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JAMES BEHRENS: God opens the human heart, even through tragedy

God opens the human heart, even through tragedy

History can be understood as having been written by two authors. It is either written by God or written by man. There are those who say you cannot have it both ways. History then flows from either divine or human origin, not both.

We, as Christians, gathered on Christmas morning to rejoice in the mystery that we can have it both ways. We have been given it both ways. For in the birth of a Child, heaven was wedded to earth. The Divine and human became one, inseparable, irreversible, eternal.

The life of God not only came to us. It became a part of us. We are a living share in the Incarnation. God has made His home within us. The history of God and the human are one, and cannot be understood apart from each other.

The histories are one. They live in and through each other. There is no God apart from us. And there is no human apart from God. This is the gift that is ours Christmas morning and all mornings.

Our abbot prayed early Christmas morning for those who will not be able to share in the joy of this morning. He mentioned those who are suffering from sickness or the loss of loved ones. He mentioned the homeless, those afflicted by addictions. Those who are incarcerated. Those who are overwhelmed by the burdens of this life.

And he mentioned those families in Newtown, Conn., who lost children and adults in the senseless and tragic massacre which took place right before Christmas. There were presents that were wrapped with love and joy, presents that will now never be opened by the children for whom they were lovingly intended.

The killings revealed a horrible side to humanity. Once again, one of our own killed innocent people, innocent children, with gunfire. It has happened before and it will happen again.

Strangely enough, we learn that we are very much like the children who lost their lives. We cannot control history. We are, despite all our notions and designs of security, deeply vulnerable to what can maim, what can kill, what can silence life.

The deaths of those children exposed the illusory facades of our defenses. Life is tender. It is extremely fragile. And it can be tragically ended in its youth.

But that is not all of the story of Newtown. Since that sad day, messages of condolences have poured in from all over the world. Gifts have arrived from everywhere. People have filled churches, synagogues, temples and other places of prayer, offering to the families the comfort of words that are born from sadness and hope -- sadness for what we can do to children and hope that we can yet give comfort in the best ways we know how.

In a sense, the gifts that were unopened beneath the Christmas trees in Newtown have been opened. They symbolize the millions of people who cried over the news and from their tears needed and wanted to do something. Distances by miles or affiliation did not matter. People had to reach out and offer whatever comfort they could.

Tragedy dissolves walls. No matter what religion or culture or ideology, tears dissolved their claim to separate. People rose above their parochial attitudes and offered their hearts.

And that is the gift of Christmas. We are asked to hold close the God who is within us. And to love from that Gift.

He was born to us that we might truly live and love from Him. There is no history apart from the union of God and the human.

And the living gift of that union poured into a little town in Connecticut. People became vulnerable to each other, across miles and differences, all because of a God who became vulnerable to us, became one of us, and who also came from a far away place to show what He can do with human hearts. He opens them.

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.