‘Jesus said: I tell my mysteries to people worthy of my mysteries.’ — Gospel of Thomas
A protestant priest, having started a family, no longer had any peace for his prayers. One night, when he knelt down, he was disturbed by the children in the living room.
“Have the children keep quiet!” he shouted.
His startled wife obeyed. Thereafter, whenever the priest came home, they all maintained silence during prayers. But he realized that God was no longer listening.
One night, during his prayers, he asked the Lord: “what is going on? I have the necessary peace, and I cannot pray!”
An angel replied: “He hears words, but no longer hears the laughter. He notices the devotion, but can no longer see the joy.”
The priest stood and shouted once again to his wife: “Let the children play! They are part of praying!”
And his words were heard by God once again.
A blind man was begging on the road to Mecca, when a pious Moslem came over and asked whether the people were giving generously – as the Koran commands. The man showed him his little tin, which was almost empty. The traveler said:
– Let me write something on the card around your neck.
Hours later, the traveler returned. The beggar was surprised, for he had received a large amount of money.
– What did you write on the card? – he asked.
– All I wrote was: Today is a beautiful spring day, the sun is shining, and I am blind.
Dov Beer de Mezeritch was asked:
“Which example should one follow? That of pious men, who devote their lives to God? That of scholars, who seek to understand the will of the Almighty?
“The best example is that of the child,” he answered.
“A child knows nothing. It hasn’t yet learned what reality is,” people commented.
“You are all quite wrong, for a child possesses three qualities we should never forget,” said Dov Beer. “They are always joyful without reason. They are always busy. And when they want something, they know how to demand it firmly and with determination.”
I am reminded of the tales told by Nasrudin. The underlying theme, if there is one, of these three tales is grace, or rather the lack of grace and humility.
I see Christians (or to be exact, followers of the Church not of Jesus) attend Church on a Sunday, but a total disconnect from how they lead their everyday life. Even when they do attend church they turn up in their gas-guzzling 4x4s and people carriers, attired in what the world’s best sweatshops can provide.
There is a remote part of India known as Little Tibet. Prior to the construction of a military road, and their infection with Western culture, they lived a simple if arduous existence. Religion was not something they did on a special day in a special building, it was an integral part of their existence, it pervaded everything they did. When they planted their crops, when they harvested their crops, when they crafted their products, their spiritual existence was part of their everyday existence, it infused everything they did, and everything they did was in celebration of their spiritual existence.
I like to sit in an old country church, appreciate the tranquility and the beauty. The men, and sadly it was only the men, were communicating with God when they carried out their work. They were happy to remain anonymous. Even where no man could see, they still took a pride in their work, because they knew nowhere was invisible to the eyes of God.
I was touched by grace when I walked along the coast in Cornwall and a stunning view unfolded before my feet. I would sit for hours taking in this breathtaking view. When I listen to music by Hildegard von Bingen, who described herself as ‘a feather on the breath of God’, whose music and paintings were inspired by visions from God. Or when I listen to the Eric Levi Era trilogy, introduced to me by my lovely South African friend Estie, inspired by the Cathars who died in the Inquisition, a Catholic Crusade against heretics in France. When I sat and experienced tranquility and peace of mind under the shade of the trees in a square outside a Catholic church. When I watched a sparrow bathe in a fountain. It seemed an appropriate place to sit and read By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept.
There is a strong connection between shame and guilt and lack of grace.
Lewis Smedes, professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, has identified three common sources of crippling shame (see Shame and Grace): secular culture, unaccepting parents, and graceless religion.
Secular culture, or pop culture, fashion fascists, skinny supermodels, and contrary, junk food, and moronic music; parents who never approve or praise but are quick to criticise their failures; and for graceless religion we only have to look at much of the Church today, arbitrary rules but no love and forgiveness for those who fall by the wayside.
Paolo Veronese found himself in trouble with the Inquisition for a painting of Jesus at a banquet (now hanging in the Academy of Fine Art in Venice, Gallerie dell’Accademia). Jesus is with his disciples, in one corner a man with a bloody nose, Roman solders in another, a few stray dogs roaming around, a few drunks, midgets and blackamoors. Paolo Veronese had to explain his irreverence to the Inquisition, he defended his work by explaining these were the people Jesus dined and associated with. He escaped with his life by changing the title of his painting to a secular rather than religious title Feast in the House of Levi. As now, the Church had somehow lost its way and somehow lost the message.
Children have a natural delight and curiosity in the world. What do we do to drive it out of them?
Thoughts from a weekend conversation with my lovely friend Sian.