To my readers: I have been away from this and other blogs since the beginning of December as I moved and prepared for Christmas. On the other side of Christmas I find myself in a new living space with a brand new writing area. With this post I am glad to return to the Patheos world. In keeping with my recent book Towards a Theopoetic of the Cross (Progressive Christian Alliance Press, now on Amazon.com) the following is a theopoetic exploration using story and narrative to explore a theologic.
Once Upon a Time…
Well, that is not entirely true, it was more like last Wednesday so that a proper start to this story would be more along the lines of ‘Once Upon Last Wednesday around three in the afternoon’. Trouble is that stories that start that way very rarely, if ever, say anything deep or interesting or amazing.
Usually my mother will start storys like this and she will say: ‘One upon last Wednesday around three in the afternoon I made myself a cup of tea’.
Which is fantastic, in its own way, but never makes a great story. So please remember that by starting with Once Upon a Time I am making reference to Wednesday, but please don’t dwell on that fact too much.
So to begin –
Once Upon A Time…
It was about three in the afternoon and Brother Boa, a happy monk who lived in a crooked house on a big hill that was often visited by drafts and birds and one lonely wolf who liked to come and sing with the little monk during his evening prayers, was beginning to prepare his evening meal of bread and wine.
Brother Boa was happy and was known all over the country-side for his lovely singing voice and the way in which he could dance a jig and his deep love for sitting next to a still pond for hours on end in order to write one perfect poem. But on this particular day he was feeling a bit sad and people throughout the countryside remarked on it.
“I have not seen him dance a jig in almost three weeks” Papa Mac said to his wife just the previous evening.
“I have not seen him whistle a happy song” Mama Mac replied.
“I have not seen him write a poem by a still pond,” Little Susan Mac offered.
Brother Boa knew of none of these conversations and if he did he would have nodded in agreement and then shuffled off to his daily tasks of making wine and bread and prayers in the little green chapel at the back of his property.
For instance, on this day which was Once Upon A Time but was actually on Wensdesday Brother Boa made some bread and poured a mug of wine and went into the chapel to say his prayers. To begin he lit some candles and washed his hands and pulled out the great book of Old and Ancient Prayers.
Brother Boa sighed! There were words and prayers he knew so well and which had sustained him for so long but which no longer had any meaning of substance for him. After a long hard time of trying to feel spiritual and deep he gave up and turned his attention to his bread and wine.
He didn’t really know what the problem was and more than anything that was what bothered him. He had dedicated himself to Spirit and the mystery and wonder of life so many years ago and for so long it had carried him along. But now it just felt – empty.
He had no more prayers, he knew that much, so instead he posed a question to his meal and whatever Spirit might be listening: “I want to know where God is! I want to find Spirit!”
Brother Boa was surprised by the question, though on reflection he realized he had been asking himself the question for a long time. He was even surprised he heard, in his heart and mind, clear as day in a way that was big and awesome and small and still all at the same time, a voice say, “I am on the mountain!”
Monks, even doubting monks, know that when you hear a voice that is clear as day in a way that is big and awesome and small and still you do not hesitate, you go! So, packing some bread and some wine and a clean cloak he untied his horse and road down the hill where his crooked house and green chapel sat and rode towards the great range of Blue Mountains.
Brother Boa rode for three days, stopping for no one and nothing. On his first day he rode past the Mac family and waved to them as they shouted their hellos. On the second day he rode past the ocean and gave it barely a glance as the waves lapped gently on the shore. And on the third day he rode past the city and gave no attention to the great markets and theaters and artworks as he headed towards the Blue Mountains.
On the evening of the third day he came to the Blue Mountains and tied his horse to a large and spidery tree. For the first hour he climbed hand over hand up the rocky side of the Blue Mountain. For the second hour he found a goat path the led up the side and in the third hour he found a large clearing on top of the mountain where one large bush sat which, had it not been winter, would have been full, and lush and green. As it was winter it was grey and brittle and sad looking.
Brother Boa sat with his bread and poured a mug of wine and waited for God to show up. He assumed that he was just out for a walk or had popped down to answer some prayers. From the top of the Blue Mountain Brother Boa could see the ocean and the city and the Mac family in their garden and even his little crooked house and green chapel.
“Now” he thought “I have found where God dwells, I will not have to return to my crooked house and the green chapel, or visit with the Mac family or cross the ocean or go to the city.”
And with that thought Brother Boa sat for three days and drank wine and ate bread and waited for God to show up. On the third day he got fed up and screamed at the fragile bush, which would be beautiful in summer but was ugly now. This is what he screamed:
“Where is God? Is he out? Did he not know I was coming? He did call me here after all!”
And at that moment Brother Boa heard the big and awesome and small and still voice of God.
This is what the voice said:
“I am in the ocean!”
So Brother Boa packed his bread and finished the last drop of his wine and left the clearing on top of Blue Mountain as, it seemed, God had moved house and forgotten to leave a forwarding address. And we went down the side of the mountain along the goat path and then climbed down the rocks hand-over-hand. His loyal horse was waiting where he had left him, nibbling at the grass softly.
So Brother Boa rode for a day along the dirt road he had taken a few days before until he came to the ocean. When he arrived he met a kindly old fisherman who had decided, just that day, to retire from the fishing trade and take some time to travel by horseback. So it came to be that Brother Boa and the old man made a trade – Brother Boa’s horse for the old mans old fishing boat.
And so Brother Boa set out to sea. For the first day Brother Boa followed the winds, but God did not show up. On the second day Brother Boa steered towards some islands and still God did not show up. On the third day the city came into view and Brother Boa decided to eat some bread and drink some wine.
Here is what Brother Boa was thinking on that day: “I hope God shows up soon. As I have found where he lives I will not have to return to the Mountain or the city or the Mac family or my crooked house and the green chapel.” And as he thought this and felt a warmth and delight spread through his chest a big and awesome and small and still voice came to him.
This is what the voice said:
“I am in the city”
So Brother Boa finished his bread and drank the last drop of his wine and turned his boat to head towards the great city. When he finally washed up on shore he met a man who had been walking for many days and was hoping to travel by boat so Brother Boa traded the boat for the man’s walking stick and with that headed into the city.
On his first day Brother Boa went to see a play. It had many songs and allot of dancing and it left the little monk feeling happy and bright and wonderful. On the second day the little monk went to the market and saw many wonderful things and ate many great foods and saw a show of beautiful paintings, two of which he purchased. On Brother Boa’s third day in the city he walked among its tall buildings and marveled at all the business people and artists and families.
Brother Boa was overwhelmed by it all and took out his bread and wine. Here, he was sure, was where God would show up. How could God not like plays and markets and tall buildings and all the wonderful buildings? If this is where God was then he had no need for the mountain or the ocean or the Mac family or his crooked house and the green chapel. And as he thought this a big and awesome and small and still voice came to him.
This is what the voice said:
“I am in your friends, the Mac family!”
So Brother Boa finished his bread and drank the last drop of his wine and began walking back towards the countryside. As he left the city he could see the great and majestic Blue Mountain and wondered if the bush on its top was alive with flowers yet. And as he walked past the ocean he wondered how the winds were holding up. And as he walked all these thoughts angered him for the voice of God had called him to these places and yet God had not bothered to show up. So it was with a heavy heart that he arrived at the door of his friends the Mac family.
On his first day with the Mac family he helped Papa Mac in his shop selling bowls and pitchers and carved wooden eating utensils. On the second day he helped Mama Mac in the garden as she taught local school children how to grow and eat your own food. On the third day Brother Boa helped Little Susan Mac with her homework.
On the evening of the third day Brother Boa took his bread and wine and sat under a great tree and thought to himself that here, among these good people he would finally meet the God who had called him. If God was not in the shop or garden or the smile of a young girl about her studies, then where else could he be?
And as he thought this a big and awesome and small and still voice came to him.
This is what the voice said:
“I am in your crooked house and green chapel!”
So Brother Boa packed his belongings and went for a walk that led him up the large hill to his crooked house. For three days ago he waited for God to show up. On the first day he opened all the windows so he could see the Blue Mountain. On the second day he stood in his door so he could smell the breeze coming off the ocean. On the third day he put up the paintings he had brought with him from the city and that evening his friends, the Mac family came to visit him.
“But” he said as they arrived for dinner “I have no bread and I have no wine. How will we feast?”
As Brother Boa and his friends made bread and pulled up bottles of wine from under the green chapel he thought to himself: surely this must be where God is, in a home with mountain views, ocean breezes, art from the city and friends over for dinner.
But this is what the voice said:
“Do you not understand? I am in all of these places and all these relationships! I am the earth but the earth is not I. All of creation is my body and the world teems with me! You cannot go anywhere where I am not. I am with you always. And I love you and I call you!”
Brother Boa was amazed at this and with new eyes he saw all of creation, all of the world and all of his relationships. For three days he sang the praises of God the creator and the creation of God, which is God’s body. On the first day he danced a jig in the fields around his house. On the second day he sang all the old songs, all the holy songs and with every new experience he had made up a new song. On the third day he sat in his kitchen and wrote poems, and he sat under trees and by lakes and rivers to write poems. Some were good and some were bad and some made him groan, but there was nothing else to be done to sing the praises of God the creator and the creation that was his body.
And on the third day Brother Boa went to the green chapel and lit candles and said many prayers and said many Ancient and Holy prayers and also many new prayers and he sat in silence for awhile and sang loudly for awhile and in all, knew that life was good and the earth was good and he was good.
All of this, of course, was Once Upon a Time, which was last Wednesday. Brother Boa has learned many other wonderful things since then. He has learned all about long walks and hard work. He has learned that the ordinary things of life are the most holy and important. And he has learned to listen the voice that calls him and he knows that the great adventure is worth the journey.