love. It is more difficult to say, to understand, that God lives in our sufferings as well.

As love is redemptive, so is suffering. For the source of light and love did not stay behind on the mountain. He returned to life, to all of life, to reveal its source, its direction, its ultimate consummation when all things will find their fulfillment in God’s plan.

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.