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).

 

 

MARY NEEDS MARTHA

A brother went to see Abba Silvanus on the mountain of Sinai. When he saw the brothers working hard, he said to the old man, “Do not labor for the food that perishes. Mary has chosen the good portion.”

The old man said to a disciple, “Zacharias, give the brother a book, and put him in a cell without anything else.”

So when the ninth hour came, this brother watched the door, expecting someone would be sent to call him to the meal. When no one called him, he got up, went to find the old man, and said to him, “Have the brothers not eaten today?”

The old man replied that they had.

Then he said, “Why did you not call me?”

The old man said to him, “Because you are a spiritual man and do not need that kind of food. We, being carnal, want to eat, and that is why we work. But you have chosen the good portion and read the whole day long, and you do not want to eat carnal food.”

When he heard these words, the brother made a prostration, saying, “Forgive me, Abba.”

The old man said to him, “Mary needs Martha. It is really thanks to Martha that Mary is praised.”

Source: Michal Bar-Asher Siegal
Early Christian Monastic Literature and the Babylonian Talmud
(Cambridge University Press, 2013) page 96

CONSIDER THIS

Read Luke 10:38-42

Often Martha has been cast as a type of the active Christian, the Christian at work in the world, and Mary as a type of the passive Christian, withdrawn from the world in the quest for prayer and contemplation.

Is it better to be a Mary or a Martha? In other words, Is it better to pray or to play? Serve or Sacrifice? What do you think?

Going beyond the Mary-Martha dichotomy, consider the relative merits, if any, of active service vis-à-vis quiet devotion.

Shifting from an “either-or” to a “both-and” point of view, do you think it’s possible to be a Mary in a Martha world? How do you imagine yourself being a contemplative in action?

 

THE PHOTOGENIC LILY

One evening after dinner the master and the disciple were looking at some photos. The disciple picked a beautiful photograph of a water lily, held it in his hands, and gazing upon it, asked, “Tell me master, how were you able to take such a splendid picture?”

With a smile, the master replied, “Well, I had to be very patient and very attentive. It was only after a few hours of compliments that the lily was willing to let me take her picture.”

Source | Based on a story told by Henri Nouwen in
Clowning in Rome (Image, 2000) page 87

CONSIDER THIS

Our difficult and very urgent task is to accept the truth that nature is not primarily a property to be possessed, but a gift to be received with admiration and gratitude. Only when we make a deep bow to the rivers, oceans, hills, and mountains that offer us a home, only then can they become transparent and reveal to us their real meaning.

STUDYING THE LOCK

A group of lions in a zoo, suffering grievously from their imprisonment, formed themselves into various groups. There was the patriotic group: these would meet very often and sing sad songs about their jungle home; nostalgia was their specialty. Then there was the political group whose meetings were always so noisy that you had the impression they were good for something. And then there were a few groups whose interest was entertainment; their aim was to distract themselves from their predicament. But there was one lion who refused to join any of these groups. He would sit in front of the gate and stare straight ahead all day.  the others thought him anti-social and depressed, and they stopped inviting him to join their groups. One day, out of pity, one  of them sat down beside him and asked gently, “What goes on in your poor sad mind as you sit all day staring?”

“I’m studying the lock.” he replied.

Source |  Donaugh O’Shea OP, In a Fitful Light. Conversations On Christian Living
(Dominican Publications, 1994 ) pages 128-129

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • The lone lion, a philosopher lion! Was he not the only practical animal in the whole zoo?