by Era Buck
At the small church conference recently, I was reminded that good stories contain many truths and that because we are different at different times and because each teller brings their own perspective to the story by opening ourselves to each moment's experience the stories can speak to us in different ways at different times. In that spirit, I offer this morning a story some of you have heard before. The title of the story is The Rabbi's Gift and it is from the Chassidic tradition and this version is from a book edited by Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield.
This story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Once a great order, as a result of antimonastic persecution in the 17th and 18th centuries and the rise of secularism in the 19th , all its branches were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only 5 monks left ñ the abbot and 4 others all over the age of seventy. 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 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 retreat.
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 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. The they read parts of the Torah and spoke quietly of deep things.
The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other.
It has been wonderful that we should meet after all these years said the abbot, but I have 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?î
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 the 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 get crotchety at times. But come to think of it even though he is a thorn in people's sides, when you look back at 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? Oh 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 this aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the 5 old monks and radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. Hardly knowing why, people began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play and 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. The 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.
Messiah literally means anointed one and in most general terms mean someone who has been chosen by God for some special work.
Some Jewish traditions teach that in every generation, a person is born with the potential to be the messiah. If the time is right for the messianic age within that person's lifetime, then that person will be the messiah .
I believe that each of us has the potential to connect to the divine and become a messiah. I see most theological concepts as metaphors, some more useful than others. I am likely to mix my metaphors as I talk because I give many of them equal value and find them useful in attempting to articulate what is primarily experiential.
Whatever, our theological positions, I think there is great value in looking for the messiah. There need not be any expectation of finding .As the reading this morning suggested we need only to be open to the possibility that we can connect to the higher self, some might say the Christ consciousness in other people and in ourselves.
We all experience in various ways at times the sense of wonder at the miracle of the universe. It may result from the beauty of nature, the experience of unconditional love, looking into an infants eyes and having them look back, or a myriad of other things that affirm for us that we are connected to something beyond our usual conscious self. Whatever it is that connects us, some call it God or Goddess, some the collective consciousness, some our common human spirit we can look for that in each other and in ourselves.
Considering the potential for divine connection in others, changes our expectations of them. It changes our actions toward them. It changes us and possibly them.
As Unitarian Universalists we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person and seek justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Looking for the messiah, the representative or connection to the divine, seems like a useful strategy for living those principles.
If we consider the possibility of relating to the divinity in the person in line next to us at the coffee pot, what would we do differently?
Maybe put aside our own agenda for a moment and really listen with our heart as well as our ears. Maybe give their ideas equal weight with our own. Maybe consider that we are all working together to make this universe the kind of place we want it to be. ñ a place full of love and truth and beauty.
If we consider our own potential for being in touch with the divine or our best self if you prefer, how does that change our behavior at the snack table. How would an enlightened me behave here today. What can we do in our life to spend more time in that holy space that dwells in each of us? (spiritual practice, reading, therapy)
If I'm an emissary for the goddess, what do I need to do to prepare myself and be open to the work I need to do? Does it matter how I spend my time? What I eat? Who I hang out with?
(One of the answers that comes to me is that I would practice more kindness towards others and towards myself. I suspect we each have both unique and common responses to these considerations. We are each on our own path toward enlightenment)
I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light and of peace. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me. We are One. As we look for the messiah in each other and in ourselves, we bring the oneness into this reality and we are transformed by it one moment at a time.
Closing Words; Albert Einstein once said, There are two ways to live your life. One is a though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. Let us go forth and celebrate the miracle.