THE RELUCTANT OAK TREE

Once upon a time, there was a giant oak tree in the middle of a city park. Its branches stretched out generously on every side so that the tree was a welcome haven for lots of creatures. Birds and squirrels nested high up in the forks of the tree. One morning, a small acorn in its hard leathery shell fell from the tree and plopped onto the carpet of grass beneath. It was a pretty little acorn. Luckily the jays and pigeons did not notice it, because had they seen it, they most certainly would have devoured it.

The acorn was happy with life on the lush grass and wanted things to remain just as they were. The last thing it wanted—God forbid!—was to become an oak tree. It had heard frightening stories about oak trees that had been cut down by human beings or had been struck by nasty bolts of lightning. The little acorn settled comfortably on the grass, and in the days and weeks that followed, it sank slowly and snugly into the soil beneath. 

Eventually, the water from rain and the warmth of the sun conspired together to transform the acorn into a small green shoot. One day, the shoot cautiously poked up through the grass. It was not happy with this new state of affairs; it had changed and become a new self against its will. 

“Well,” it resolved, “I’m not growing any taller than this.”

However, the park gardener took a liking to this fragile green sprout and started to nurture it. Each day he came by to see how it was doing, and he cleared away weeds so that the rays of the sun could shine directly on it. Before it knew what was happening, the shoot was on its way to becoming a sapling. It was devastated. Not only was life as an acorn irretrievably lost, but now it seemed that life as a shoot was gone forever as well. This really was out of order. It decided that enough was enough: it would not grow any leaves. But the park gardener was nothing if not persistent, and continued to care assiduously for this tender young tree. He fastened it against a stake to help it withstand strong winds, and regularly pruned its branches. In early spring, the first buds appeared, and then the first leaves. The leaves were large and green, and tipped with bristles. On the underside their delicate veins were clearly visible.

The young oak tree decided that this would truly be the end of the road: it did not want any more change. With all its might, it forbade each leaf from changing color in the fall. But the gentle gardener had other plans. He continued to watch over the tree. He watered its roots when the weather was dry. He fertilized the ground beneath it. Over time, its leaves changed to a rich red. Small groups of people began to gather in the park to look at what had now become a giant tree. They gazed spellbound as its leaves blazed red against the evening sky in autumn.

The huge oak tree became a generous home for human beings, animals, and birds. Squirrels built their dens between its sturdy branches. Many kinds of birds, from woodpeckers to red-tailed hawks, made their nests in it. New acorns grew and dropped from the tree to the lush grass beneath. Some were eaten by squirrels and blue jays. Others sank into the soil and began their own long journey to become future oak trees. The tree’s dense crown provided a cool umbrella against the sun’s glare in summer and the biting wind in winter. Yet the oak tree had still not come to terms with its lot.

But something happened one winter night that led to a groundbreaking change. An icy windstorm descended upon the park and wreaked havoc everywhere, badly damaging the huge oak tree as well. The next morning when the storm had passed, the gardener came by to check on the oak tree and saw that many of its branches were broken. He carefully cut them away and painstakingly applied soothing ointment to the tree. He placed heavy wooden planks around it and encircled the trunk in a wire mesh.

After working a long time on his knees at the base of the tree, the gardener paused for a moment. He turned his face upward. The giant oak tree looked down at his glowing face, a countenance that radiated wisdom and acceptance. At that moment, something changed for the oak tree. It was not a matter of becoming resigned to its fate or tolerating its lot; instead it now recognized its life as a blessing. Its leaves rustled in the wind and even its majestic trunk swayed slightly as it breathed in a newfound serenity and uttered a wholehearted yes. 

Source: Thomas G. Casey SJ and Margaret Brennan Hassett,
From Fear to Serenity with Anthony de Mello
(Paulist Press, 2011) Pages 70-72

CONSIDER THIS

“Never shy away from opportunity and wholehearted living. Never be fearful of putting yourself out there. The courageous may encounter many disappointments, experience profound disillusionment, gather many wounds; but cherish your scars for they are the proud emblems of a truly phenomenal life. The fearful, cautious, cynical and self-repressed do not live at all. And that is simply no way to be in this world.”  ―Anthon St. Maarten

PEACHES AND COMMON SENSE

In a particular desert land peaches were very scarce.  Some holy people of the land had a revelation which they put down in the following code: ‘Thou shalt not eat more than two peaches a day.’ Later some found the means to convert the desert into a garden. Trees started flourishing, peaches grew in plenty, so much so that they were falling from the trees and rotting on the ground. The young people began to rebel against the law on peaches, but the holy people were determined to maintain the law as they claimed it had been revealed by God. There were some people who ate more than two peaches a day and they were feeling guilty. Others also ate more than two peaches, and they didn’t feel guilty. Those among the young people who proclaimed, ‘It is all right to eat more than two peaches a day’ were punished. (Anthony de Mello)

Source:  Aurel Brys and Joseph Pulickal
We heard the Bird Sing: Interacting with Anthony de Mello
(Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1995) pages 30-31

CONSIDER THIS

Does your own code of morality stand up to reason?
Does it work in practice or does it bring more inner tension than peace?
Does it make you a less loving, a less happy person?
Where does it go against common sense, and if it does, how do you deal with that?

DAUGHTER OF THE KING

Once upon a time there was a country ruled by a king. The country was invaded and the king was killed, but his children were rescued by servants and hidden away. The smallest, an infant daughter, was reared by a peasant family. They didn’t know she was the king’s daughter. She had become the peasant’s daughter and she dug potatoes and lived in poverty.

One day an old woman came out of the forest and approached the young woman who was digging potatoes. The old woman asked her, “Do you know who you are?” And the young woman said, “Yes, I’m the peasant’s daughter and a potato digger.” The old woman said, “No, no, you are the daughter of the king.” And the potato digger said, “I’m the daughter of the king?” “Yes, yes, that’s who you are!” she replied and then disappeared back into the forest.

After the old woman left, the young woman still dug potatoes but she dug them differently. It was the way she held her shoulders and it was the light in her eyes because she knew who she really was. She knew she was the daughter of the king.

Source: A story by Edwina Gateley
as told in Robert Wicks, Night Call
(Oxford University Press, 2018) pages xxvi-xxvii

CONSIDER THIS

Do you know who you really are?

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”  ―Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

GOD IS IN THE DAILY ORDINARY

There once was a king whose greatest desire was to gain absolute power over every square inch of his kingdom. He had succeeded in removing all obstacles to his complete control except one: the people still put their ancient God above the king. The king summoned his three wisest advisors to find a way to put an end to such worship. “Where,” asked the king, “where might the people’s God be hidden and so be made to vanish from their lives and cease to challenge my rule?”

The first advisor suggested hiding the God at the summit of the highest mountain. “No,” said the king: “The people would abandon their homes and climb the highest mountain to search for their God.”

The second advisor proposed hiding the people’s God at the bottom of the sea. But the king rejected the idea as well: “The people would probe the ocean’s depth to find their God,” he said.

Finally, the third wisest advisor, a wrinkled and bent old man, spoke his advice in a hoarse whisper. “O mighty king,” he said, “hide the people’s God somewhere in their everyday lives. They will never find it!”

CONSIDER THIS

“God often comes to us disguised as our lives.” –Paul d’Arcy

“Suppose that a proof for God came in the mail. What would it look like? It would be a book containing all the stories of your life.” –Lawrence Kushner

“All happenings, great and small, are parables whereby God speaks.  The art of life is to get the message.” –Malcolm Muggeridge

“Wherever you find husband and wife, that’s where you find God;  wherever children and petty cares and cooking and arguments and reconciliation are, that is where God is too.”  –Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ

ON THE NINTH TRIP AROUND

A very overweight man decided that it was time to shed a few pounds. He visited a nutritionist, went on a new diet and took it seriously. He even changed his usual driving route to the office in order to avoid his favorite bakery.

One morning, however, he arrived at the office carrying a large, sugar-coated coffee cake. His office mates roundly chided him, but he only smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “What could I do? This is a very special cake. This morning, out of my forced habit, I accidentally drove by my favorite bakery. There in the window were trays of the most delicious goodies. I felt that it was no accident that I happened to pass by, so I prayed, ‘Creator God, if you really want me to have one of these delicious coffee cakes, let me find a parking place in front of the bakery.’

Sure enough, on the ninth trip around the block, there it was!

Source: Unknown

CONSIDER THIS

I saw a Lenten poster recently.  It read, “Lead me not to temptation, but just show me where it is.”

“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.” –Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

“I can resist everything but temptation.” –Oscar Wilde

MAYBE

A wise man won an expensive car in a lottery.

His family and friends were very happy for him and came to celebrate. ‘Isn’t it great!’ they said. ‘You are so lucky.’ The man smiled and said Maybe.’

For a few weeks he enjoyed driving the car. Then one day a drunken driver crashed into his new car at an intersection and he ended up in the hospital, with multiple injuries. His family and friends came to see him and said, ‘That was really unfortunate.’ Again the man smiled and said, Maybe.’

While he was still in the hospital, one night there was a landslide and his house fell into the sea. Again his friends came the next day and said, ‘Weren’t you lucky to have been here in the hospital.’ Again he said, Maybe.’

Eckhart Tolle,  A New Earth, 197

CONSIDER THIS

Don’t be so quick to judge. Better yet, try not to judge at all. Don’t be so quick to place a label of “good” or “bad” on the things that happen in your life. After all, you don’t know what will happen next. The wise person knows this, and the response of “maybe” reflects the refusal to judge.

DEFEATING FEAR

Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave instructions for the battle.

The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?”

Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.”

Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?”

Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.

Source:  Pema Chödrön
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
(Shambhala; Anniversary Edition, 2000) page 46

CONSIDER THIS

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”  —Joseph Campbell

“Any dog will keep chasing you if he knows you are afraid. The only remedy is to turn around and face the dog.”  —Lucile Clifton 

DON’T HOLD BACK

There was once a company whose CEO was very strict and often disciplined the workers for their mistakes or perceived lack of progress. One day, as the employees came into work, they saw a sign on the door that read, “Yesterday, the person who has been holding you back from succeeding in this company passed away. Please gather for a funeral service in the assembly room.”

While the employees were saddened for the family of their CEO, they were also intrigued at the prospect of being able to now move up within the company and become more successful.

Upon entering the assembly room, many employees were surprised to see the CEO was, in fact, present. They wondered among themselves, “If it wasn’t him who was holding us back from being successful, who was it? Who has died?”

One by one, the employees approached the coffin, and upon looking inside, each was quite surprised. They didn’t understand what they saw.

In the coffin, there was simply a mirror. So when each employee looked in to find out who had been “holding them back from being successful” everyone saw themselves. Next to the mirror, there was a sign that read:

The only person who is able to limit your growth is you. You are the only person who can influence your success. Your life changes when you break through your limiting beliefs and realize that you’re in control of your life. The most influential relationship you can have is the relationship you have with yourself. Now you know who has been holding you back from living up to your true potential. Are you going to keep allowing that person to hold you back?

Source: Unknown

CONSIDER THIS

You can’t blame anyone else if you’re not living up to your potential. You can’t let other people get you down about mistakes you make or their negative perception of your efforts. You have to take personal responsibility for your work–both the good and the bad–and be proactive about making any necessary adjustments.

ONE SMALL STEP AT A TIME

Since breaking his hip, Tom Moore has had to use a walking frame with wheels to move around. And during his time in the hospital, Tom remembers being well cared for by NHS staff so now he wanted to see what he could do to give back in this time of need.

But what could a 99-year-old possibly do?

Tom decided he would do what he does every day… take a walk around his garden! Except, this time he was going to set himself a goal.

Tom was going to do 100 laps around his garden, by his 100th birthday that was coming up, and in the process, raise money for the NHS (National Health Services).

Small steps day by day he made his laps with the help of his walking frame … and thanks to his daughter’s help in getting the word out about his fundraising efforts, Tom went ‘viral’ and became an overnight sensation all over the world!

Everywhere, individuals started donating, sending in well wishes and encouragement. Tom became a source of inspiration and positivity.

Tom did complete 100 laps well before his 100th birthday! But more astonishing, is that the now 100-year-old man ended up raising over 32 million pounds! (That’s 40,241,954.75 United Staes dollars or 54,514,720.00 Canadian Dollars!)

This story was reported on BBC on 18 April 2020 during the COVID 19 pandemic.
CONSIDER THIS
Never let limitation be a barrier to what you desire to do.  Start with a simple goal.  Believe in it.  Have the right mindset, determination and laser-sharp focus and go for it, one small step at a time.

THE USELESS TREE

A carpenter and his apprentice were walking together through a large forest. And when they came across a tall, huge, gnarled, old, beautiful oak tree, the carpenter asked his apprentice: “Do you know why this tree is so tall, so huge, so gnarled, so old and beautiful?” The apprentice looked at his master and said: “No…why?”

“Well,” the carpenter said, “because it is useless. If it had been useful it would have been cut long ago and made into tables and chairs, but because it is useless it could grow so tall and so beautiful that you can sit in its shade and relax.”

Source: Henri NouwenOut of Solitude
(Ave Maria Press, 1974, 2004), pages 26-27

CONSIDER THIS

The world says, “If you are not making good use of your time, you are useless.” Jesus says: “Come spend some useless time with me.” If we think about prayer in terms of its usefulness to us—what prayer will do for us, what spiritual benefits we will gain, what insights we will gain, what divine presence we may feel—God cannot easily speak to us. But if we can detach ourselves from the idea of the usefulness of prayer and the results of prayer, we become free to “waste” a precious hour with God in prayer. Gradually, we may find, our “useless” time will transform us, and everything around us will be different.

Prayer is being unbusy with God instead of being busy with other things. Prayer is primarily to do nothing useful or productive in the presence of God.

From Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit (pages 17, 18).