GOD’S WATER

Christian, a Catholic monk, had a very close Muslim friend, Mohammed. The two of them used to pray together, even as they remained aware of their differences, as Muslim and Christian.  Aware too that certain schools of thought, both Muslim and Christian, warn against this type of prayer, fearing that the various faiths are not praying to the same God, the two of them didn’t call their sessions together prayer. Rather they imagined themselves as “digging a well together”.

One day Christian asked Mohammed: “When we get to the bottom of our well, what will we find? Muslim water or Christian water?”

Mohammed, half-amused but still deadly serious, replied: “Come on now, we’ve spent all this time walking together, and you’re still asking me this question. You know well that at the bottom of that well, what we’ll find is God’s water.”

Source | Christian de Chergé, L’invincible espérance
(Bayard 2010) 183-184

Quoted in Christian Salenson, Christian de Chergé: A Theology of Hope
(Cistercian Publications, 2012)) pages 49-50

CONSIDER THIS

God is always bigger than our wildest imaginings. God is beyond any definition and the moment we define God we shrink God. It has been said that God is the being whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

THE THREE HERMITS

A bishop was sailing from Archangel to the Solovétsk Monastery; and on the same vessel were a number of pilgrims on their way to visit the shrines at that place. The voyage was a smooth one. The wind favourable, and the weather fair. The pilgrims lay on deck, eating, or sat in groups talking to one another. The Bishop, too, came on deck, and as he was pacing up and down, he noticed a group of men standing near the prow and listening to a fisherman who was pointing to the sea and telling them something. The Bishop stopped, and looked in the direction in which the man was pointing. He could see nothing however, but the sea glistening in the sunshine. He drew nearer to listen, but when the man saw him, he took off his cap and was silent. The rest of the people also took off their caps, and bowed.

“Do not let me disturb you, friends,” said the Bishop. “I came to hear what this good man was saying.”

‘The fisherman was telling us about the hermits, “replied one, a tradesman, rather bolder than the rest.”

“What hermits?” asked the Bishop, going to the side of the vessel and seating himself on a box. “Tell me about them. I should like to hear. What were you pointing at?”

“Why, that little island you can just see over there,” answered the man, pointing to a spot ahead and a little to the right. “That is the island where the hermits live for the salvation of their souls.”

“Where is the island?” asked the Bishop. “I see nothing.”

“There, in the distance, if you will please look along my hand. Do you see that little cloud? Below it and a bit to the left, there is just a faint streak. That is the island.”

The Bishop looked carefully, but his unaccustomed eyes could make out nothing but the water shimmering in the sun.

“I cannot see it,” he said. “But who are the hermits that live there?”

“They are holy men,” answered the fisherman. “I had long heard tell of them, but never chanced to see them myself till the year before last.”

And the fisherman related how once, when he was out fishing, he had been stranded at night upon that island, not knowing where he was. In the morning, as he wandered about the island, he came across an earth hut, and met an old man standing near it. Presently two others came out, and after having fed him, and dried his things, they helped him mend his boat.

“And what are they like?” asked the Bishop.

“One is a small man and his back is bent. He wears a priest’s cassock and is very old; he must be more than a hundred, I should say. He is so old that the white of his beard is taking a greenish tinge, but he is always smiling, and his face is as bright as an angel’s from heaven. The second is taller, but he also is very old. He wears tattered, peasant coat. His beard is broad, and of a yellowish grey colour. He is a strong man. Before I had time to help him, he turned my boat over as if it were only a pail. He too, is kindly and cheerful. The third is tall, and has a beard as white as snow and reaching to his knees. He is stern, with over-hanging eyebrows; and he wears nothing but a mat tied round his waist.”

“And did they speak to you?” asked the Bishop.

“For the most part they did everything in silence and spoke but little even to one another. One of them would just give a glance, and the others would understand him. I asked the tallest whether they had lived there long. He frowned, and muttered something as if he were angry; but the oldest one took his hand and smiled, and then the tall one was quiet. The oldest one only said: ‘Have mercy upon us,’ and smiled.”

While the fisherman was talking, the ship had drawn nearer to the island.

“There, now you can see it plainly, if your Grace will please to look,” said the tradesman, pointing with his hand.

The Bishop looked, and now he really saw a dark streak – which was the island. Having looked at it a while, he left the prow of the vessel, and going to the stern, asked the helmsman:

“What island is that?”

“That one,” replied the man, “has no name. There are many such in this sea.”

“Is it true that there are hermits who live there for the salvation of their souls?”

“So it is said, your Grace, but I don’t know if it’s true. Fishermen say they have seen them; but of course they may only be spinning yarns.”

“I should like to land on the island and see these men,” said the Bishop. “How could I manage it?”

“The ship cannot get close to the island,” replied the helmsman, “but you might be rowed there in a boat. You had better speak to the captain.”

The captain was sent for and came.

“I should like to see these hermits,” said the Bishop. “Could I not be rowed ashore?”

The captain tried to dissuade him.

“Of course it could be done,” said he, “but we should lose much time. And if I might venture to say so to your Grace, the old men are not worth your pains. I have heard say that they are foolish old fellows, who understand nothing, and never speak a word, any more than the fish in the sea.”

“I wish to see them,” said the Bishop, “and I will pay you for your trouble and loss of time. Please let me have a boat.”

There was no help for it; so the order was given. The sailors trimmed the sails, the steersman put up the helm, and the ship’s course was set for the island. A chair was placed at the prow for the Bishop, and he sat there, looking ahead. The passengers all collected at the prow, and gazed at the island. Those who had the sharpest eyes could presently make out the rocks on it, and then a mud hut was seen. At last one man saw the hermits themselves. The captain brought a telescope and, after looking through it, handed it to the Bishop.

“It’s right enough. There are three men standing on the shore. There, a little to the right of that big rock.”

The Bishop took the telescope, got it into position, and he saw the three men: a tall one, a shorter one, and one very small and bent, standing on the shore and holding each other by the hand.

The captain turned to the Bishop.

“The vessel can get no nearer in than this, your Grace. If you wish to go ashore, we must ask you to go in the boat, while we anchor here.”

The cable was quickly let out, the anchor cast, and the sails furled. There was a jerk, and the vessel shook. Then a boat having been lowered, the oarsmen jumped in, and the Bishop descended the ladder and took his seat. The men pulled at their oars, and the boat moved rapidly towards the island. When they came within a stone’s throw they saw three old men: a tall one with only a mat tied round his waist: a shorter one in a tattered peasant coat, and a very old one bent with age and wearing an old cassock – all three standing hand in hand.

The oarsmen pulled in to the shore, and held on with the boathook while the Bishop got out.

The old men bowed to him, and he gave them his benediction, at which they bowed still lower. Then the Bishop began to speak to them.

“I have heard,” he said, “that you, godly men, live here saving your own souls, and praying to our Lord Christ for your fellow men. I, an unworthy servant of Christ, am called, by God’s mercy, to keep and teach His flock. I wished to see you, servants of God, and to do what I can to teach you, also.”

The old men looked at each other smiling, but remained silent.

“Tell me,” said the Bishop, “what you are doing to save your souls, and how you serve God on this island.”

The second hermit sighed, and looked at the oldest, the very ancient one. The latter smiled, and said:

“We do not know how to serve God. We only serve and support ourselves, servant of God.”

“But how do you pray to God?” asked the Bishop.

“We pray in this way,” replied the hermit. “Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.”

And when the old man said this, all three raised their eyes to heaven, and repeated:

“Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us!”

The Bishop smiled.

“You have evidently heard something about the Holy Trinity,” said he. “But you do not pray aright. You have won my affection, godly men. I see you wish to please the Lord, but you do not know how to serve Him. That is not the way to pray; but listen to me, and I will teach you. I will teach you, not a way of my own, but the way in which God in the Holy Scriptures has commanded all men to pray to Him.”

And the Bishop began explaining to the hermits how God had revealed Himself to men; telling them of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.

“God the Son came down on earth,” said he, “to save men, and this is how He taught us all to pray. Listen and repeat after me: ‘Our Father.'”

And the first old man repeated after him, “Our Father,” and the second said, “Our Father,” and the third said, “Our Father.”

“Which art in heaven,” continued the Bishop.

The first hermit repeated, “Which art in heaven,” but the second blundered over the words, and the tall hermit could not say them properly. His hair had grown over his mouth so that he could not speak plainly. The very old hermit, having no teeth, also mumbled indistinctly.

The Bishop repeated the words again, and the old men repeated them after him. The Bishop sat down on a stone, and the old men stood before him, watching his mouth, and repeating the words as he uttered them. And all day long the Bishop laboured, saying a word twenty, thirty, a hundred times over, and the old men repeated it after him. They blundered, and he corrected them, and made them begin again.

The Bishop did not leave off till he had taught them the whole of the Lord’s prayer so that they could not only repeat it after him, but could say it by themselves. The middle one was the first to know it, and to repeat the whole of it alone. The Bishop made him say it again and again, and at last the others could say it too.

It was getting dark, and the moon was appearing over the water, before the Bishop rose to return to the vessel. When he took leave of the old men, they all bowed down to the ground before him. He raised them, and kissed each of them, telling them to pray as he had taught them. Then he got into the boat and returned to the ship.

And as he sat in the boat and was rowed to the ship he could hear the three voices of the hermits loudly repeating the Lord’s prayer. As the boat drew near the vessel their voices could no longer be heard, but they could still be seen in the moonlight, standing as he had left them on the shore, the shortest in the middle, the tallest on the right, the middle one on the left. As soon as the Bishop had reached the vessel and got on board, the anchor was weighed and the sails unfurled. The wind filled them, and the ship sailed away, and the Bishop took a seat in the stern and watched the island they had left. For a time he could still see the hermits, but presently they disappeared from sight, though the island was still visible. At last it too vanished, and only the sea was to be seen, rippling in the moonlight.

The pilgrims lay down to sleep, and all was quiet on deck. The Bishop did not wish to sleep, but sat alone at the stern, gazing at the sea where the island was no longer visible, and thinking of the good old men. He thought how pleased they had been to learn the Lord’s prayer; and he thanked God for having sent him to teach and help such godly men.

So the Bishop sat, thinking, and gazing at the sea where the island had disappeared. And the moonlight flickered before his eyes, sparkling, now here, now there, upon the waves. Suddenly he saw something white and shining, on the bright path which the moon cast across the sea. Was it a seagull, or the little gleaming sail of some small boat? The Bishop fixed his eyes on it, wondering.

“It must be a boat sailing after us,” thought he “but it is overtaking us very rapidly. It was far, far away a minute ago, but now it is much nearer. It cannot be a boat, for I can see no sail; but whatever it may be, it is following us, and catching us up.”

And he could not make out what it was. Not a boat, nor a bird, nor a fish! It was too large for a man, and besides a man could not be out there in the midst of the sea. The Bishop rose, and said to the helmsman:

“Look there, what is that, my friend? What is it?” the Bishop repeated, though he could now see plainly what it was  – the three hermits running upon the water, all gleaming white, their grey beards shining, and approaching the ship as quickly as though it were not morning.

The steersman looked and let go the helm in terror.

“Oh Lord! The hermits are running after us on the water as though it were dry land!”

The passengers hearing him, jumped up, and crowded to the stern. They saw the hermits coming along hand in hand, and the two outer ones beckoning the ship to stop. All three were gliding along upon the water without moving their feet. Before the ship could be stopped, the hermits had reached it, and raising their heads, all three as with one voice, began to say:

“We have forgotten your teaching, servant of God. As long as we kept repeating it we remembered, but when we stopped saying it for a time, a word dropped out, and now it has all gone to pieces. We can remember nothing of it. Teach us again.”

The Bishop crossed himself, and leaning over the ship’s side, said:

“Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners.”

And the Bishop bowed low before the old men; and they turned and went back across the sea. And a light shone until daybreak on the spot where they were lost to sight.

Source | Leo Tolstoy, Three Hermits

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Below are two other versions based on the above original by Leo Tolstoy

On an island there lived three old hermits. They were very simple people, and didn’t know complicated prayers. In fact they knew only one: “We are three, Thou art Thee, have mercy on us.” In spite of this one and only prayer, the hermits were said to have created many great miracles.

One day the local bishop heard about the three hermits and their prayer, and he decided to visit them to give them prayers which were “more correct” to him and the church. He arrived on the island and endeavored to teach them several prayers from the church.

Afterwards, as his boat was sailing away from the island, the bishop turned and saw a radiant light quickly gaining on the ship. As the light approached he discerned the three hermits, who were holding hands and running on the waves in an effort to catch the boat.

“Bishop, we have forgotten the prayers you taught us”, they said, and asked him if he would please repeat them.

The bishop shook his head in awe at the miracle he was witnessing. “Dear ones”, he replied humbly, “Please forgive me, and continue to live with your old prayer!”

Source | Abridged version from Paramahansa YoganandaAutobiography of a YogiPage 297

 

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Three Russian monks lived on a faraway island. Nobody ever went there, but one day their bishop decided to make a pastoral visit. When he arrived, he discovered that the monks didn’t even know the Lord’s Prayer.

So he spent all his time and energy teaching them the “Our Father” and then left, satisfied with his pastoral work. But when his ship had left the island and was back in the open sea, he suddenly noticed the three hermits walking on the water – in fact, they were running after the ship! When they reached it, they cried, “Dear Father, we have forgotten the prayer you taught us.” The bishop overwhelmed by what he was seeing and hearing, said, “But, dear brothers, how then do you pray?” They answered, “Well, we just say, ‘Dear God, there are three of us and there are three of you, have mercy on us!'”  The bishop, awestruck by their sanctity and simplicity, said, “Go back to your land and be at peace.”

Source | Henri Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey. Page 50
Also published in Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing

PONDER AND CONSIDER

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:7-8

 

THE MESSIAH IS AMONGST YOU

A monastery had fallen on hard times. It was once part of a great order which, as a result of religious persecution lost all its branches. It was decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the mother house: the Abbot and four others, all of whom were over seventy. Clearly it was a dying order.

Deep in the woods surrounding the monastery was a little hut that the Rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. One day, it occurred to the Abbot to visit the hermitage to see if the Rabbi could offer any advice that might save the monastery. The Rabbi welcomed the Abbot and commiserated. “I know how it is” he said, “the spirit has gone out of people. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” So the old Rabbi and the old Abbot wept together, and spoke quietly of deep things.

The time came when the Abbot had to leave. They embraced. “It has been wonderful being with you,” said the Abbot, “but I have failed in my purpose for coming. Have you no piece of advice that might save the monastery?” “No, I am sorry,” the Rabbi responded, “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

When the other monks heard the Rabbi’s words, they wondered what possible significance they might have. “The Messiah is one of us? One of us, here, at the monastery? Do you suppose he meant the Abbot? Of course – it must be the Abbot, who has been our leader for so long. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas, who is undoubtably a holy man. Certainly he couldn’t have meant Brother Elrod – he’s so crotchety. But then Elrod is very wise. Surely, he could not have meant Brother Phillip – he’s too passive. But then, magically, he’s always there when you need him. Of course he didn’t mean me – yet supposing he did? Oh Lord, not me! I couldn’t mean that much to you, could I?”

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect, on the off chance that one of them might be the Messiah. And on the off off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

Because the forest in which the monastery was situated was beautiful, people occasionally came to visit the monastery, to picnic or to wander along the old paths, most of which led to the dilapidated chapel. They sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that surrounded the five old monks, permeating the atmosphere. They began to come more frequently, bringing their friends, and their friends brought friends. Some of the younger men who came to visit began to engage in conversation with the monks. After a while, one asked if he might join. Then another, and another. Within a few years, the monastery became once again a thriving order, and – thanks to the Rabbi’s gift – a vibrant community of light and love.

Source | Rosamund Zander and Benjamin Zander,  The Art of Possibility
Also found in M. Scott PeckThe Different Drum

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A variation of the same story called The Bishop’s Gift

Once a church had fallen upon hard times. Only five members were left: the pastor and four others, all over 60 years old.

In the mountains near the church there lived a retired Bishop. It occurred to the pastor to ask the Bishop if he could offer any advice that might save the church. The pastor and the Bishop spoke at length, but when asked for advice, the Bishop simply responded by saying, “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

The pastor, returning to the church, told the church members what the Bishop had said. In the months that followed, the old church members pondered the words of the Bishop. “The Messiah is one of us?” they each asked themselves. As they thought about this possibility, they all began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off, off chance that each member himself might be the Messiah, they also began to treat themselves with extraordinary care.

As time went by, people visiting the church noticed the aura of respect and gentle kindness that surrounded the five old members of the small church. Hardly knowing why, more people began to come back to the church. They began to bring their friends, and their friends brought more friends. Within a few years, the small church had once again become a thriving church, thanks to the Bishop’s gift.

Source | Unknown

 PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • Remember the Rabbi’s humble gift – the no advice that was the best advice ever – “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”
  • Within each one of us we carry the capacity to heal the wounds that sometimes block recovery, healing, and transformation.
  • What would happen if we start treating each other as if all of were the Messiah?  What if we start holding others and ourselves in higher esteem—a process that facilitates becoming whole again?

 

 

LETTING GO

Two monks were returning to the monastery in the evening. It had rained and there were puddles of water on the road sides. At one place a beautiful young woman was standing unable to walk across because of a puddle of water. The elder of the two monks went up to a her lifted her and left her on the other side of the road, and continued his way to the monastery.

In the evening the younger monk came to the elder monk and said, “Sir, as monks, we cannot touch a woman.”

The elder monk answered “yes, brother”.

Then the younger monk asks again, “but then Sir, how is that you lifted that woman on the roadside ?”

The elder monk smiled at him and told him ” I left her on the other side of the road, but you are still carrying her.”

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Another version of the same story titled Muddy Road :

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy raod. A heavy rain was still falling.

Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.

“Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until the night when they reached the lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?’

“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?” (p 591)

Source | Paul RepsNyogen Senzaki,  Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-zen Writings, pages 33-34

PONDER AND CONSIDER

Learn the art of letting go and all shall be well. In life we face many unpleasant things and people sometimes. They irritate us and they make us angry. Sometimes, they cause us a lot of hurt, sometimes they cause us to be bitter or jealous. But like the novice monk, we are not willing to drop the irritation, drop the attachment. We go through life carrying the unnecessary baggage with us.

 

 

TWO MONKS WALKING

Two monks were out for a walk one day

One older, the other much younger. They had both taken vows of silence and chastity. As they continued along the trail, they came to a creek where they saw a girl standing on the bank, she told them that she needed to get across. Without hesitation the older monk picked her up in his arms and waded across the creek with her. Once they both got to the other side, they went on their way.

An hour on down the trail the younger of the two broke his vow of silence,

“You know with our vow of chastity we are not to even touch a woman, let alone make eye contact with one!”

The older one, who had been admiring the beauty of the woods and the songs of the birds, replied, “Brother, I set her down on the bank an hour ago. You, however, are still carrying her.”

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • Let go of your past and you will be able to enjoy the present in its fullness.