The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Once a great order, as a result of waves of antimonastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.
In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. "The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again " they would whisper to each other. As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.
The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. "I know how it is," he exclaimed. "The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore." So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. "It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years, "the abbot said, "but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?"
"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 abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, "Well what did the rabbi say?" "He couldn't help," the abbot answered. "We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving --it was something cryptic-- was that the Messiah is one of us. I don't know what he meant."
In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi's words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that's the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people's sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the rabbi didn't mean me. He couldn't possibly have meant me. I'm just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn't be that much for 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 among 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 it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.
Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi's gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.
(Author unknown) Found in M. Scott Peck's The Different drum and elsewhere
Once there was a king who received a gift of two magnificent falcons from Arabia. They were peregrine falcons, the most beautiful birds he had ever seen. He gave the precious birds to his head falconer to be trained.
Months passed and one day the head falconer informed the king that though one of the falcons was flying majestically, soaring high in the sky, the other bird had not moved from its branch since the day it had arrived.
The king summoned healers and sorcerers from all the land to tend to the falcon, but no one could make the bird fly. He presented the task to the member of his court, but the next day, the king saw through the palace window that the bird had still not moved from its perch. Having tried everything else, the king thought to himself, "May be I need someone more
familiar with the countryside to understand the nature of this problem." So he cried out to his court, "Go and get a farmer."
In the morning, the king was thrilled to see the falcon soaring high above the palace gardens. He said to his court, "Bring me the doer of this miracle."
The court quickly located the farmer, who came and stood before the king. The king asked him, "How did you make the falcon fly?"
With his head bowed, the farmer said to the king, " It was very easy, your highness. I simply cut the branch where the bird was sitting."
A little girl wanted to meet G!d. She knew it was a long trip to where G!d lived, so she packed her suitcase with chocolate chip cookies and a six pack of root beer and she started her journey.
When she had gone about three blocks from her home she saw an old woman, sitting in the park staring blankly, or so it seemed, as some pigeons. The girl sat down next to her and opened her suitcase.
She was about to take a drink from her root beer when she noticed that the old woman looked hungry, and the girl offered her a cookie. The old woman gratefully accepted it, and smiled at the girl. Her smile was so pleasant that the girl wanted to see it again, so she offered her a root beer. Again, the old woman smiled at her. The girl was delighted! And so it was, they sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, smiling and eating, never saying a word to each other.
As it grew dark, the girl realized how late it was and she got up to leave, but before she had gone more than a few steps, she turned around, ran back to the old woman, and gave her a big hug. In turn, the old woman gave the girl her biggest smile ever. Filled with the warmth of that smile the girl ran home, and a short time later opened the door to her house. Her mother welcomed her home, surprised by the look of joy on the girl's face. She asked, "What did you do today that made you so happy?" She replied, "I had lunch with G!d." And before the mother could respond, she added, "And you know what? She's got the most beautiful smile I've ever seen."
Meanwhile, the old woman, radiant with joy, returned to her home. Her son was stunned by the look of peace on her face and asked her, "Mom, what did you do today that made you so happy?" She replied, "I ate cookies in the park with G!d." And before her startled son could respond, she added, "And you know what, she's much younger than I expected."
One day, a countryman knocked hard on a monastery door. When the monk tending the gates opened up, he was given a magnificent bunch of grapes.
"Brother, these are the finest grapes my vineyard has produced. I’ve come to offer them as a gift."
"Thank you! I will take them to the Abbot immediately, he will be delighted with this offering."
"No", responded the countryman, "I brought them for you. For whenever I knock on the door, it is you opens it. When I needed help because my crop was destroyed by drought, you gave me a piece of bread and a cup of wine every day." The monk slightly bowed his head, and the countryman went on his way.
The monk held the cluster of grapes and spent the entire morning admiring it. In reflection, he decided to gift the grapes to the Abbot, for it was the Abbot who always encouraged him with words of wisdom.
The Abbot was very pleased with the grapes, and admired their beauty for some time, taking in the color and the shapes. He then recalled that there was a sick brother in the monastery, and thought, “I’ll give him the grapes. Who knows, they may bring him some joy and healing.” And that is what he did.
The sick monk was overjoyed, and thanked the Abbot for his generosity. He too was taken by the beauty of the grapes, and saw in them a magnificent work of art, with patterns of repeated themes and slightly variegated colors. He reflected: “The cook has looked after me for so long, feeding me only the best meals. I’m sure he will enjoy these.”
The cook was amazed at the beauty of the grapes. He carefully arranged them in a large platter alongside other fruit for the evening meal, and while admiring them, he realized, "These grapes are perfect, so perfect that no one would appreciate them more than the sexton." Many at the monastery considered him a holy man, a mystic, and he would best value this marvel of nature.
But the sexton, in turn, gave the grapes as a gift to the youngest novice, that he might understand that the work of G!d is in the smallest details of creation.
And when the novice received them, he quietly recalled the first time he came to the monastery, hoping to be among a community of people who knew how to value the wonders of life. He pictured the person who had opened the gates for him.
And so, just before nightfall, he took the grapes to the monk at the gate.
"Eat and enjoy them", he said. You spend most of your time alone here, these grapes are most deservedly yours.
The monk humbly bowed his head and accepted the grapes, as he understood that the gift had always been truly meant for him. He relished each of the grapes, before falling into a pleasant sleep.
Nuri Bey was a reflective and respected Albanian, who had married a wife much younger than himself. One evening when he had returned home earlier than usual, a faithful servant came to him and said:
"Your wife, is acting suspiciously. She is in her apartment with a huge chest, large enough to hold a man, which belonged to your grandmother. It should contain only a few ancient embroideries. I believe that there may now be much more in it. She will not allow me, your oldest retainer, to look inside."
Nuri went to his wife's room, and found her sitting disconsolately beside the massive wooden box. "Will you show me what is in the chest?" he asked.
"Because of the suspicion of a servant, or because you do not trust me?"
"Would it not be easier to just open it, without thinking about the undertones?" asked Nuri.
"I do not think it is possible."
"Is it locked?"
"Where is the key?"
She held it up, "Dismiss the servant and I will give it to you."
The servant was dismissed. The woman handed over the key and herself withdrew, obviously troubled in mind.
Nuri Bey thought for a long time. Then he called four gardeners from his estate. Together they carried the chest by night unopened to a distant part of the grounds and buried it.
The matter was never referred to again.
In a great oak forest where the trees grew tall and majestic, there was a little apple tree. It was the only apple tree in the forest and so it stood alone.
Winter came. As the snow fell to the forest floor, it covered the branches of the little apple tree.
The forest was quiet and peaceful.
One night the little apple tree looked up at the sky and saw a wonderful site. Between the branchesof all the trees, the little apple tree saw the stars in the sky, which appeared to be hanging on the branches of the oak trees.
"Oh God oh God," whispered a little apple tree, "how lucky those oak trees are to have such beautiful stars hanging on their branches. I want more than anything in the world to have stars of my branches, just like the oak trees have! Then I would feel truly special!
God looked down the little apple tree and said gently, "Have patience! Have patience little apple tree!"
Time passed. The snows melted and spring came to the land. Tiny white and pink apple blossoms appeared on the branches of the little apple tree. Birds came to rest on its branches. People walked by the little apple tree and admired it's beautiful blossoms.
All summer long, the apple tree continued to grow. The branches of the tree formed a canopy overhead as they filled with leaves and blossoms.
But night after night, the little apple tree looked up at the sky with the millions, and millions, and millions - and millions of stars and cried out, "Oh God, I want more than anything in the world to have stars in my tree and on my branches and in my leaves - just like those oak trees."
And God looked down at the little apple tree and said, "You already have gifts. Isn't it enough to have shade to offer people, and fragrant blossoms, and branches for birds to nest on so they can sing their song?"
The apple tree sighed and answered simply, "Dear God, I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but that is not special enough! I do appreciate how much pleasure I give to others, but what I really want more than anything in the world is to have stars, not blossoms, on my branches that I would feel truly special!"
God smiled and answered, "Be patient little apple tree."
The seasons changed again. Soon the apple tree was filled with many beautiful apples. People walked in the forest. Whoever saw the apple tree would reach up to pick an apple and eat it. And still, when night came to the forest, the apple tree look at the stars in the oak trees and called out, "Oh God, I want more than anything in the world to have stars in my branches! Then I would feel truly special."
And God asked, "But apple tree, isn't it enough that you now have such beautiful apples to offer people? Does that satisfy you? Does that give you enough pleasure and make you feel special?
Without saying a word, the apple tree answered by shaking its bracnches from side to side.
At that moment, God caused a wind to blow. The great oak trees began to sway and the apple tree began to shake. From the top of the apple tree an apple fell. When it hit the ground, it split open
"Look," commanded God, "look inside yourself. What do you see?"
The little apple tree looked down and saw that right in the middle of the apple - was a star. And the apple tree answered, "A star! I have a star!"
And God laughed a gentlelaugh and added, "So you do have stars on your branches. They've been there all along, you just didn't know it."
One day a poor man showed up at a local banquet. Everyone of means in the community had been invited, but this man, dressed in rags, had not. The banquet was already underway when the poor man entered and made his way into the grand home of one of the local merchants. The servants gazed upon the man with a look of reproof, not believing that someone dressed so shabbily would dare show up at such an event. They hastily escorted him to the farthest corner of the great room in which the banquet was being held. From that vantage point the poor man watched as great trays of food were passed around, none of which were offered to him.
And so it was that while everyone else ate and drank, the poor man sat, quietly taking in all of the proceedings.
After some time had passed the poor man got up from his seat and exited. He proceeded to borrow a beautiful set of finery - a proper set of clothes - and returned to the banquet, dressed much differently than he had before. The servants welcomed the well dressed man, and shaking his hand vigorously, invited him to take a seat at the head table where the owner of the house sat.
The poor man was immediately offered trays and platters overflowing with delicious food, as well as drink to match. Without hesitation the poor man stood up from his seat, grabbed a handful of food and began stuffing it into his clothes - first a turkey leg into his right pocket, then piles of potatoes into his arm sleeves, and finally apples and pears under his shirt - all the while yelling, “Eat coat, eat!”
The guests were aghast, and watched as the poor man continued on. The master of the house rose from his seat, and in a raised voice shouted, “Excuse me sir, what exactly are you doing?”
The poor man paused, turned to him, and replied, “Well sir, it was clear when I arrived earlier dressed in rags, that I was not welcome here. It was only when I returned dressed as I am now that food and drink were generously offered to me. What is clear is that it is not me that is welcome to this fine banquet, but rather my coat that is welcome. And so, should my coat not eat?”
There is a story about some jealous angels
who are asked to hide the spark of the Divine in the world.
"Let's put it atop the highest mountain," offers one.
"No," say another," the Human is very ambitious. He will find it there."
"Well then, let's bury it beneath the deepest sea."
"That won't work either," another chimes in. "The Human is very resourceful. She will even find it there."
After a moment's thought the wisest angel says, "I know. Put it inside the Human heart. They will never look there."
After many years of great poverty that had never shaken his faith in G!d, Rabbi Eizik dreamed that someone told him to look for a treasure in Prague, under the bridge that leads to the king's palace.
When the dream occurred a third time, Rabbi Eizik set out for Prague. But the bridge was guarded day and night and he did not dare start digging Nevertheless, he went to the bridge every morning and kept walking around it until evening.
Finally the guard, who had been watching him, asked in a kindly way whether he was looking for something or waiting for somebody. Rabbi Eizik told him if the dream that had brought him here from a faraway country.
The guard laughed: "And so because of a dream, you wore out your shoes to come here! As for having faith in dreams, if I had had it, I once had a dream that told me to go to Cracow and dig for treasure under the stove in the room of a Jew - Eizik, son of Yekel, that was the name! Eizik, son of Yekel! I can just imagine what it would be like, how I should have to try every house over there, where one half of the Jews are named Eizik and the other Yekel!"
As he laughed again. Rabbi Eizik excused himself, traveled home, dug up the treasure from under his own stove, and used the treasure to build the House of Prayer that is called "Reb Eizik Reb Yekel's Shul."
"Take this story to heart," added Buber, and make what it says your own. "There is something you cannot find out there in the world... there is a place within yourself where you can find it."
A troubled widower made his way to ask a wise old woman about his troubles.The old woman received him and they walked along a stream. She could see the pain in his face.
He began to tremble as he asked, "What's the point? Is there any meaning to life?"
She invited him to sit on a large stone near the stream. She took a long branch and swirled it in the water, then replied, "It all depends on what it means to you to be alive."
In his sorrow, the man dropped his shoulders and the old woman gave him the branch.
"Go on," she said, "touch the branch into the water." As he poked the branch in the running stream, there was something comforting about feeling the water in his hand through the branch. She touched his hand and said, "You see, that you can feel the water without putting your hand in the water, this is what meaning feels like."
The troubled man seemed puzzled.
She said, "Close your eyes and feel your wife now gone. That you can feel her in your heart without being able to touch her, this is how meaning saves us."
The widower began to cry. The old woman put her arm around him,
"No one knows how to live or how to die. We only know how to love and how to lose, and how to pick up branches of meaning along the way.
Online Cohort #12
with Mark & Renée
January 3 and 10
Registration and info here
Discover Yourself! #7
January 14 and 21
Registration and Info
Mark Novak is co-founder of The MultiFaith Storytelling Institute