ON ONE FOOT

A rather eccentric looking young man wearing an old brown suit and holding a small, worn, stickered suitcase walked into the center of the city, spun around a few times in the middle of one of the main squares and then looked up to the skyline. Fixing his eyes on the closest church steeple, he immediately made his way to the front door of the rectory beside the church. He knocked on the door and asked to speak with the pastor. When the pastor met him in the parlor, the young man rose to his feet and immediately stood on one foot. Wearing a curious expression, the pastor asked how he could help the man. The young man said – I have come very far and wish to settle in this town and join your church; however first I would like you to instruct me in the entire faith as I stand on one foot. Assessing the man to be deranged, the pastor promptly showed him the door.

Returning to the city centre to repeat his spinning ritual, he headed in a new direction to the nearest church steeple. He made his way to the front door of the rectory and repeated his request to speak to the pastor: I have come very far and wish to settle in this town and join your church; however first I would like you to instruct me in the entire faith as I stand on one foot. Determining the young man to be irrational he also showed him the door.

A third time the young man repeated his spinning ritual and headed toward another church steeple and knocked on the door of the rectory. An old, slouched and limping, white-bearded pastor answered the door and showed him into a sitting room. The young man repeated his request saying: I have come very far and wish to settle in this town and join your church; however first I would like you to instruct me in the entire faith as I stand on one foot. The pastor looked at him through timeworn but wise eyes and smiled saying: Love God, love your neighbour, love yourself – the rest is all commentary.

Satisfied with the response, there and then, still standing on one foot,  the young man decided to settle in the city and join the parish church.

Source: Inspired by a story told by the Talmudic sage Hillel

CONSIDER THIS

Saint Augustine said that Scripture “teaches nothing but charity, and we must not leave an interpretation of scripture until we have found a compassionate interpretation of it.” 

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BEYOND WORDS

 

Once upon a time there was a boy. He lived in a village that no longer exists, in a house that no longer exists, on the edge of a field that no longer exists, where everything was discovered and everything was possible. A stick could be a sword. A pebble could be a diamond. A tree a castle.

Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in a house across the field from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was Queen and he was King. In the autumn light, her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls. When the sky grew dark they parted with leaves in their hair.

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.

When they were ten he asked her to marry him. When they were eleven he kissed her for the first time. When they were thirteen they got into a fight and for three weeks they didn’t talk. When they were fifteen she showed him the scar on her left breast. Their love was a secret they told no one. He promised her he would never love another girl as long as he lived. What if I die? she asked. Even then, he said. For her sixteenth birthday he gave her an English dictionary and together they learned the words. What’s this? he’d ask, tracing his index finger around her ankle, and she’d look it up. And this? he’d ask, kissing her elbow. Elbow! What kind of word is that? and then he’d lick it, making her giggle. What about this? he asked, touching the soft skin behind her ear. I don’t know, she said, turning off the flashlight and rolling over, with a sigh, onto her back. When they were seventeen they made love for the first time, on a bed of straw in a shed. Later—when things happened that they could never have imagined—she wrote him a letter that said: When will you learn that there isn’t a word for everything?

Source: Nicole Krauss, The History of Love
W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (May 17, 2006)

CONSIDER THIS

“Her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” What question do you want to spend your whole life answering?

“When will you learn that there isn’t a word for everything?”
What or who do you turn to when there are no words left to describe what’s happening?

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A TWISTED LOVE

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed,  and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily?

The young woman speaks.

“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”

She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles.

“I like it,” he says, “It is kind of cute.”

All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and hold my breath and let the wonder in.

Source: Richard Selzer, M.D.
Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery
(Harcourt Brace, 1996) pages 45-46
Originally published by Simon & Schuster, 1976

CONSIDER THIS

Was the young man a god? I think not. But he possessed a God-like love, a love that persisted in the midst of change, a love that did not alter when it found alteration.

Do you have eyes that can see beauty, joy, goodness, and hope? Can you sense such gifts even in the midst of seeming ugliness or when the light is dim and the darkness heavy?

NO LONGER UGLY

NO LONGER UGLY

Once upon a time there was a boy who had a dog. The boy and the dog loved each other and played happily as dear friends. But one day the dog did something the boy’s parents didn’t like. To appease his parents, the boy had to send the dog away. Years passed, and the boy forgot there had ever been a dog . But inside him there was still a place where something was missing. When he was a man, the missing place called him so strongly that he had to go in search of what he needed. His search brought him to the edge of a forest.

Not knowing why, he found himself sitting, waiting. Slowly, gradually, two burning eyes appeared in the darkness of the forest. The young man waited. Slowly, gradually, a long pointed nose emerged. The young man waited. Finally, out of the forest, slinking, there came an animal: thin, scarred, muddy, matted with burrs. You would hardly know it had ever been a dog.

The young man greeted it softly: Hello. The ugly dog stopped, untrusting. The young man felt in his body the memory stirring of the good and happy times with his friend. He said to the animal before him: I want to know how it has been for you, all these years in exile. And in his own way the dog told him, this, and this. Sad, lonely, scared, bitter. The young man told the dog that he had heard it. He heard all that he had gone through.

And with this hearing, the dog visibly softened, became warmer and more trusting. After some time, it came close enough to be touched. When the young man touched the dog, he could feel the missing place inside him begin to fill in. And soon after he took the dog home, and gave it a bath and a warm place by the fire – after it felt loved again – it was no longer ugly. It was beautiful.

Source: Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin
The Radical Acceptance of Everything
Calluna Press, 2005

CONSIDER THIS

“I have long been persuaded that desire is not an emptiness needing to be filled but a fullness needing to be in relation.  Desire is love trying to happen.”  – Sebastian Moore, Jesus and the Liberator of Desire (Crossroad, 1989)

 

LOVING WHOLEHEARTEDLY

An eager young man longing to live a good life, went to his rabbi and said, “I know that the Hebrew Scriptures say that we ought to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength. But I am very much aware that my heart and soul and mind and strength have bad parts in them. So, tell me, how can I love God?”

After a pause the rabbi replied, “Well, it seems that you’re going to have to learn how to love God with the bad parts too.”

Source: Unknown

CONSIDER THIS

“The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest, but wholeheartedness.” David Steindl-Rast in response to a question by poet David Whyte.

“In fiction good people do good things and bad people do bad: that’s why it is called fiction!” (Oscar Wilde) In real life bad people can do good things and good people can do bad things.

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

I LOVE YOU SO MUCH

At the end of a busy day, a man and his wife were sitting at home on the veranda in the quiet of twilight, broken only by the sounds of the gentle wind and the swash of the waves. They were enjoying a glass of wine together.

As the sun slowly sank below the mountains, she broke the soothing silence saying, “I love you so much I don’t know I could ever live without you.”

The husband, a tad surprised, asks, “Is that you or the wine talking?”

She replies, “It’s me … talking to the wine.”

And the two burst out laughing!

Source: Recycled and retold by Philip Chircop sj

CONSIDER THIS

Learning to laugh a little more just may save your life, not to mention your marriage. To paraphrase Henry Ward Beecher, “A marriage without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs – jolted by every pebble in the road.”

Still not convinced? Listen to these other voices:

  • Laughter is an “instant vacation”. | Bob Hope
  • You can’t stay mad at somebody who makes you laugh.” |  Jay Leno
  • We cannot really love anybody with whom we never laugh. | Agnes Repplier