Archive for December, 2009

A Christmas Tale

December 18, 2009
Melk Abbey in Austria

Melk Abbey in Austria

A medieval legend tells us that in the country we know today as Austria the Burkhard family – a man, a woman and a child – used to amuse people at Christmas parties by reciting poetry, singing ancient troubadour ballads, and juggling. Of course, there was never any money left over to buy presents, but the man always told his son:

“Do you know why Santa Claus’s bag never gets empty, although there are so many children in the world? Because it may be full of toys, but sometimes there are more important things to be delivered, what we call “invisible gifts”. In a broken home, he tries to bring harmony and peace on the holiest night in Christianity. Where love is lacking, he deposits a seed of faith in children’s hearts. Where the future seems black and uncertain, he brings hope. In our case, the day after Father Christmas comes to visit us, we are happy to be still alive and doing our work, which is to make people happy. Never forget that.”

Time passed, the boy grew up, and one day the family passed in front of the impressive Melk Abbey, which had just been built.

“Father, do you remember many years ago you told me the story of Santa Claus and his invisible gifts? I think that I received one of those gifts once: the vocation to become a priest. Would you mind if now I took my first step towards what I have always dreamed of?”

Although they really needed their son’s company, the family understood and respected the boy’s wish. They knocked at the door of the monastery and were given a loving, generous welcome by the monks, who accepted the young Buckhard as a novice.

Christmas Eve came around. And precisely on that day, a special miracle happened in Melk: Our Lady, carrying the baby Jesus in her arms, decided to descend to Earth to visit the monastery.

All the priests lined up and each of them stood proudly before the Virgin trying to pay homage to the Madonna and her Son. One of them displayed the beautiful paintings that decorated the place, another showed a copy of a Bible that had taken a hundred years to be written and illustrated, while a third recited the names of all the saints.

At the very end of the line, young Buckhard anxiously waited his turn. His parents were simple people, and all that they had taught him was to toss balls up in the air and do some juggling.

When it came his turn, the other priests wanted to put an end to all the homage that had been paid, since the ex-juggler had nothing important to add and might even mar the image of the abbey.

Nevertheless, deep in his heart he also felt a great need to give something of himself to Jesus and the Virgin. Feeling very ashamed before the reproachful gaze of his brothers, he took some oranges from his pocket and began to toss them in the air and catch them in his hands, creating a beautiful circle in the air just as he used to do when he and his family traveled to all the fairs in the region.

At that instant, the baby Jesus, lying in Our Lady’s lap, began to clap his hands with joy. And it was to young Buckhard that the Virgin held out her arms to let him hold the smiling child for a few moments.

The legend ends by saying that on account of this miracle, every two hundred years a new Buckhard knocks on the door of Melk Abbey, is welcomed in, and for the whole time he remains there he warms the hearts of all who meet him.

‘A Christmas Tale’ was first published by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho on his blog.

Melk Abbey is a medieval Benedictine monastery established in 1089. It lies on a bluff overlooking the town of Melk and the River Danube. It was rebuilt following a fire.

Vienna and the Danube: Melk Abbey
Melk Abbey

March 2010, Paulo Coelho will host host his St Joseph’s party in Melk Abbey.

Also see

The Juggler of Our Lady
The chess game
The story of the pencil
Like the Flowing River
The Pilgimage
A Warrior’s Life

God and real life

December 8, 2009
Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese

Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese

‘Jesus said: I tell my mysteries to people worthy of my mysteries.’ — Gospel of Thomas

Paulo Coelho posted on his blog three stories

Christian tradition

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.

Muslim tradition

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.

Jewish tradition

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.

Also see

Past mistakes

The Gospel of Thomas

God is

Christianity Theology and Gaia

Past mistakes

December 7, 2009

‘He who cannot forgive another breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.’ — George Herbert

‘Forgiveness is a door to peace and happiness. It is a small, narrow door, and cannot be entered without stooping. It is also hard to find. But no matter how long the search, it can be found.’ — Johann Christoph Arnold

On his blog, Paulo Coelho told the story of Buddha coming across a yogi with one leg.

During a journey, Buddha came across a yogi with only one leg.
“I burn all my past mistakes”, explained the man.
“And how many mistakes have you burned?
“I have no idea.”
“And how many are left to burn?” enquired Buddha.
“I have no idea.”
“Then it is time to stop. Stop asking God for forgiveness, and go and ask those you wounded for forgiveness.”

I see Christians, that is followers of the Church rather than followers of Jesus, worshiping in church, maybe seeking forgiveness for their sins, then leave the church with a total disconnect.

I call my mobile phone company to complain for the umpteenth time about their piss-poor service. They apologise, say they are sorry, but the the piss-poor service worsens.

Sorry is one of the hardest words to say, it is also one of the easiest.

Forgiveness only has meaning when it comes from the heart, when we show grace. Actions speak far louder than words.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa heard ‘confessions’ from those who had carried out atrocities during the Apartheid era. One of the gruesome and most moving was that from a policeman. He and his colleagues killed an 18-year-old black boy, then burnt his body to destroy the evidence. Eight years later, the policeman returned and burnt the father, forcing his wife to watch.

Asked by the judge what she wanted, she said she wished Mr van de Broek to go with her to the place where her husband and son had been burnt, gather up their ashes and give them a decent burial. He agreed. She then added:

Mr van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.

As she slowly walked towards the witness stand some in the court started to sing Amazing Grace. Mr van de Broek did not though hear the singing, he had fainted, overwhelmed.

For Sian who asked me to forgive her for the hurt she had caused.

See

Rumours of Another World

What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Why Forgive?