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 Nouwen, Out of Solitude
(Ave Maria Press, 1974, 2004), pages 26-27
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).
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.
Anything you do every day can open into the deepest spiritual place, which is freedom.
A young boy left his home in search of truth. He met many people; he became richer in awareness of his ignorance. Since people went to forests to meditate, he too went to a thick forest. He did not know how to meditate. So he screamed at the forest to give him knowledge. For years his only mantra was screaming at the forest to give him knowledge. He believed that if you are committed, existence will help you.
One day, a monk came to him. He asked: “What do you want, my son?” “I want to know what the meaning of life is,” he replied. “Go to the town. The first three persons that you meet will give you the meaning of life,” the monk replied.
The boy went to the town. The first man he met was doing carpentry work. The next man he met was doing sheet metal work. The third man he met was making strings. Disappointed, he sat on the bank of a river. Suddenly, he heard the sweet strains of violin music. Something mysterious touched him. He suddenly got the answer he was looking for and he started dancing.
The carpenter was preparing the wood for the violin. The sheet metal worker was preparing metal for the strings and the strings were meant for the violin. Life has everything; all you need is to be able to connect the dots. You need to work out new combinations. And for that you need creative perception.
Life has all the ingredients. Be creative. Don’t let yourself feel victimized.
PONDER AND CONSIDER
- You might think that what is easy is beautiful, that what is easy is joy. You are a victim of such illusions. Difficulty has such a joy. Discovery has such a joy. Seeking out has such a joy.
- You have to change the notion that difficulty is pain. In exercise, there is difficulty but also joy. In sports, there is difficulty but there is joy. In your relationships, when there is difficulty, treat it as joy. Just re-programme your mind.
The master asks the disciple, “What have you come here for?”
The disciple says, “Moksha.” Moksha is the Sanskrit word for “freedom.” “I’ve come for freedom.”
“Oh freedom,” says the master. “Go and find out who has bound you.”
The disciple goes back and meditates for a week, returns to the master and says, “No one has bound me.”
“Then, what do you want freedom for?” says the master. And in that very instant the disciple’s eyes are open and he attains freedom. He attains liberation.