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?

THE PRICELESS TREASURE

A group of tourists sits in a bus that is passing through gorgeously beautiful country; lakes and mountains and green fields and rivers. But the shades of the bus are pulled down. They do not have the slightest idea of what lies beyond the windows of the bus. And all the time of their journey is spent in squabbling over who will have the seat of honor in the bus, who will be applauded, who will be well considered. And so they remain till the journey’s end.

Source: Anthony De Mello, The Way to Love: Meditations for Life
(Random House Canada, 2011) page 3

CONSIDER THIS

“What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”
Matthew 16:26

“We are perishing for lack of wonder, not for lack of wonders.”G.K. Chesterton

THE GURU’S CAT

When the guru sat down to worship each evening, the ashram cat would get in the way and distract the worshippers. So he ordered that the cat be tied during evening worship.

After the guru died, the cat continued to be tied during evening worship. And when the cat expired, another cat was brought to the ashram so that it could be duly tied during evening worship.

Centuries later, learned treatises were written by the guru’s scholarly disciples on the liturgical significance of tying up a cat while worship is performed.

Source: Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird ,
(Image; Reprint edition, 1984) page 63.

___________________

Another rendition by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Indians around here tell a cautionary fable about a great saint who was always surrounded in his Ashram by loyal devotees. For hours a day, the saint and his followers would meditate on God. The only problem was that the saint had a young cat, an annoying creature, who used to walk through the temple meowing and purring and bothering everyone during meditation. So the saint, in all his practical wisdom, commanded that the cat be tied to a pole outside for a few hours a day, only during meditation, so as to not disturb anyone. This became a habit – tying the cat to the pole and then meditating on God – but as years passed, the habit hardened into religious ritual. Nobody could meditate unless the cat was tied to the pole first. Then one day the cat died. The saint’s followers were panic-stricken. It was a major religious crisis – how could they meditate now, without a cat to tie to a pole? How would they reach God? In their minds, the cat had become the means.

Source: Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
(Riverhead Books, 2007) page 227

CONSIDER THIS

Be careful not to get too obsessed with the repetition of religious ritual just for its own sake.  It can happen that we get so caught up on the externals that we lose sight of the essentials. Religion and tradition can give us false security and complacency. It may be useful to remember that it is not the tying of the cat to the pole that has ever brought anyone to transcendence, but only the constant desire of an individual seeker to experience the eternal compassion of the divine.  Flexibility is just as essential for divinity as is discipline.

The story of the guru’s cat is an encouragement and an invitation to review what we do habitually and to ask: Why do we do what we do? Why do we say what we say? Why do we use what we use? Is what we’re doing still appropriate and beneficial today? Is what we’re doing on a daily basis still achieving what it was originally intended to do? Or is it perhaps becoming a distraction, clutter, confusion … another guru’s cat?

 

SHE THINKS I’M REAL

One evening, the whole family went out to dinner at a local restaurant.  Everyone got a menu, even the youngest, Aimee, who was 6 years old.  Since the conversation was an ‘adult’ one, Aimee sat there ignored.  When the waitress took their orders, she came to Aimee last.

“And, what would you like to eat, young lady?” she asked.  Aimee answered, “I will have a hamburger, French fries and a large coke”.

“No”, said her mother.  “She will have a small salad with low fat dressing, baked chicken, carrots and boiled rice”.  “And milk to drink”, chimed in her father.

The waitress looked at Aimee and asked, “Would you like catsup or mustard on your hamburger”?  She said, “Catsup with some fried onions on top please.  Oh, and put a very small piece of lettuce on top to please my parents.  Thank you very much”.

As the waitress walked away to place the order, Aimee turned toward her family and said, “You know what?  She thinks I’m real”.

Source | Unknown. Here it is retold as remembered

_____________________________
Here’s a slightly different version

A family settled down for dinner at a restaurant. The waitress first took the order of the adults, then turned to the seven year old. “What will you have?” she asked.

The boy looked around the table timidly and said, “I would like to have a hot dog.”

Before the waitress could write down the order, the mother interrupted. “No hot dogs,” she said, “Get him a steak with mashed potatoes and carrots.”

The waitress ignored her. “Do you want ketchup or mustard on your hot dog?” she asked the boy.

“Ketchup.”

“Coming up in a minute,” said the waitress as she started for the kitchen.

There was a stunned silence when she left. Finally the boy looked at everyone present and said, “Know what? She thinks I’m real!”

Source | Anthony de Mello, The Heart of the Enlightened
(Image Books, 1997) page 45

 

CONSIDER THIS

Have you ever felt like you were being ignored? Do you ever feel like you don’t matter, you don’t count? As if no one cared about anything you had to say?

When others don’t pay attention to our presence we feel as though we are objects to be maintained or avoided or fixed, rather than real human beings to be treated with respect and dignity. On the other hand, when someone listens to us, we feel loved and we feel real.

LEFT OUT

A public sinner was excommunicated and forbidden entry to the church.  He took his woes to God. “They won’t let me in, Lord, because I am a sinner.”

“What are you complaining about?” said God. “They won’t let Me in either.”

Source | Anthony de MelloPrayer of the Frog: Volume 1
(Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 2003) page  105

Anthony de Mello, Taking Flight
(Image: 3rd Revised edition,1990) page 80

CONSIDER THIS

We can, as Christians, get narrow and closed-minded, petty, bitter and exclusive. We can become more holy than God where perfection becomes the enemy of the good.

But we can also go long and deep, broad, expansive and inclusive!

 

LED TO THE LAND OF LAUGHTER

LED TO THE LAND OF LAUGHTER

The Master was in an expansive mood, so his disciples sought to learn from him the stages he had passed through in his quest for the divine.

“God first led me by the hand,” he said, “into the Land of Action, and there I dwelt for several years.” Then God returned and led me to the Land of Sorrows; there I lived until my heart was purged of every inordinate attachment. That is when I found myself in the Land of Love, whose burning flames consumed whatever was left in me of self. This brought me to the Land of Silence, where the mysteries of life and death were bared before my wondering eyes.

“Was that the final stage of your quest?” they asked.

“No,” the Master said. “One day God said, ‘Today I shall take you to the innermost sanctuary of the Temple, to the very heart of God.’ And I was led to the Land of Laughter.”

Source: Anthony de Mello, Taking Flight
(Image Books, 1990) page 126

CONSIDER THIS

One day God said, “Today I shall take you to the innermost sanctuary of the temple, to the heart of God himself,” and I was led to the Land of Laughter.

God laughed and begat the Son. Together they laughed and begat the Holy Spirit. And from the laughter of the Three, the universe was born.” |  Meister Eckhart, a 13th century theologian and mystic.

THE EYES TO SEE

A writer arrived at the monastery to write a book about the Master. “People say you are a genius. Are you?” he asked.

“You might say so,” said the Master with a smile.

“And what makes one a genius?” asked the intrepid reporter.

“The ability to see,” said the Master.

The writer was betwixt and between. Scratching his hair with one hand and rubbing his tummy with the other, he muttered, “To see what?”

The Master quietly replied, “The butterfly in a caterpillar, the eagle in an egg, the saint in a selfish person, life in death, unity in separation, the divine in the human and the human in the divine.”

Source: Based on Anthony de Mello, One Minute Wisdom
(Image; Reprint edition, 1988)  page 206

See also Peter  Van Breeman,  The God Who Won’t Let Go (Ave Maria Press, 2001) page 98

CONSIDER THIS

In the Easter letter before his death, Bishop Klaus Hemmerle of Aachen wrote, “I wish each of us Easter eyes, able to perceive in death, life; in guilt, forgiveness; in separation unity; in wounds glory; in the human, God; in God, the human; and in the I, the You.”

 

 

WHO IS THE REAL MENACE?

The Ministry of Agriculture decreed that sparrows were a menace to crops and should be exterminated.

When this was done, hoards of insects that the sparrows would have eaten descended on the harvest and began to ravage the crops, whereupon the Ministry of Agriculture came up with the idea of costly pesticides.

The pesticides made the food expensive. They also made it a hazard to health. Too late it was discovered that it was the sparrows who, through feeding on the crops, managed to keep the food wholesome and inexpensive.

Source | Anthony De Mello, Heart of the Enlightened
(Image; New edition edition,1997) page 148

CONSIDER THIS

Before rushing towards what you might think would be a better solution, consider what is already in place.

 

WAKE UP

It was this very first class on a Monday morning. The wise teacher, a couple of years shy of retirement, started the day by asking her class of high school students: “Here is a quiz for you. You are sleeping. You are dreaming. A big tiger is chasing you. You try to run away and you see a tiger coming in front of you. You turn sideways, but every side you turn to, you find a ferocious animal coming after you. How can you escape?”

There was silence in the classroom. No one dared a response.

So finally the teacher said, “There’s only one answer: Wake up!”

Source | Philip Chircop. This is my own retelling of a story I heard years ago.

CONSIDER THIS

It’s all about waking up.  Waking up one enters a whole new world of reality, different from that of the world of dreams. What was a huge problem in the dream state often becomes a non-issue in the waking state.

“Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence. You know, all mystics -Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion — are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well. Strange paradox, to be sure. But, tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare.” | Anthony deMello,  Awareness