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…

 

Heaven and Hell

A monk was deep in his prayers when an angel appeared to him and offered to reveal to him any of the divine mysteries. The monk said to the Angel, “show me Heaven and Hell.”

Suddenly the monk and the Angel were in a large banquet hall. There was a large table filled with every good food you could imagine. There was succulent turkey, fresh from the oven, hot bread and butter, any side you could want, and delicious cakes for dessert. All the guests looked pale and sickly. The monk noticed that they were chained to their chairs and that they each had large metal rods shackled to their arms. Unable to leave their chairs or bend their elbows, the monk watched in horror as the guests at the banquet were unable to feed themselves any of this delicious food. They'd pick it up and drop it over and over and cry out in hunger, unable to get any of the food to their mouths.

“This,” said the Angel, grimly, “is Hell.”

“I cannot bear to watch their suffering any longer,” said the monk, “please show me heaven.”

Just as suddenly the monk and the Angel were in a differen banquet hall. There was also a large table filled with every good food you could imagine and all the guests here too were chained to their chairs and they each had large metal rods shackled to their arms. But these guests were not crying out in anguish. To the contrary, they were singing and laughing. They were not pale and sickly like the guests in the room before. These people were happy, healthy, and content. The monk watched closely and suddenly realized the difference between the two rooms. In this room each was picking up food and feeding his neighbor.

I love this old parable and I can't help but think about it every time I take communion. Especially on nights like tonight when Churches come together to celebrate that new command: “to love one another…” This particular Maundy Thursday, I'm struck by the irony that there is a national debate centering around the question of who Christians should have to serve. The legal issues involved are above my pay grade but it is hard for me to imagine that the Christ who welcomes all to His table would not want His disciples to do the same. In the Gospels, Jesus set aside his right to exclude people from his table and was criticized for the company he kept. This parable reminds us that it is our humility and our service that makes Heaven out of Hell. In the early Church, our self sacrificing love was indeed our defining characteristic and one of the chief ways we patterned our lives after Christ. The same Christ whose outstretched arms are marvelously depicted in the words of the old hymn: “Come Ye sinners poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore/ Jesus, ready, stands to save you, full of pity, love, and power…”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

The Water Bearer

Once there was a water bearer whose task it was every day to go up and down the hill from the master’s house to the river where he would retrieve water to supply the entire home. He did this each day in the traditional method. He had a large pole he carried on his shoulders with a clay pot hanging from each end. Every morning he cheerfully went out and made several trips to the river to gather water singing all the way.

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

He loved his job so much that when he was done fetching the day’s supply of water, he would go back out and gather flowers from along the path which he would then take back to his master’s house and set in vases. Singing all the while:

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

As much as the water bearer loved these daily trips, his pots loved them even more! Clay pots are never happier than when they are being used so the fact that they got to be filled and then poured out several times a day made them so happy. Most days they would smile (yes, pots can smile) and they would sing along (of course pots can sing) the whole trip up and down the hill to the river and back:

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

There was one problem though. One of the pots was cracked. The cracked pot when filled would steadily drip water all along the path. This eventually made the cracked pot very sad. He would notice how as they travelled along the path, the water bearer had to work extra hard to balance the pots because one of the pots was heavier than the others. He also noticed that the water bearer had to take a lot more trips than he would if he had two whole pots. One afternoon, as they were making their daily trip, the whole pot began to tease the cracked pot. It bragged about how much water it could hold and told him that nobody wanted a useless leaky pot. Later, when the water bearer began to fill the cracked pot, he noticed that the cracked pot was very sad. Good water bearers are in tune with emotions of their pots.

“What is the matter?”, the water bearer asked.

“I’m useless,” said the cracked pot. “I used to love making these trips every day but now I just hate them because I know I’m letting you down. I drip water constantly and I make your job twice as hard. Why don’t you just get a new pot and you can fill me with flour or something.”

“You know what would cheer you up…”, said the water bearer, “When we walk up and down the hill to the master’s house, why don’t you admire all the pretty flowers!”

The cracked pot did as he was told and the whole journey home he admired the flowers. They really were beautiful. There were roses, tulips, daisies, morning glories, violets, any flower you could think of. There were big flowers and small flowers, and they were all different colors and each one smelled prettier than the last. The cracked pot gazed at these flowers and smiled and thought of nothing else the whole time the water bearer journeyed back, singing:

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

But when they finally got back the cracked pot was sad once again. When the water bearer poured the cracked pot out, he noticed that he was still sad.

“Why are you still sad, friend. Didn’t you look at the flowers like I told you to?”

“Yes I did,” said the cracked pot, “and they were very beautiful. I almost forgot about my sadness but when we got back and you poured me out and I saw how much water my companion poured and how little I had, I was reminded of my crack and how I daily disappoint you and I was sad again”

The water bearer smiled. “Did you not notice when you were watching the flowers how they only grow on one side of the road? I knew you had a crack. That’s why I chose you. Every day, you’ve been watering the flowers along the side of the path with each drip that falls out of your cracked clay. All those beautiful flowers are there because of you.”

The cracked pot suddenly realized how important he was. He was filled with a joy that never left him. Now everyday he was once again excited to go out on his daily journey and each time he dripped water on the path he would give thanks for his imperfection that brought such amazing life into the world and he would gladly sing the whole way:

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

This is my elaborated version of an old parable from India. Sometimes it is our very imperfections that God can use to bring beauty into the world. We often are sad because we feel we cannot contribute the things that others can, and we miss out on what God has in store for us. As disciples, we also see in this parable the great Christian paradox that brokenness brings wholeness. It is through our wounds that God can use us to bring healing to others. We are called to stop comparing ourselves to the people around us and to begin looking for the ways God is already at work in us. For we are, as the Psalmist declares, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked

And figs grew upon thorn,

Some moment when the moon was blood

Then surely I was born;

~

With monstrous head and sickening cry

And ears like errant wings,

The devil’s walking parody

On all four-footed things.

~

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

I keep my secret still.

~

Fools! For I also had my hour;

One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

And palms before my feet.

This lovely poem by G.K. Chesterton reminds us that Jesus came to redeem the rejected and despised. It is a telling of Palm Sunday from the point of view of the donkey. Chesterton builds on the detail found in Luke’s gospel that the donkey chosen for Jesus to enter Jerusalem with had never been rode upon. Such a creature must feel rejected. The donkey is a creature considered to be unnatural and a half breed. One beaten and abused. Yet it is this creature that takes place in the triumphal entry. As disciples we are called to see even the most despised creatures as children of God and to be agents of redemption in their lives. Because the truth is all of us were among the rejected when Christ chose us.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The King and the Maiden

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.

And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.

This, perhaps the most beautiful of Søren Kierkegaard’s parables, is a profound illustration of the greatest Christian mystery: that God would give up all His holy splendor and don flesh and bone– that He would forsake His crown for a cross. The answer is “love.” As disciples, we are called to imitate this same love and humility. As the apostle Paul wrote in the second chapter of Phillippians: “Therefore in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Diagnosis

After complaining about a severe headache for weeks, a man finally goes to the doctor. The doctor looks him up and down and can't find anything wrong with him.

“Are you getting enough sleep?”, the doctor asks, “sometimes staying out too late and not getting the proper sleep can cause headaches.”

The man said, “Yes. In fact, I'm in bed by 8pm every night, just after I've said my prayers.”

“Do you smoke?”

“Certainly not. I would never put such filth into my body. My body is a temple of The Lord!”

“Are you a heavy drinker?”

“I resent the accusation! Why I've never touched the poison!”

“I apologize”, said the doctor, “It's just my job to ask… how many partners have you had in the past year?”

“I'll have you know I've remained celibate my entire life, thank you very much! I don't even allow myself to think of such temptations!

The doctor scratched his head for just a second then asked, “Where does your head hurt exactly?”

The man pointed to the areas that were causing him trouble and the doctor nodded knowingly. “It's just as I suspected,” said the doctor, “your halo is on too tight!”

Is your halo on too tight? I fist encountered this humorous parable in “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning. When our religion makes us joyless and prone to hold others in contempt, you could say our halo is on too tight. When Methodists celebrate holy communion we say a prayer of confession in which we confess our sins to God. The prayer ends with the line: “free us for joyful obedience in Christ out Lord.” For the disciple, obedience is a joyful response to the grace that has been extended to us for our failings. If our obedience is not joyful, then we aren't doing it right. Perhaps it is time to loosen our halos.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…