The Respectful Golfer

There were two golfers out on the course for there usual Saturday morning game. They were out on the sixth hole when they noticed, at a distance, a funeral procession slowly making its way down the highway. The older of the two, when he saw the procession, stopped, removed his hat, and bowed his head reverently for a full minute until all the cars had passed.

The younger golfer was surprised and humbled by the gesture. Later, as they sat in the golf cart, making their way to the 7th hole, he told the older golfer, “You know, that was really respectful what you did back there. Most people would have kept playing. That really touched me.”

The older golfer said, “Well, I was married to her for 42 years. I figured it was the least I could do.”

Whenever I tell that joke, there are some men who get knowing looks from their wives. We all know that golfer. Often we are that golfer. The things we say we prioritize and the things our lives show we prioritize are often very different. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples, “Where your treasure lies, there your heart lies also.” What do you spend your time and money doing? The answer to that question reveals what you treasure. God speaks through the prophet Hosea (6:6), “I desire mercy mercy not sacrifice and acknowledgement of God not burnt offerings.” God wants us to show that we treasure Him through the way we live our lives and not through respectful gestures on the sixth hole.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Inhabiting a Word

Once the Rabbi Eliezer was teaching his disciples how they should read scripture. “If a man really wants to understand a word in scripture,” he said, “he has to enter into it with his whole being.”

This confused the disciples so that one of them asked, “Teacher, is it not impossible for a grown man to enter into a small word?”

The Rabbi Eliezer smiled and his voice grew quiet. “I did not speak about men who think they are bigger than words.”

According to the ninth chapter of Proverbs, “The fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” “Fear of The Lord” is a phrase in the Hebrew Scriptures that means something like “humility before God.” The way of wisdom begins with the acknowledgement that God is greater than we are and that his word is greater than we are. Rabbi Eliezer, in this wonderful little story from the Babylonian Talmud, is reminding his students that they must search scripture in a posture of humility. They must be willing to not see themselves as the consumers but the consumed. Liberals and conservatives, allegorists and literalists, are all guilty of bending and contorting scripture to fit their own desires and agendas rather than bending their desires and agendas to fit scripture. When we come to scripture with preconceived notions and search out those verses that agree with us, then we see ourselves as giants towering over the book. How foolish. Do we not know that God made man small enough to fit inside one tiny word?

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

Dying of Thirst

When Spanish ships first started sailing to the Americas, there were many new challenges associated with the long voyage. One particularly challenging ordeal was an area known as the doldrums. The area, about 30 degrees on each side of the equator, is one of the most still areas in the Atlantic Ocean. A ship could hit this spot and go days, even weeks, without a breeze. Ships that did this were in real danger of exhausting their food and water supply. There is a record of one such ship being so depleted of water after a month in the doldrums that by the time they approached the Americas many of the shipmates were dying of thirst. They didn’t know their latitude so they had no idea how much longer their journey would last until they happened on a Peruvian boat. When the Peruvians saw their sickly condition, they called out, “Can we help you?”

“Water!”, they called out, “We need water!”

“Lower your buckets!”, the Peruvians replied.

Every good sailor knew not to drink sea water. The salt is dangerous and can kill you. “No!”, they called back, “We need fresh water!”

Again, the Peruvians called out, “Lower your buckets”

Unbeknownst to the Spanish sailors, for the last week of their journey they had been sailing where the mouth of the Amazon river empties into the Atlantic Ocean. This is the source of 20% of earth’s runoff water. It flows into the ocean with such force that for hundreds of miles in every direction, the water is fresh. The sailors had been dying of thirst in a sea of drinkable water.

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water,” Jesus tells the Samaritan woman in the 4th chapter of John. Jesus compares himself to “living water.” A lot of times we miss what he’s telling her because we’ve spiritualized the term “living water.” Living water was an idiom used to describe spring water or river water as opposed to pool water or well water. Living water is continuously flowing and so is an inexhaustible supply. Living water does not have to be stored or rationed. It flows freely. As disciples we are anchored at the foot of an inexhaustible supply of fresh life giving water. We have no excuse to be dying of thirst.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Prince and The Monster

Once there was a young Prince schooled in all the ways of war. He was taught martial arts by a great ninja master, he was taught to shoot arrows by an expert marksman, to use the lance by a brave soldier, and he was taught to wield his sword by a mighty Samurai.

There came a time when the Prince’s kingdom was under attack by a monster with impenetrable skin. The prince rode out to meet the monster. First he shot his arrows at the monster with the precision of a great marksman. Those arrows which landed on his hide, near his vitals simply bounced off. Even the arrow which landed on his eye rolled off. The monster roared and advanced on the Prince, snorting smoke and drooling.

The Prince, still on his horse, charged the monster with his lance which splintered into a thousand pieces on the monster’s skin as if it had been made of bamboo. The monster, with a mighty thrash of his tail, threw the Prince off his horse, and the Prince used his martial arts training to land without breaking a bone. Before the Prince could unsheath his sword, the monster grabbed him and raised him to his mouth about to eat him with his sharp jagged teeth.

“I would not do that if I were you!”, shouted the Prince.

“The fool speaks!” The monster sneered, cruelly, “I have beaten you, no weapon can penetrate my skin! Now do you wish to bargain for your life?”

“No,” replied the prince, “I wish to bargain for yours! I was trained by an enlightened monk in the art of internal warfare. If you let me into your body, I shall have the opportunity to strike you with my sword where you are weakest and your skin will not be able to protect you!”

Startled by the Prince’s confidence, the monster dropped him and ran away. Many days later the monster approached the Prince, bowed to him, and asked to be taught the art of internal warfare.”

This Buddhist parable at first seems like a simple story about “seeing a problem from another angle” but like all great parables, the more you chew on it, the more insight it yields. Evil must be fought from within not without. With wisdom and cunning, the Prince humbles the belligerent monster. The irony of course being that he does succeed at a kind of internal warfare that changes the monster’s outlook. In his letters to the Ephesians, Paul reminds fellow followers that their war is not against flesh and blood but against principalities, powers of darkness. We must remember that the impenetrable hide of evil cannot be pierced with the weapons of war but must be fought internally. Thomas Merton once said that before we can overthrow the dictator across the ocean, we must dethrone the dictator in our own hearts. That may be as good a place as any to begin our internal warfare.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Fresh Fish Sold Here Daily

“Fresh Fish Sold Here Daily” read the fish merchant's sign. He had just painted it, hung it above his window, and he was beaming at the sign with pride when a neighbor passed by.

“Why does the sign say 'daily'”, the neighbor asked, “Surely no one thinks you mean to be open once a week selling fish?”

The merchant thought about this for a second and said, “That makes perfect sense!” So he took the sign down and painted over the part that read “Daily” so that the sign now just read, “Fresh Fish Sold Here.”

He was admiring his edit when another neighbor passed.

“Here?”, the neighbor asked, “Where else would you be selling the fish but in your shop?”

After thinking about this, the merchant said, “That makes perfect sense!” So he took down the sign and changed it to read “Fresh Fish Sold.”

No sooner had he hung the freshly painted sign when a passing neighbor remarked, “'Sold?' How silly! Surely you weren't planning on giving the fish away for free!”

Of course this made perfect sense so the merchant took his sign down yet again and made the correction. It now read “Fresh Fish!”

He was merely holding it in his hand getting ready to hang it when another passerby chuckled, “'Fresh?' I should certainly hope so! Surely no one thinks you plan on selling rotten fish.”

“That makes perfect sense!” The merchant thought so, yet again, he took the sign into his shop and removed the unnecessary word. Now the sign simply read neatly and concisely, “Fish.” There it hung in big bold letters. The perfect picture of simplicity.

“We know it's fish! We can smell it all the way down the road!” The neighbor remarked as he passed by.

The merchant thought about this for a second. “That makes perfect sense!” So he set to work on his final edit. So he hung a sign in the store window that read, ” .”

The sign hung in the window for a week and the merchant didn't receive a single customer. “That sign might be bad for business,” the merchant thought to himself, “but at least it makes perfect sense!”

All advice must be received with discernment and just because something “makes sense” doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. This humorous Jewish story reminds us that it is a fool who follows the advice of every passerby and takes every critique to heart. An inward sense of your own purpose can help you sift the good advice from the bad. “What am I setting about to accomplish and for whom? Does this counsel help me achieve what I am called to do?” This story can also have a deeper meaning for followers of Christ. As disciples we can be tempted to edit from the gospel things we think the people don't need to hear or what we assume they already know. But if our communication neglects the essentials, then we're just a fancy sign with no words.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

What More Should I Do?

A disciple once came to Abba Joseph, saying, “Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, my little fast, and my little prayer. And according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my mind of all evil thoughts and my heart of all evil intents. Now, what more should I do?” Abba Joseph rose up and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He answered, “Why not be totally changed into fire?”

I found this short little story about Joseph, one of the Desert Fathers, in Richard Foster's book “Prayer.” I've kept Foster's wording because it stunned me in my tracks. What a beautiful illustration of a fundamental truth of the spiritual life- that it is about more than just participation, it is about transformation. We miss the point when we think small. The goal of our little prayers, and our little fasts should be to be completely transformed by the one who is the Consuming Fire!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

The Turban

The following is quoted verbatim from a story by Jonathan Pearlman in The Telegraph:

A 22-year-old Sikh man in New Zealand has been hailed as a hero after putting his religious beliefs aside and removing his turban to help cradle the bleeding head of a 5-year-old boy hit by a car.

Harman Singh, 22, was at his home in Auckland when he heard the sound of an accident on the street and rushed out to find Daejon Pahia, 6, lying by the roadside after being struck by a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Mr Singh has been strongly praised by the Sikh community

He immediately removed his turban and lay it under the boy’s head – an action which the boy’s mother said helped to save her son’s life.

“I saw a child down on the ground and a lady was holding him,” Mr Singh told The New Zealand Herald.

“His head was bleeding, so I unveiled my turban and put it under his head … I wasn’t thinking about the turban. I was thinking about the accident and I just thought, ‘He needs something on his head because he’s bleeding.'”

Mr Singh has been strongly praised by the Sikh community but modestly insisted that “anyone else would have done the same as me”.

Gagan Dhillon, a Sikh passer-by who also assisted, said he saw Mr Singh without a head covering and “thought ‘that’s strange’”.

“But then I saw one hand was underneath the boy’s head supporting it and his siropao [turban] was stopping the bleeding,” he said.

“But being a Sikh myself, I know what type of respect the turban has. People just don’t take it off – people die over it … He didn’t care that his head was uncovered in public. He just wanted to help this little boy.”

Sikh leaders said Mr Singh’s decision to remove the turban in public was a rare and significant act but was consistent with their faith and its emphasis on kindness and humanity.

This true story of a Sikh man helping a stranger in need hits us with all the force of a good parable. It calls to mind the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, who are unwilling to help the man bleeding by the side of the road because of their purity codes. It also calls to mind The story of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. When confronted about his disregard for the religious prohibition against work on the Sabbath, Jesus asks, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” In other words, Jesus knew that his inaction would profane his religious principles far more than action. Harman Singh saw a little boy in need and was willing to put compassion above prohibition. We would all do well to follow his Christ-like example.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Father Antony’s Visitors

During the 5th century a group of Christians retreated to the desert to devote their lives to fasting and prayer, living their lives free of the temptations of the world. They have become known to history as the “Desert Fathers”. One of the most revered of the desert fathers was a man named Father Antony. Stories about his holiness and devotion spread far and wide. It was not uncommon for other Christians to make a journey out to the desert to see Antony and seek his wisdom. There was one particular group of believers that made a habit of traveling every year to visit Father Antony. There were three of them. Every year when they arrived to Father Antony's hermitage, two of the three would spend the day questioning Father Antony. They would ask him about the scriptures, the life of holiness, and seek his advice on all matters of faith. Father Antony enjoyed these visits and was always patient with the seekers. It always puzzled him, though, that one of the three never asked anything. Years passed and the three believers faithfully made their pilgrimage again and again. Two of the three always asked questions and the third continued to remain silent. Finally after many years, when Father Antony was getting old and the three travelers were advancing in age as well. The visitors came for what Father Antony thought may be the final time. At the end of their stay, after which the visitors continued their custom of two asking questions and the third remain silent, Father Antony spoke to the silent visitor:

“Brother, I have enjoyed your visits these many years, but I don't know how many more years God will grant me, nor do I know how much longer you will be able to make this journey. Your companions have sought much wisdom from me over the years and yet you have remained silent. Was there nothing you have wanted to ask of me?”

The third visitor smiled and said, “Father, it has always been enough just to see you.”

Far more important than the advice we give is the life that we life. Saint Francis of Asisi famously said: “Preach the Gospel always; occasionally use words.” As disciples we are called to help others in their journey toward holiness. Often this requires, patiently listening to their questions and sharing from our learned wisdom. More often, it requires setting an example through your actions. Even if you feel like you aren't eloquent enough to disciple others, perhaps for them it is enough just to see you.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

Creation of the Butterflies

When the Great Spirit watched his creation, he became sad at the thought that someday all the children would grow old and die. He knew they would be like the flowers of the field and would bloom for only a while before losing their beauty and wilting. Still, it was autumn, and all the colors of the trees and the fields gave the Great Spirit an idea.

“I will create something beautiful for the children,” he said.

And so the Great Spirit gathered the colors together. He took gold from the sunlight, blue from the sky, white from the cornmeal, gray from the shadows of the running children, green from the leaves of summer, yellow from the leaves of autumn, black from a girl's long hair, and red, purple, and orange he found in the petals of the flowers in the field. The Great Spirit mixed these together in his bag, along with a few songs that he had gleaned from the birds.

The Great Spirit then walked to a meadow, placed his bag on the ground and said, “Come, children. Come and open the bag. I have a present for you.”

The children ran to the bag, opened it, and thousands of bright, beautiful butterflies fluttered into the sky. The children were so happy, seeing such beauty. Suddenly the butterflies began to sing, and the children sang with them. All the songs of laughter filled the air and the world was a happy place.

Just then a songbird flew by and lighted on the Great Spirit's shoulder. The bird whispered in the Great Spirit's ear: “It isn't right that you have taken our songs and given them to these new creatures. After all, they are lovelier than we are. Isn't it only right that the songs belong to us?”

The Great Spirit thought about this and then agreed with the songbird. “It is only right that the songs belong to you,” he said.

And so the Great Spirit took the songs back and gave them to the birds. That is why they sing. But of the butterflies the Great Spirit said, “Look at these. For they are beautiful just as they are.”

This version of this beautiful Native American story was found in Todd Outcalt's wonderful collection of parables: “Candles In The Dark.” I couldn't possibly improve on his prose, so I kept his wording of the story. God in His wisdom has given us all unique gifts. Beauty for the butterflies and songs for the birds. We are created to bring joy to one another and to bring praise to our creator. There may be times when we are jealous of another person's gifts. We do well to remember that our creator has given us our gifts for a purpose and that we are, in the words of the Psalmist, “fearfully and wonderfully made!”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

Brother Masseo’s Request

During the first days of the Fransiscan movement, St. Francis surrounded himself with disciples who were eager to learn from him and imitate his life of simplicity. One of these was a man named Brother Masseo. Brother Masseo became very convicted one day after hearing Francis preach on the virtue of humility- so convicted that he resolved to forsake all other pursuits and seek only after humility! Brother Masseo went back to his cell and for days on end he fasted and prayed late into the night, begging God to send him to Hell for his sins. All this was in an effort to cultivate humility. He continued like this until one day in his despair he wandered out into the woods where he was startled by a voice from heaven:

“Masseo, Masseo,” said the voice.

“My Lord!” cried Brother Masseo, knowing the voice was that of Christ.

“Masseo,” said Christ, “What will you give me in exchange for the humility you seek?”

“My very eyes!” Brother Masseo called back.

“But I do not want your eyes,” Christ replied, “Keep them, and have my grace as well.”

From that moment on, Brother Masseo was filled with true humility and unspeakable joy.

This little story from “The Little a Flowers of St. Francis”, one of the earliest collections of tales about him and his followers, is a deep parable that rewards contemplation. Brother Masseo ultimately learns that humility cannot be achieved through effort but that it is a gift of grace. He also learns that Christ has no use of our eyes. In other words, our high or low view of ourself and others is of no value to Him. Masseo was trying to obtain humility by lamenting about his wretched estate. Yet it is this very kind of self involved thinking that is the enemy of humility. In a recent blog post, “Science Mike” McHargue wrote, “humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less…” I couldn't put it any better myself.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…