I was sitting in the back of our church early this morning. It was dark, the only light being the light in our sanctuary, a burning reminder that God is present.
My eyes were closed, and different thoughts and memories were finding their way in and out of my mind. I do not remember being selective about them. They seemed to arrive on their own. They hovered for a while, as if wanting to communicate something to me, and then went their way when I did not go for the bait.
I did linger over one thing and that was a letter that came a while back from Mr. Hopkins. I have never met him, have never seen a picture of him.
He had first written to me many years ago and enclosed a beautiful poem he had written about how words are eternal and no matter how they are born, be it from spoken language or writing, they live on.
I really liked that. I remember thinking that it reminded me of how we have been given the power by God to share in his creative use of the Word. He spoke and speaks and all that was and is and shall be. And we speak as best we can and our words have a way of living on and giving life.
I like to think this is especially true when it comes to words of love, words that are spoken or thought of, in prayer, in a conversation with those we love, in those thoughts of longing that seem to burn within us every day, kind of like the light burning before me in our sanctuary this morning. The only light in the darkness.
The recent letter that came from Mr. Hopkins was half a letter. I still have it. The envelope in which the letter came was torn at the right edge and along the bottom, and a good slice of the paper on which Mr. Hopkins had written is gone.
So what I have are a lot of lines of half-sentences, and a few stanzas of a poem that he had written. There are some complete snippets -- he asks if I am happy as a monk; he likes a piece I sent him; there are lights on his porch. He writes of how my words are a living part of him, and how he feels that he knows a man I wrote about, because of how I wrote.
He has been married for 28 years and his wife's name is Kerry and she was at Sullivan's Tire Store and when she was to come home, he would take her shopping for groceries, and he is glad that the radiators in their housekeep the rooms warm. And there is mention of his grown children, Kate, Dan and Brian. The first part of that sentence is gone, so there may be more grown sons or daughters.
I cannot fill in the blanks of the missing half. Mr. Hopkins writes very well -- writes with long and richly detailed sentences. Part of the poem survived the shredding. There are three stanzas and Mr. Hopkins' initials at the bottom -- jeh.
I especially like the first -- or is it the third? -- stanza. It is hard to tell, because a good part of the poem is gone.
I prefer the humility of pots
Hands once of clay dug by hands
Creation dependent upon its potter
The mucked earth swirling into useful things
Bowls, cups, basins, mugs, urns, vases,
Made for the still-life beauty of each day.
So I think about the rest of what he wrote, wondering where it is, and how it is. It may be in someone's pocket, maybe that of a postal worker who found it at the bottom of a big bin. Or who may have picked up the half-letter off the floor. Or, it may be gone for good -- at least the written aspect of Mr. Hopkins word.
But they were written, and we reborn, and a man's heart moved when he wrote them, and in that movement of care, of love, of the tender birthing of words, he changed and the world changed. I can do the best I can to fill in the blanks but I trust that the words are alive, somewhere, and that they will surely come to me in new ways, even though I may not recognize them.
Maybe that is what those daydream-like thoughts are, like the ones I had this morning, in church, dream-like words that seem to come from an eternal place, looking for a heart in which to rest a while. I could ask Mr. Hopkins to write me again, and tell me what is missing.
But maybe the letter is revelatory just as it is. All that is spoken by God is alive, is growing, and we miss much of it. Our hearts are not yet large enough to hold all that God speaks, all that he sends. Someday they will be. It is all out there, coming to us bit by bit, word by word.
The light in our church is quite small -- it is a flame, in fact, that helps me see in the dark.
God spoke, and that Word was Light, the Light that came into the world. A Light that will someday illumine and seek out all that seems missing, and bring it back home.
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 e-mail address is james@trappist. net.