National Catholic Reporter
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Starting Point
Issue Date:  May 21, 2004

Starting Point


I met a man yesterday who was visiting Damian, one of our monks, in the hospital. He is a friend of Damian and was in the room when I arrived.

We chatted for a while. He told me about his family. His son has what I think is an interesting job. He studies the depths of the oceans. The dad told me that his son recently rode the mini-submarine “Alvin” to a depth of 7,500 feet.

The man pointed to a Styrofoam cup “See that cup,” he said, with a smile on his face. “When my son goes down in the submarine, he attaches a Styrofoam cup to the outside of the submersible. He fixes it so it won’t come off. So it makes it all the way down to the bottom. When the sub resurfaces, the cup is perfectly shrunk. The immense pressure exerts an exacting toll on the cup -- but does not break it or even disfigure it. Something, huh?”

“Sure is,” I replied. I thought that so much pressure would flatten and break the cup into a kerbillion pieces.

“Imagine what that pressure would do to a person,” he said. “We are made differently, of course. There would be nothing left.”

We chatted with each other and with Damian for a bit more and then the man said he had to get back home. We said our good-byes and he headed home.

I have a few Styrofoam cups in my room and must remember to watch them very, very carefully for telltale signs of shrinkage. After all, the Bible does say that the moon and the stars will one day fall from the heavens.

Until then, it seems that we humans are pressure-sensitized to the things of the here and now -- our neighborhoods, highways, friends and foes: We do not have to “go deep” to feel a bit of shrinkage now and then. But we are made to stretch back to shape. Perhaps we have been relieved of feeling the pressure of the universe so that we better respond to the pressures of life right here.

Keep an eye on your Styrofoam.

Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Ga.

National Catholic Reporter, May 21, 2004

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