I usually share dinner with Father Anthony in our retreat house. Anthony says grace for our guests, and then we head to the kitchen and sit together and share a meal.
Often there are friends at the table -- Anne, who sets out the food, and Rocky, a mutual friend. There are also others who come join us on occasion. Red is a good friend. As are Sandy, Geoffrey, Salena, Patti and Linda.
Anthony is there almost every night. He is good company. He is easy to be with. We are comfortable with each other; we do not feel any pressure to fill the evening with words. I am comfortable with the silence. It is a warm, friendly silence, the kind that reminds me of what it was like when I was home with my family.
Last night, Ann was reminiscing about how things were when she was young. She was talking about how coffee was made. As the pot brewed, the conversations she shared with her family brewed as well. There was no rush.
She grew up in Michigan and often talks of the way things used to be. Over the years, she has filled me in on a lot of her family life and news. It is obvious that her family is where her heart is. She smiles as she speaks of her mom and dad, her siblings, of snowy months in Detroit, of her dad's hard work at the factory, of Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries, the small shops -- in short, the warm memories of a bygone era.
She has showed me old photographs from those days. Most of the people have passed on. She cherishes the photos, and has kept up the habit of taking pictures of her grandchildren.
We spend a good part of our day here trying to get a handle on the reality or truth of God. It is, I suppose, a lofty endeavor. I really do not know how far we get, how successful we ever are in catching the tail of the divine as it moves through this life.
But every now and then I am taken aback. I find myself jolted by a revelation that has something to do with dinner chats and slowly brewing coffee on a long-gone stove. We gather in a beautiful church, chanting psalms in the hope of catching the ear of God, and I at times realize that God comes to us with the aroma of coffee, with the slow burn that is life, with the very ordinary things that capture our hearts in the daily routines of human life.
When Anthony tells me about his youth, I love to listen to him. I am not thinking about God then, as Anthony tells me different and charming things about his early years. It is only later that I realize that in the truth of who he was as he was growing up, there is a truth of God, as well.
It is as if we cannot concentrate on God while at the same time listen to each other, remember with each other, over a good meal and a few cups of coffee.
I have often heard some of the monks say that it is possible to find God alone in meditation. Maybe I have had that experience but, honestly, it is not all that clear to me. My mind wanders. And come dinner time, we say grace and I can smell the coffee.
We move into the kitchen, having said our brief prayer, and then the ordinariness resumes. I must say it is as beautiful as it is ordinary.
Anthony bows his head when he says the words of grace. Last night, I watched him at the table, as he sliced and orange and spoke. His head was bowed just a bit.
Anne chimed in about the coffee, and how good things were, she said.
Now I think to myself, yes, how good things are. Life is a revelatory mystery, alive with the presence of God, the slow burning lover who seeps into a little kitchen where the coffee is brewed and memories are warmly spoken.
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.