Starting Point
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Issue Date:  October 8, 2004

Starting Point


I once heard a man speak of a solitary flower. He said no one has ever seen it. But it is there, far away on a mountain. It is beautiful, he said. It came into being and will live for a while and then perish -- never to have been seen or known. But he knew it was there. The man was Wendell Berry, and he was reading one of his poems.

At the conference where he read the poem, I thanked him for his words. He was a pleasant man. I remember the way his poem made me feel. It moved me to wonder about all the beauty that exists that no one ever beholds.

So much beauty exists that will never be seen. Yet, it is there. It may seem useless. Why have beauty that cannot be seen? Why is there beauty that exists and then perishes? Even in the smallest things, like a flower, there may lie a great lesson.

So it is that a poet takes a small and fleeting piece of beauty and clothes it with words.

What is the harvest and what is the labor about which Jesus speaks in the gospel? The world is vast and is filled with beauty beyond measure: beauty in every human heart, in every face, in every pair of eyes.

It is quite a harvest, and we made none of it. It is all a gift. Most of it we will never see or know or taste or smell or hold or even dream of. Yet it is there, alive and somehow teaching us about God.

A poet labored with words to image a flower whose beauty seemed to exist just for the telling. Our labors may seem insignificant in terms of so vast a harvest. We cannot reap beauty. We can only work to tell of it, to follow its summons and live our lives in response to it.

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

National Catholic Reporter, October 8, 2004

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