WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN

The legend goes that the 19th-century Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) made a clay model for a statue of Christ the King, arms outstretched, raised high in gesturing command, his head held high in triumph.

He left the soft and moist clay figure to harden and and in the morning when he entered the studio to finish his work, he couldn’t believe what he saw. The weight of the soft clay was too much for the inner structure and instead of  a head held high, it had bent downwards, and the arms originally raised in triumph had sagged and fallen low.

Initially Thorvaldsen was deeply disappointed, even disturbed, but when he looked again he saw that the statue with open arms, now expressed something deeper than kingly triumph and victory; it expressed welcome and forgiveness.

Note: The original statue of the “Christus” can be seen at the Vor Frue Kirke (Our Lady’s Church), the National (Lutheran) Cathedral of Denmark

Source: Unknown. Retold as I remember hearing it.

CONSIDER THIS

How big is your circle of compassion? How wide is your embrace?

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

“Outwitted” in Edwin Markham, The Shoes of Happiness, and Other Poems (1913)

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THE MUSIC COMING FROM THE HOUSE

On Christmas Eve, the king invited the prime minister to join him for their usual walk together. He enjoyed seeing the decorations in the streets, but since he didn’t want his subjects to spend too much money on these just to please him, the two men always disguised themselves as traders from some far distant land.

They walked through the centre of the city, admiring the lights, the Christmas trees, the candles burning on the steps of the houses, the stalls selling gifts, and the men, women and children hurrying off to celebrate a family Christmas around a table laden with food.

On the way back, they passed through a poorer area, where the atmosphere was quite different. There were no lights, no candles, no delicious smells of food about to be served. There was hardly a soul in the street, and, as he did every year, the king remarked to the prime minister that he really must pay more attention to the poor in his kingdom. The prime minister nodded, knowing that the matter would soon be forgotten again, buried beneath the day-to-day bureaucracy of budgets to be approved and discussions with foreign dignitaries.

Suddenly, they heard music coming from one of the poorest houses. The hut was so ramshackle and the rotten wooden timbers so full of cracks, that they were able to peer through and see what was happening inside. And what they saw was utterly absurd: an old man in a wheelchair apparently crying, a shaven-headed young woman dancing, and a young man with sad eyes shaking a tambourine and singing a folk song.

‘I’m going to find out what they’re up to,’ said the king.

He knocked. The music stopped, and the young man came to the door.

‘We are merchants in search of a place to sleep. We heard the music, saw that you were still awake, and wondered if we could spend the night here.’

‘You can find shelter in a hotel in the city. We, alas, cannot help you. Despite the music, this house is full of sadness and suffering.’

‘And may we know why?’

‘It’s all because of me.’ It was the old man in the wheelchair who spoke. ‘I’ve spent my life teaching my son calligraphy, so that he could one day get a job as a palace scribe. But the years have passed and no post has ever come up. And then, last night, I had a stupid dream: an angel appeared to me and asked me to buy a silver goblet because, the angel said, the king would be coming to visit me. He would drink from the goblet and give my son a job.

‘The angel was so persuasive that I decided to do as he said. Since we have no money, my daughter-in-law went to the market this morning to sell her hair so that we could buy that goblet over there. The two of them are doing their best to get me in the Christmas spirit by singing and dancing, but it’s no use.’

The king saw the silver goblet, asked to be given a little water to quench his thirst and, before leaving, said to the family:

‘Do you know, we were talking to the prime minister only today, and he told us that an opening for a palace scribe would be announced next week.’

The old man nodded, not really believing what he was hearing, and bade farewell to the strangers. The following morning, however, a royal proclamation was read out in all the city streets; a new scribe was needed at court. On the appointed day, the audience room at the palace was packed with people eager to compete for that much-sought-after post. The prime minister entered and asked everyone there to prepare their paper and pens:

‘Here is the subject of the composition: Why is an old man weeping, a shaven-headed woman dancing, and a sad young man singing?’

A murmur of disbelief went round the room. No one knew how to tell such a story, apart, that is, from the shabbily dressed young man sitting in one corner, who smiled broadly and began to write.

Source | Paolo Coelho, Christmas Stories
Sant Jordi Asociados (December 5, 2014)

CONSIDER THIS

Many things come to pass when we least expect them and in ways we have never imagined!

THE KING AND THE BEGGAR

As I went begging today from door to door they cried, “He is coming! He draws near!” And seeing the dust of your gorgeous chariot, I thought, “Who can this be but a king among kings?”

My hopes soared, and I stood waiting for alms to be given and wealth scattered in the dust. Your chariot stopped right before me, you looked down with a smile, and I knew that the luck of my days had come. Until suddenly you held out your palm and said, “What will you give?”

Begging from a beggar! What a kingly jest – I was confused and dismayed, but I groped in my sack until I brought out one grain of wheat, the tiniest thing I could afford.

I got home that night and emptied my sack on the floor, only to spy a grain of gold gleaming there in the heap. Then how bitterly I wept. If you did this for a tiny grain of wheat, what would you return if I had given you everything?

Source | Deepak ChopraThe Soul in Love: Classic Poems of Ecstasy and Exaltation
(Harmony, 2001) pages 102-103

CONSIDER THIS

How often are you the beggar in the story, reaching in for one kernel of corn, holding back, and giving much less than your all?

 

 

EVERY BUCKET COUNTS

One day, having learned that the King of Fez was hunting lions in the neighbourhood, the town of Creamoria (known to have the best goats milk in all the land) decided to invite the King and his court to a festival, and killed a number of sheep in his honour.

The sovereign had dinner and drank of the goats milk, claiming it was the best he had ever drank. The King asked if he could have some more milk in the morning for his breakfast. The town was pleased and stated they would prepare him some so the King went off to bed. Wishing to show their generosity, they placed a huge goatskin bottle before his door and they all agreed to fill it up with milk for the royal breakfast.

The villagers all had to milk their goats and then each of them had to tip his/her bucket into the container. Given its great size, each of them said to themself that they might just as well dilute the milk with a good quantity of water without anyone noticing. To the extent that, in the morning, such a thin liquid was poured out for the king and his court that it had no taste other than the taste of meanness and greed.

From this day forward the town of Creamoria was known as the town with the worst goats milk in all the land. Even though their goats still delivered the finest goats milk anyone had ever tasted.

Source | Adapted from a story by Amin Maalouf in “Leo Africanus
(New Amsterdam Books, 1998) page 127

CONSIDER THIS

If you are known for your qualities, do not hold back.  Chances are you will lose your quality as well as your reputation.

 

THE FOURTH WISE MAN

In the mountains of ancient Persia, lived Artaban, whose study of the planets and the stars led him to predict the birth of the King of Kings. He sold his house and every possession and purchased a large sapphire blue as a fragment of the night sky, a flawless ruby redder than a ray of sunrise, and a lustrous pearl as pure as the peak of a snow mountain at twilight – which he intended to carry as tribute to the King. He then set out for Jerusalem where he had arranged to meet up with three other wise men, or Magi, to find the newborn.

After many weeks of difficult travel and frustrating delays, one night, he saw a man lying on the road. His haggard face, pallid skin and laboured breathing, bore the mark of the deadly fever. But, as he turned to leave, the man begged for help.

Artaban hesitated. If he lingered to minister to a dying stranger even for an hour, he could miss his three friends. But if he left now, the man would surely die. He turned to the sick man and carefully attended to him, leaving with him all that he had left of bread and wine, and his store of healing herbs.

“I have nothing to give you in return,” said the grateful man, “…only this: our prophets have decreed that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, not in Jerusalem. May the Lord bring you in safety to that place, because you had pity upon the sick.”

When he reached the meeting place, he received only this message: “We can delay no longer. Follow us across the desert.” Artaban backtracked to Babylon, sold the sapphire, and bought a train of camels, and provisions for the journey. He arrived at Bethlehem with his remaining ruby and pearl offerings, but it was three whole days after the three other wise men had found Mary, Joseph and Jesus, and had laid gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh at the baby’s feet.

In a little cottage, he met a woman with her son, who told him Joseph had taken his wife and child and fled secretly that very night; Herod was slaying all male children, afraid the promised ‘King’ would claim his throne. As she spoke, there was uproar in the streets as Herod’s soldiers searched each home to kill any male children they found. The terrified young mother clasped her child to her. But Artaban rushed to the doorway and held out the ruby to the soldier, who snatched it eagerly. “March on!” he commanded his men, “there is no child here.”

Artaban sighed: “Now two of my gifts are gone. I have spent for man that which was meant for God. Shall I ever be worthy to see the face of the King?”

But the woman, weeping for joy, said gently: “Because you have saved the life of my little one, may the Lord bless you and keep you and give you peace.”

Arbatan wandered for 33 years in search of the little family from Bethlehem. Worn and weary, ill now, and ready to die, but still looking for the King, he had come for the last time to Jerusalem. Hearing of a great person who was to be put to death that very day, and hearing of his life and teachings, Artaban realised this was indeed his ‘King’, but as he made his way to Golgotha, hoping his priceless pearl could buy the great one’s release, he saw a troop of soldiers marching down the street, dragging a young girl in chains. “Have pity on me; save me! I am to be sold as a slave.”

The fourth wise man knew what he must do. He took the pearl from his bosom. Never had it seemed so luminous and radiant as it was now. He exchanged the girl’s freedom for the pearl. His grief at not being able to see the ‘King’ caused him to collapse, but in his half-conscious state he heard a gentle yet compelling voice: “Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.” His journey had ended. His treasures were accepted. The fourth Wise Man had indeed found the King.

Source | Marguerite Theophil, There Was a Fourth Wise Man
adapted from the original story by Henry Van Dyke, The Story of the Other Wise Man

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ | Matthew 25:37-40 (The Message)
  • ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ | Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
  • On his journey Artaban wrestles with what The Story of the Other Wise Man calls “the conflict between the expectation of faith and the impulse of love.”  Ought there be a conflict between the two?

OBSTACLES ON OUR PATH

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but no one did anything about getting the stone out of the way.

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded.

After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway.

Source | Lyndall Briggs and Gary Green, Soul Purpose: Self Development Stories and Quotes. Page 4.

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • If I had not lifted up the stone I had not found the jewel. | Hebrew proverb
  • In the above story, the peasant learned what many of us never understand  –  Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.
  • Remember that taking initiative often brings with it unexpected rewards!

OBSTACLES ON OUR PATH

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.

Then a poor farmer came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the he laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded After the farmer picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway.

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • Between the great things we cannot do and the small things we will not do, the danger is that we shall do nothing. | Adolph Monod
  • The farmer learned what many others never understand, that every obstacle, every single crisis, the storms in life and all experiences of adversity present an opportunity for growth.
  • In life, we are presented with similar obstacles. Whether we blame someone for it and complain about it or like the farmer we take responsibility for it is a matter of choice. If we are wise and take up responsibility for the obstacles presented to us, we are sure to “find gold” once the obstacle is gone!