October 19, 2007
JONATHAN & HIS GRANDFATHER
Once upon a time in a village near a big lake, a little boy was born. His parents called him Jonathan. They were conscientious parents who took good care of him and he grew up healthy and strong.
The family shared their small cottage with grandfather who was happy to spend time with his little grandson while mommy and daddy were away working in the fields, or on market days when they went to the village.
Jonathan was an obedient little boy who always did his best to follow the demands of his parents, and later that of his teachers. But sometimes it was hard to please them. If he spilled his milk by accident, his mother would scold him: “Now look what you have done!”
“I didn’t do it on purpose, it was an accident!” Jonathan would defend himself.
But mommy didn’t listen. “You have to be more careful,” she would insist.
Another time he came home from playing in the woods with a tear in his pants. Again he got a major reprimand. After he started school, his daddy would belittle him for every mistake on his schoolwork. Try as he might, Jonathan could not please his parents. So he grew up thinking he was no good because all his efforts were in vain.
Grandpa provided solace. Together they would often walk to their favorite spot on the hill behind the house, overlooking the lake. It was a beautiful spot, peaceful and serene. There they would sit together, sometimes in silence, sometimes talking. Grandpa said that that’s how he imagined paradise. He would tell him about God’s grace, and Jonathan would listen intently, forgetting the harsh words his parents were so free to dispense.
At bedtime grandpa would sit by his bed regaling him with stories about all his exploits when he was a young man. Not everything grandpa had done was good and grandpa was honest about it. He admitted his mistakes and expressed regret. But to little Jonathan grandpa remained a towering figure, a hero that he looked up to.
One day grandpa died. Jonathan was very sad, but his mommy and daddy told him that grandpa was now in heaven and that Jonathan should not cry since grandpa was happy. Jonathan tried to figure out how God’s grace could make his grandpa happy – was it something you had to do to earn it? Was it always there for everyone? If he were to die, how would he know that he too would receive God’s grace? He knew from the stories that not everything grandpa had done was good. Would that prevent him from going to heaven? These thoughts troubled him, but he was too afraid to ask his parents for an explanation.
He missed his grandpa, the one person he could talk to without fear of being criticized or reprimanded. He now had to keep his questions to himself. As he grew older he did his best to help with chores after school, preparing wood for kindling, feeding the chickens, or watering the vegetable garden. He didn’t mind doing this as that gave him a sense of competence and the feeling that he was helping his parents who worked hard.
One day when he had a lot of homework for a school project, he forgot to feed the chickens. He was still working on his project when his parents came home after dark.
They had put in a long day at the market where they went regularly to sell eggs and vegetables from their garden. He was so absorbed in his work that he didn’t even notice the clucking of the hungry chickens. But his parents did.
“What’s going on?” questioned his mama. “Why are the chickens making such a racket? Did you by any chance forget…” Jonathan remembered. Apologizing profusely, he quickly ran out to the chicken coop to give the hens their due. He expected the matter was now closed. Instead, when he walked back into the house, he was greeted with an angry outburst from his mother.
“Why can’t you carry out the few chores we ask you to do? All you can do is sit at your books. Don’t you know you need to help?" Then his father chimed in: “You’ll never amount to anything. You can’t even do simple tasks…”
Jonathan stopped listening. He ran out, tears welling up in his eyes. Without thinking he ran up the hill behind the house and didn’t stop until he reached the spot where he had so often sat with his grandpa. Boy did he miss his grandpa!
He sat there for a long time, confused, thoughts swirling in his head. He felt so worthless. He couldn’t even remember simple chores, he berated himself. Was his father right that he would never amount to anything? He would never be able to join his grandfather in heaven. Would he receive the grace of God like grandpa? Jonathan began to cry again when he heard the gentle voice of his grandfather:
“Don’t cry, Jonathan. You are alright. You don’t have to listen to everything they say.”
Jonathan turned around. There was his grandpa. Stunned, Jonathan stopped sobbing, while grandfather continued, “Don’t try to touch me. You know, I am really dead. But I just could not let you sit there all by yourself. I had to come and talk to you to help you set things straight. People often say mean things. That does not mean they are true. Nor do you have to believe everything people say. Your parents are not evil people. They are simple folk who say the first thing that comes into their head. They never learned to check their words. Of course they exaggerate, but that’s just an expression of their emotions. It doesn’t even mean that that’s what they really think.”
Jonathan was calm now and he felt that he could talk to his grandpa just as he had in the past.
“But what they said is true. I don’t always do my chores right. I make a lot of mistakes in my school work and...”
Grandfather interrupted him: “That does not make you a bad person. Only people who never do anything make no mistakes. Mistakes are one way we learn.”
“OK, then what about grace? If I make a lot of mistakes, how can I expect to go to heaven?”
“I think you got it backwards. Grace is always there. It’s there for everyone, the good, the bad, and those who make a lot of mistakes.”
“Alright," replied Jonathan, "then how come not everyone can go to heaven?”
“It’s very simple," said grandfather. "The key is to repent. If you make a mistake, big or small, and you repent, if you truly regret it, if you learn from it and resolve not to repeat the same mistake, and if you make amends whenever possible, then grace is yours. Grace will not force your hand. You have to turn toward it and the power to turn toward grace is in your own hands.”
“Is that why you were able to go to heaven in spite of all the mistakes you made?” Jonathan just assumed that his grandpa was in heaven. He couldn’t imagine that his beloved, kind grandpa could be anywhere else.
“Well, you might say so. I am still learning because I can now see more clearly all the mistakes I made. My problem is that it is now harder for me to make amends and to set things right. And that hurts. “
“Can I help?” Jonathan asked. He did not want his grandfather to hurt.
“The best thing you can do is learn from my mistakes and know that grace is yours for the asking. No amount of criticism can take that away from you if your heart is pure and your intentions good, A mistake is not the end of the world. Fix it if you can, or show kindness to someone else if you cannot, and heaven will be your reward.”
Jonathan felt much better. His parents’ harsh words had the power to make him feel small and worthless. But when he was with his grandfather, he felt like a giant.
“I must go now,” grandfather said.
“Please don’t. Can’t you stay longer? I’m so happy when I am with you.”
“No,” answered the old man. “You have to let me go. I have my own work to do. Just remember the lessons. Grace is yours for the asking. No one can take that away from you. All you need is to turn toward it.”
His voice was getting fainter. Jonathan saw his grandfather’s image disappear into thin air. But he still felt the warmth of his love and the peace that radiated from the old man. Quietly he walked back to the cottage, feeling strong and tall, as if he had grown two inches. He was confident that he would be able to let criticisms and put-downs roll off his back like so much water. He had a clearer understanding of who he was, of his effort to do the right thing and of his faith in his own future.
September 24, 2005
THE LITTLE SOUL
Once upon a time there was a little soul. It looked like a precious crystal, all clear and shiny. When touched with gentleness, it would reverberate with the most harmonious sound. It was pure and beautiful to look at. But it was fragile. When the light hit it in the right way it would sparkle and radiate light back. But should darkness cross its way, the little crystal would lose its glow and develop shadows inside. When it bumped against other souls that had a lot of shadows inside, it would get bruised. Sometimes the bruises would get so bad that they set off a veritable storm. Then the little soul had to repair its crystal. That always required much time and effort.
To protect itself the little soul avoided the shadows. It also tried to avoid contact with dull crystals because it was so easily bruised and the bruises hurt so much. The soul preferred to just sparkle and radiate light. From a distance it could see the dull crystals bumping into each other and bruising each other. But our little soul tried to keep its distance while watching from the sidelines.
There were other crystals around beside the dull ones. Some were much bigger and brighter. They seemed to be older and wiser than our little soul. One day our little soul, we shall call it Peter, found itself next to one of those big bright crystals. He had been watching the big crystal for a while. It never seemed to change color, and it never got chipped, even when one of the dull crystals bumped into it. Peter couldn’t refrain from asking, “How come you are so big and bright?”
The big one answered: “I’ve been around for a long time and I have learned a lot of things.”
Peter too wanted to be bigger and radiate more light. He had more questions. “You never seem to get dull, even when you pass through shadows, and you never seem to get chipped, even when you are bumped by the dull crystals. I don’t like to get bruised. I bruise easily. And it hurts too much when they bump into me or even when they cast their shadow on me. What can I do?”
A ray of light from the big crystal touched Peter. That felt good. “There are a few things you have yet to learn,” came the reply. Peter was puzzled. What could that be, he wondered, and what would he have to do to be always bright and shiny like the big crystal?
“The first thing is to get rid of your fear. The darker ones sense your fear. That’s why they like to bump into you. I can see that you already have the courage to look at them. The next step is to no longer fear them.”
“How can I do that,” asked Peter.
“Remember the light that radiates out from you? It is very powerful. See yourself in that light. Remember what a wise old soul said a long time ago: ‘the soul is pure.’ That’s true even for the dark crystals. If you keep reminding yourself of that, you won’t have those storms inside either. Just practice.” With that, the big old soul receded into the distance, leaving Peter alone with his thoughts.
As much as he would have liked to linger on what the big crystal had told him, Peter had certain tasks to do that meant he had to go back among all the crystals, both light and dark ones. He managed to remain focused on his radiating light. Sure enough, a darker crystal shot some shadows across Peter. But lo and behold, they did not penetrate. By holding on to his light the shadows were deflected. "This is great," thought Peter, "it’s easier than I thought." Nor could the darker crystals get close to him. It’s as if an invisible force kept them at bay. “Now I don’t have to be afraid of them any more. They can’t get to me," Peter thought cheerfully. For the first time Peter felt safe.
He did not always remember to hold the thought of the light. Then the shadows would come, the bruises, and even the storms. It took effort and constant vigilance. Gradually he got better at this game. At some point he realized that there were more and more bright, shiny crystals around him. They all reflected his light back to him. That felt very good. The dark ones were still there, but not near him.
When he met the big crystal again, he heard it say, "My, how you have grown! I can see that you have been practicing.” The little soul looked at itself and indeed, it had grown. It was now almost as big as its mentor, and just as radiant.
As the little soul continued to practice, more and more bright crystals could be seen around him. Among them Peter noticed one that seemed to be more playful than the others. We shall call her Elise. She would race around among the bright crystals, carefully avoiding the dark ones. Or she would do somersaults, or twirls and pirouettes while throwing off glistening rays in all directions. Sometimes her rays would catch his. Together they would create brightly colored rainbows.
“How come you are so adept at avoiding the dark crystals?” Peter asked.
“Oh," she replied, "I’ve been around them for a long time. I’ve learned how to avoid them. It took me a while to learn that. But now, when they come too close, I just leave. I don’t want to have anything to do with them.”
“You are lucky," replied Peter. "I can’t always do that. I have certain tasks that require me to be among them.”
“Yes, that makes it more difficult,” Elise agreed. Then she added, “Even though I stay away from them, I still don’t understand them. Why do we need them? Why can’t they all be bright and shiny and full of fun like the ones around you?”
“I don’t know," said Peter. "Some people say that the bright and the dark ones are all the same. They say that there is no duality, that it’s all one. How can that possibly be? I can’t see that. It makes no sense to me.”
His question left her perplexed. Both of them were pensive now. After a while Peter jumped up as if he had found the answer: “You know what? There is this big old soul. It’s helped me before. Maybe it has answers to our questions. Let’s see if we can find it.”
Elise agreed. Together they walked in silence in search of the big old soul. It wasn’t long before they found it. It was sitting there, surrounded by lots of smaller, but very bright crystals. As soon as they approached, the old soul greeted Peter:
“Nice to see you again! I see you brought a friend. My hunch is that you have more questions.”
Peter nodded. To his surprise the big crystal seemed to know what was on his mind.
“You want to know how the bright crystals and the dark ones can possibly be all one. Think of it this way. Everything is energy. The souls are sparks from the same divine vessel. They come from the same source. The sparks can use the energy for good or for evil. When they were released from the vessel, they were given the freedom to choose. Some chose to turn toward the light, while others chose to turn away from it. They use the energy that is available to them to create this darkness. But it is the same energy. Only the polarity is different.”
“But I am not one with those dark crystals. I have nothing in common with them. We can’t possibly be the same. I don’t want to have anything to do with them,” protested Peter.
“You are quite right,” replied the old soul with much gentleness. “You are not the same. Let’s try and look at it another way. With energy everything is vibration. You are not on the same wave length with the dark ones. You are poles apart. Just look around you at the bright crystals that you have attracted. You resonate with them as they resonate with you precisely because you are on the same wave length. Does this make sense to you?”
While Peter pondered the question, Elise broke in, “I understand that. What does not make sense to me is why they choose the darkness? It is painful to everyone, including themselves. Why would they choose to inflict pain, or to create more darkness?”
A gentle ray of light from the big crystal touched Elise. She felt its warmth. “It may be difficult for you to understand, but that’s what some souls need in order to learn and grow. Just look at yourself. Would you be where you are today if it were not for the pain you experienced in the past? ”
“That’s indeed a question I have often asked myself,” replied Elise with candor. “Without it I probably would have learned fewer lessons, but I would not have gone out of my way to hurt others.” After a pause Elise continued, "The darker souls don’t just hurt each other, they also hurt the rest of us. They are able to inflict massive blows on all of us.”
“That’s true," replied the big one. "That’s why your goal is to stay as far away from them as you can. Keep surrounding yourself with bright crystals, just as you are doing now. You have learned how to grow without hurting others. Not everyone has learned that. You can help the others, but don’t allow them to drag you down. Make sure you stay focused on the light, and be persistent.”
Just then Peter and Elise heard a lovely bird song. To them it seemed like a signal that it was time to leave. Although neither had fully digested the comments of the big, old soul, they somehow felt lighter. On the way back they played with their rays of light emulating each other to make bigger and better rainbows.