CAN IT GET ANY WORSE?

can-it-get-any-worse

A poor man lived with his wife and six children in a very small one-room house. They were always getting in each other’s way and there was so little space they could hardly breathe!

Finally the man could stand it no more. He talked to his wife and asked her what to do. “Go see the rabbi,” she told him, and after arguing a while, he went.

And so the poor man told the rabbi how miserable things were at home with him, his wife, and the six children all eating and living and sleeping in one room. The poor man told the rabbi, “We’re even starting to yell and fight with each other. Life couldn’t be worse.”

The rabbi thought very deeply about the poor man’s problem. Then he said, “Do exactly as I tell you and things will get better. Do you promise?”

“I promise,” the poor man said.

The rabbi then asked the poor man a strange question. “Do you own any animals?”

“Yes,” he said. “I have one cow, one goat, and some chickens.”

“Good,” the rabbi said. “When you get home, take all the animals into your house to live with you.”

The poor man was astonished to hear this advice from the rabbi, but he had promised to do exactly what the rabbi said. So he went home and took all the farm animals into the tiny one-room house.

The next day the poor man ran back to see the rabbi. “What have you done to me, Rabbi?” he cried. “It’s awful. I did what you told me and the animals are all over the house! Rabbi, help me!”

The rabbi listened and said calmly, “Now go home and take the chickens back outside.”

The poor man did as the rabbi said, but hurried back again the next day. “The chickens are gone, but Rabbi, the goat!” he moaned. “The goat is smashing up all the furniture and eating everything in sight!”

The good rabbi said, “Go home and remove the goat and may God bless you.”

So the poor man went home and took the goat outside. But he ran back again to see the rabbi, crying and wailing. “What a nightmare you have brought to my house, Rabbi! With the cow it’s like living in a stable! Can human beings live with an animal like this?”

The rabbi said sweetly, “My friend, you are right. May God bless you. Go home now and take the cow out of your house.” And the poor man went quickly home and took the cow out of the house.

The next day he came running back to the rabbi again. “O Rabbi,” he said with a big smile on his face, “we have such a good life now. The animals are all out of the house. The house is so quiet and we’ve got room to spare! What a joy!”

Source: Aaron Zerah, How the Children Became Stars:
A Family Treasury of Stories, Prayers and Blessings
from Around the World
Sorin Books
, 2000

CONSIDER THIS

  • Perspective is everything.  It is not what we see, but the way we see it. When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.
  • Most of us are just about as happy as we make up our minds to – Abraham  Lincoln
  • Think about your biggest complaint and what the rabbi would tell you if he heard it. Today, follow the rabbi’s advice.
  • Imagine you are the man in the story. At the end, what would you say to a friend who complained about how bad life was?
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LOVING WITH ALL YOUR HEART

 

A young man who went to a rabbi and said, “I know that we are commanded to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength. But I know that my heart and soul and mind and strength have bad parts in them. So how can I love God?”

After a pause the rabbi replied, “It seems you will just have to love God with the bad parts too.” 

Source: Unknown

CONSIDER THIS

Anything that is worth doing is worth doing well, the saying goes. But G.K. Chesterton amended it. Anything that is worth doing is worth doing even badly, he said!

Do you refuse to sing until you are as good as Pavarotti? Do you refuse to dance until you are another Anna Pavlova?

How did we learn to walk? By walking badly, by toddling, by falling down innumerable times. How did we learn to write our names? How do we learn to love?

PICKING UP FEATHERS?

A woman once went for confession, accusing herself badmouthing people. The confessor, a wise old man,  listened lovingly, absolved her and gave her a strange penance. He told her to go home, get a hen and come back, plucking the bird’s feathers as she walked along the street.

When she had returned to him he said: “Now go back home and, as you go, pick up each feather that you plucked on the way.” The woman told him that it would be impossible since the wind had almost certainly blown them away in the meantime.

And the confessor told her “You see, just as it is impossible to pick up the feathers once the wind has scattered them, it is likewise impossible to gather gossip and calumnies back up once they have come out of our mouth.” 

Source | based on Raniero Cantalamessa
preaching on Matthew 18:15-20. | September 05, 2008

________________________________

HERE IS A VARIATION OF THE SAME STORY

FEATHERS

A woman whose tongue was sharp and unkind was accused of starting a rumor.
She was brought before the village rabbi protesting,

“What I said was in jest … just humor!
My words were carried forth by others.
I am not to blame.”

But the victim cried for justice, saying,
“You’ve soiled my own good name!”

“I can make amends,” said the woman accused,
“I’ll just take back my words and assume I’m excused.”

The rabbi listened to what she said,
and sadly thought as he shook his head,
“This woman does not comprehend her crime,
She shall do it again and again in time.”

And so he said to the woman accused,
“Your careless words cannot be excused until …
You bring my feather pillow to the market square.
Cut it and let the feathers fly through the air.
When this task is done,
bring me back the feathers …
every one.”

The woman reluctantly agreed.
She thought, “The wise old rabbi’s gone mad indeed!”
But to humor him, she took his pillow to the village square.
She cut it and feathers filled the air.

She tried to catch. She tried to snatch.
She tried to collect each one.
But weary with effort she clearly discovered,
the task could not be done.

She returned with very few feathers in hand.
“I couldn’t get them back, they’ve scattered over the land!
I suppose,” she sighed as she lowered her head,
“Like the words I can’t take back,
from the rumor I spread.”

Source |  Heather Forest, Wisdom Tales from Around the World
(August House,  2005) pages 67-69

 CONSIDER THIS

There are many ways to kill a person – shooting, stabbing, drowning, choking – but the easiest and simplest method is to invent a lie about someone.  Whisper a lie about someone in an ear and see how this grows out of proportion, leading to a downward spiral of violence.

PARADISE IS IN YOU

Once upon a time the prophet Elijah visited a very holy rabbi. The rabbi was surprised to see Elijah in his study and even more so when Elijah told him that God was pleased with him and he could have any gift that he’d like but he had to decide right then and there. The rabbi was flustered but he blurted out, “Do you think I could have a glimpse of Paradise‘? It would make it so much easier to live here on earth where there is so much pain and injustice if I could see it just this once.” And in a flash Elijah and the rabbi were standing inside the gates of heaven. The rabbi was floored—it was beyond description. Lovely, radiance permeating everything. He was speechless.

But as he looked around, he became dismayed and said to Elijah, “There’s hardly anyone here! Don’t tell me that after all these years there are so few that made it into Paradise? Where are all the saints, the holy ones?” Elijah looked at him and responded, “Rabbi, you of all people should know—the saints aren’t in Paradise, Paradise is in the saints! Oh, they come here, some of them, but they usually opt to return to earth so they can see the glory of God everywhere. Once you know that God’s glory resides in every human being and in some more than others, well, you go looking for it everywhere.”

And in another flash, the rabbi was back in his study, alone. He stood there for a long time pondering what he had seen, heard. and learned. And then he thought to himself: What in the world do people see when they look at me? Do they see that Paradise is within me and marvel at the glory of God shining on my face‘? And then, he thought again: How do I see all the people in my life, in the world? Do I see the glory of God radiantly shining on their faces? O God, have pity on me, on us all, and give me eyes to perceive your glory among us.

Source | Megan McKenna,  Praying the Rosary
(Doubleday, 2004) pages 134-135

CONSIDER THIS

  • What do people see when they look at me? Do they see that Paradise is within you and marvel at the glory of God shining on your face‘?
  • How do you see all the people in your life? Do you see the glory of God radiantly shining on their faces?

O God, on us all, and give us new eyes to see your glory in our midst.

THE RABBI WHO HUMMED AND DANCED

There’s a Hasidic tale about a famous rabbi who was on his way to teach a village that was very interested in his ideas. This was going to be a very big event, and each Jew in the community made great preparations, pondering what question he or she might ask the wise man.

The rabbi finally arrived and, after the initial welcome, he was taken into a large room where people gathered to ask their questions. There was tremendous anticipation and excitement all around.

The rabbi walked silently around the room and then began to hum a Hasidic tune. Before long, everyone started humming along with his soft voice. As people became comfortable with his song, the rabbi started to dance. He danced everywhere in the room, and, one by one, every person danced with him. Soon everyone in the whole community was dancing wildly together. Each person’s soul was healed by the dance, and everyone experienced a personal transformation.

Later in the night, the rabbi gradually slowed the dance and eventually brought it to a stop. He looked into everyone’s eyes and said gently, “I trust that I have answered all of your questions.”

Source |  Jon Carlson, American Shaman: The Odyssey of Global Healing Traditions
(Routledge, 2004) page 158.

 CONSIDER THIS

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions. When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence? Where we have stopped dancing, singing, being enchanted by stories, or finding comfort in silence is where we have experienced the loss of soul. Dancing, singing, storytelling, and silence are the four universal healing salves.”

Angeles Arrien in the forward to Gabrielle RothMaps to Ecstasy: The Healing Power of Movement.
(New World Library, 1998.) pages xv-xvi

 

DARKNESS AND LIGHT

A rabbi asked his students, “When is it at dawn that one can tell the light from the darkness?”

One student replied, “When I can tell a goat from a donkey.”

“No,” answered the rabbi.

Another said, “When I can tell a palm tree from a fig.”

“No,” answered the rabbi again.

“Well, then what is the answer?” his students pressed him.

“Only when you look into the face of every man and every woman and see your brother and your sister,” said the rabbi. “Only then have you seen the light. All else is still darkness.”

Source | Johann Christoph Arnold, Seeking Peace
(Plume, 2000) page 103

CONSIDER THIS

“We can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do by what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create and who we include.”  | from the ‘Chocolat’

Who is it that you are still excluding from the circle of your compassion?

BEYOND TEMPTATION

A rabbi went on a journey with his servant named Jacob. Their cart was drawn by a lively horse of which the rabbi was very fond. When they came to a roadside inn, the rabbi went in to rest, leaving his horse in Jacob’s care.

In the meantime, a horse trader passed by and, seeing Jacob, soon made friends with him. He plied him with drink and Jacob soon was so intoxicated it was easy for the horse trader to induce him to sell him the horse for a song. Although drunk, Jacob was frightened by what he had done. What would the rabbi say when he came out of the inn? An idea occurred to him. He placed himself between the empty shafts of the cart and started to chew hay. When the rabbi came out, he was struck speechless by what he saw.

“What’s the meaning of this?” he finally managed to stammer. “Where’s the horse?”

“The horse? That’s me!” replied Jacob, and he uttered a loud whinny.

“What on earth are you doing?” murmured the rabbi, frightened to death. “Have you gone out of your mind?”

“Don’t be angry with me, Rabbi,” pleaded his servant Jacob. “Years ago a great misfortune happened to me. I was a young man then, a little wild and foolish, and, may God forgive me, I sinned with a woman. So to punish me, God turned me into a horse  – your horse. For twenty long years you have been my master, Rabbi, little suspecting who I really was. Well, it seems my punishment is over. I’m again a man, praise God!”

When the rabbi heard Jacob’s story he began to tremble and prayed for God’s mercy. However, there was a practical difficulty to attend to – he could not continue his journey without a horse, so he went into the market place to buy one. Suddenly, he stood face to face with his old horse. It was munching a wisp of hay at the horse trader’s. Going up to it in alarm, the rabbi whispered into its ear, “For goodness sake, Jacob! Again, so soon!”

Source: Nathan Ausubel, A Treasury of Jewish Humor
(New York: M. Evans and Company, 1951) 

PONDER AND CONSIDER

It seems to me that the human journey is never linear, neat and tidy. It is more like a dance of three steps forward and two steps backward . I call it the “backslide dance”.  I looked up the word “backsliding”  in the dictionary. It means “to relapse into bad habits, sinful behavior, or undesirable activities.” Maybe you’ve known the frustration of losing ground along the way, reverting to old, unhealthy habits.  What phrases would you use to describe this state? I came up with three phrases:

  • “I’m lukewarm”.
  • “I’ve grown cold”.
  • “I’m no longer on fire”.

And what can you do to change the tide and catch fire?