THE LEGEND OF HELIOPHER

Once upon a time there was a people that was lost in a great, dark forest. The trees stood so close together that the light of the sun could not penetrate the thickly entwined branches. There were also numerous wild animals which fell upon the people, especially the children when they wandered too far from their parents while they were playing. So everyone lived in constant fear of death and destruction, and a hopeless despair took hold of the hearts of the folk.

Continuous darkness had strangled all the light in their hearts. They could not love one another any more. They even hated and murdered one another in their rage. Yet they were forced to remain together, for it was impossible for any single man to defend himself against the attacks of the wild beasts. They had lost all hope of ever finding their way out of the forest. Many of the young people refused to believe in the light they had never seen, and they mocked their elders, when, with a last weak light gleaming in their dim eyes, they recounted tales of the festive, sunny days of their youth.

Among the people, however, there was a young man called Heliopher. He was very much alone, grieving over the misery of his people and seeking a way of salvation. He bore in his heart an endless longing for light and love in the desolation which surrounded him. Heliopher left his people to seek the sun. For many months and years he wandered through the dangers of the forest and of his own soul, and often, very often, nearly lost all hope and confidence. But Heliopher bravely withstood his enemies, whether within himself or around him, and at last he reached the edge of the forest and saw the light of the sun. In terrible amazement he fell into a swoon, and when he awoke he saw in the twilight that he was watched over in his slumber by beautiful people. In the green meadows stood the simple huts of the sun-people, and Heliopher lived with them in peace and endless joy as the most beloved amongst them.

Then Heliopher went back to the forest to seek his people. “Come, brothers and sisters,” he said to them, “I will lead you to the light.” At this there was murmuring and frowning, wavering and hesitation, wonder and questioning, incredulous laughter, and finally a jubilant “Yes!” And then, at last, the longed-for departure.

Then the light of the sun shone in Heliopher’s eyes, but the way was long and difficult, and demanded much suffering and sacrifice, and murmuring arose among the people. Some spoke and said, “Let us murder him, the betrayer of the people!” And the dark glow of hatred was in their eyes. Others were wiser and said, “No! Let us judge him in the presence of all, for it is dangerous to give the people a martyr.” And Heliopher spoke to his people, and talked about light and love. But the wise ones answered, “You lie! There is no light, there is no sun, there is no love. Let us be darker than the forest and more cruel than the wild beasts. Then we shall be masters of the forest!”

Heliopher answered in great pain, “O believe not, ye wise men, that ye can be victorious over darkness by being more dark, that ye can overcome the wild beasts by being more beastly. Only love is stronger. Only the light of the sun can drive away darkness.”

“Be silent!” said the wise men. “There is no light, there is no sun!”

And the people shouted, flinging their arms about in raging despair, “There is no light, there is no sun!”

But Heliopher called out, “Follow me!” And with his nails he tore open his breast, and his heart burned with love, and it glowed and shed its beams through the dark forest. Then he took it in both hands, held it high over his head, and strode forth in front of the people.

In reverent wonder and silence the multitude followed the burning heart.

And the people went in jubilation toward the sun and danced in its loving rays, and they loved one another. But Heliopher knelt down at the edge of the forest, and with the last strength of his outstretched arms he held up his loving, pulsing heart to the light of heaven, and gave his last smile to his people.

Source: First published in Plough’s Winter 1938 issue
based on Maxim Gorky’s story
“The Flaming Heart of Danko.”

CONSIDER THIS

“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.” – Bishop Klaus Hemmerle

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THROUGH MY DAUGHTER’S EYES

I felt inadequate growing up; chubby, never pretty enough, bent on perfection, feeling like I always needed to be better. As a result, I spent a long, long time looking in the mirror, never seeing someone I liked.

Then one day all of that changed when I met for the first time a beautiful, passionate, and confident woman – myself …

It was a hot summer day and my daughter Jessica wanted to go swimming. I had a horrible headache and was feeling sorry for myself, having not yet lost the weight from my last pregnancy, eight months before.  I was on mommy overload  and had no energy left to go outside and play. I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.

After an hour of Jessica begging me to at least try on my bathing suit, I agreed to take her swimming.  She sat on my bed, watching me try on two or three old bathing suits.

“That one’s beautiful,” she said, so sincerely.

“Oh no, this one is still a little too tight,” I replied, turning to look at the back of my thighs and then back to my paunchy stomach hanging over the seam. I was horrified.

“I like that one the best!” Jessie said, nodding her head for added enthusiasm.

“Yeah, I guess it looks okay,” I said halfheartedly.

“But how does it feeeeel, Mommy?” she asked.

I smiled at her attempts.

“Well, it feels pretty good. Let’s go swim.”

We ran out the back door and Jessica immediately jumped into the pool, begging me to jump in after her. But I like to go in the slow way, so I began inching my way in, toe first, then my ankle.

“Jump in Mommy!” Jessica squealed.

I was so hot, and knowing that I would have to start dinner soon, I figured, what the heck, and cannonballed into the water. Jessie was delighted that I hadn’t followed my normal routine, and she swam over to me splashing and kicking.  She gave me a big hug.

“How do you feel?” she squealed again.

“Cold,” I stammered, laughing and trying to catch my breath.

Jessica giggled and splashed around me some more, then threw her little arms around my neck.

“How do you feel now?” she asked.

“I feel great” I said with the enthusiasm I knew she was waiting to hear in my voice.

“See Mommy?” she said, smoothing my hair away from my face. “You do look beautiful.”

I climbed out of the pool and cannonballed in all over again. But this time, I left the old me standing behind on the deck – the me I never wanted Jessica to know. I felt young and happy again, cutting loose in the water with a new freedom …

I caught a glimpse of the way Jessica saw me, and I understood how awful she’d feel if she knew how bad I felt about myself.

Source | Marlo Thomas, Bruce Kluger, The Right Words at the Right Time Volume 2: Your Turn,
(Atria, 2007) pages 114-117

CONSIDER THIS

It is said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  Beauty is not inherent in anything – it’s how we look at things.

Beauty isn’t always something that you see; it’s also something that you do and that you feel –  laughing out loud,  dancing with gusto,  holding hands with someone you love,  reaching your goals,  running through the sprinklers, taking chances,  loving completely,  singing along with the car radio,   sharing your life with someone, knowing your kids think you’re funny, and cannonballing into a pool.

These things are beautiful.  They make you feel beautiful. Beautiful is not an adjective, but a verb.

TWINS IN THE WOMB

Twins are talking to each other in the womb.  The sister said to the brother, “I believe there is life after birth.”  Her brother protested vehemently, “No, no, this is all there is. This is a dark and cozy place, and we have nothing else to do but to cling to the cord that feeds us.” The little girl insisted, “There must be something more than this dark place. There must be something else, a place with light where there is freedom to move.” Still she could not convince her twin brother.

After some silence, the sister said hesitantly, “I have something else to say, and I’m afraid you won’t believe that, either, but I think there is a mother.” Her brother became furious. “A mother!” he shouted. “What are you talking about?” I have never seen a mother, and neither have you. Who put that idea in your head? As I told you, this place is all we have. Why do you always want more?. This is not such a bad place, after all. We have all we need, so let’s be content.”

The sister was quite overwhelmed by her brother’s response and for a while didn’t dare say anything more. But she couldn’t let go of her thoughts, and since she only had her twin brother to speak to, she finally said, “Don’t you feel these squeezes every once in a while? They’re quite unpleasant and sometimes even painful.” “Yes,” he answered. “What’s special about that?” “Well”, the sister said, “I think that these squeezes are there to get us ready for another place, much more beautiful than this, where we will see our mother face-to-face. Don’t you think that’s exciting”

Source | Henri Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift, A Meditation on Dying and Caring 
(Harper One, 2009) pages 18-19.

CONSIDER THIS

This is a story about birth and life outside the womb. But can it  also be a story about death? Can it perhaps be an  invitation to think about death in a fresh way?  We can live as if this life were all we had, coming to an end with the absurdity of death. Or we can choose to claim our divine childhood and trust that death is the painful but graceful passage that will bring us face-to-face with God, our mother.

NOTICING YOUR WAY TO FREEDOM

A man in prison is sent a prayer rug by his friend. What he had wanted, of course, was a file or a crowbar or a key! But he began using the rug, doing five-times prayer before dawn, at noon, mid-afternoon, after sunset, and before sleep. Bowing, sitting up, bowing again, he notices an odd pattern in the weave of the rug, just at the qibla, the point, where his head touches. He studies and meditates on that pattern, gradually discovering that it is a diagram of the lock that confines him in his cell and how it works. He’s able to escape. Anything you do every day can open into the deepest spiritual place, which is freedom.
Source | Coleman BarksThe Essential Rumi
(Harper SanFrancisco, 2004) page 253
CONSIDER THIS
Anything you do every day can open into the deepest spiritual place, which is freedom.

THE SONGBIRD

There was once a successful businessman who had everything – a beautiful wife, adorable children and a big house in which they all lived happily. The pride of his life though was his exotic songbird which he kept in a cage and fed delicious titbits when it entertained his guests.

One day the man had to go on a journey far to the south and he asked his wife and children what presents they would like from abroad – they asked for fine silks, honeycomb and clockwork toys. Finally he asked his songbird if he would like him to bring anything back.

“I wish only for one small favour.” The songbird replied.

“Anything!” his master declared.

“Just this – when you see my cousins in the trees in the place you’re going to, please tell them about my conditions here.”

“Are you sure? I could bring you back a fine jewel-encrusted mirror or dried tropical fruit?”

“No, just this, thank you.” The songbird replied and the man went away feeling a little disconcerted but resolved to carry out his pet’s wishes.

The man made his trip safely and carried out his business to satisfaction and spent his remaining time there buying the presents his family had requested. Finally, he went to a park and saw some birds in the trees that bore a remarkable resemblance to his own songbird. He called up to one of them and told them about how his own bird lived in cage and sang for him.

But no sooner had he finished speaking than one of these exotic birds trembled on its perch and tumbled to the ground and ceased to move. The man held his head in grief and the incident quite spoiled his trip.

He returned home and greeted his wife and family who were delighted at their presents but he couldn’t share their pleasure as long as the forthcoming encounter with his songbird remained on his conscience. Finally he found the courage to go down to the garden.

“Well?” his songbird asked and, hesitantly, the man told him exactly what had happened. The song bird listened intently, then trembled on his perch and fell to the bottom of his cage, dead.

The man was now beside himself with grief and confusion. Weeping openly, he opened the door of the cage and carried out his beloved songbird in his hands. No sooner had he done so, however, the songbird returned to life and flew up to the branches of the nearest tree and let out a shrill of joy at finding its freedom.

The man scratched his head in wonder and eventually asked:

“Okay, you win. But tell me please, what was in the message that contained this trick?”

The songbird looked down at him with pity and said:

“My cousin in Africa showed me that it was my beauty that kept me in the cage. Were it not for the delight of my singing voice you would have lost interest long ago. I had to give up that life in order to become free.”

Source : The Essential Rumi. Renditions of Rumi by Coleman Barks

PONDER AND CONSIDER

The image of dying unto oneself is a common theme in many spiritual traditions. Of particular interest is the dying to world and the things and possessions that we hold precious in order to experience the authentic and radical freedom of living in grace.

In one sense this story is about the self-limitaion of vanity but at a deeper level there’s the notion that as long as we’re in love with ourselves we will always be in a cage of our own making.

BLESSINGS OF A DEAF FROG

A group of frogs were hopping contentedly through the woods, going about their froggy business, when two of them fell into a deep pit. All of the other frogs gathered around the pit to see what could be done to help their companions. When they saw how deep the pit was, they agreed that it was hopeless and told the two frogs in the pit that they should prepare themselves for their fate, because they were as good as dead.

Unwilling to accept this terrible fate, the two frogs began to jump with all of their might. Some of the frogs shouted into the pit that it was hopeless, and that the two frogs wouldn’t be in that situation if they had been more careful, more obedient to the froggy rules, and more responsible. The other frogs continued sorrowfully shouting that they should save their energy and give up, since they were already as good as dead.

The two frogs continued jumping with all their might, and after several hours of this, were quite weary. Finally, one of the frogs took heed to the calls of his fellow frogs. Exhausted, he quietly resolved himself to his fate, lay down at the bottom of the pit, and died.

The other frog continued to jump as hard as he could, although his body was wracked with pain and he was quite exhausted. Once again, his companions began yelling for him to accept his fate, stop the pain and just die. The weary frog jumped harder and harder and, wonder of wonders, finally leaped so high that he sprang from the pit.

Amazed, the other frogs celebrated his freedom and then gathering around him asked, “Why did you continue jumping when we told you it was impossible?”

The astonished frog explained to them that he was deaf, and as he saw their gestures and shouting, he thought they were cheering him on. What he had perceived as encouragement inspired him to try harder and to succeed against all odds.

PONDER AND CONSIDER

Many things we say or  do are related to what we hear.

  • The book of Proverbs (18:21) says, There is death and life in the power of the tongue”. Your encouraging words can lift someone up and help them make it through the day. Your destructive words can cause deep wounds; they may be the weapons that destroy someone’s desire to continue trying – or even their life.
  • Your destructive, careless word can diminish someone in the eyes of others, destroy their influence and have a lasting impact on the way others respond to them. Be careful what you say.
  • Speak kind and life-giving words of blessing and encouragement to those who cross your path. There is enormous power in words.

MORE PRECIOUS THAN DIAMONDS

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me something more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”

Another version of the same story goes like this:

The sannyasi [wise man] had reached the outskirts of the village and settled down under a tree for the night when a villager came running up to him and said, “The stone! The stone! Give me the precious stone!”

“What stone?” asked the sannyasi.

“Last night the Lord Shiva appeared to me in a dream,” said the villager, “And told me that if I went to the outskirts of the village at dusk I should find a sannyasi who would give me a precious stone that would make my rich forever.”

The sannyasi rummaged in his bag and pulled out a stone. “He probably meant this one,” he said, as he handed the stone over to the villager. “I found it on a forest path some days ago. You can certainly have it.”

The man gazed at the stone in wonder. It was a diamond, probably the largest diamond in the whole world, for it was as large as a person’s head.

He took the diamond and walked away. All night he tossed about in bed, unable to sleep. Next day at the crack of dawn he woke the sannyasi and said, “Give me the wealth that makes it possible for you to give this diamond away so easily.”

“The Diamond” from The Song of the Bird by Anthony de Mello SJ

The same story is also recounted in
The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everyting: A Spiritual Guide to Real Life by  James Martin, SJ