A beggar sits on a box, just outside the gates of a city. The beggar cannot work and subsists on the charity of passersby. On this day, the beggar receives no handouts. Finally, one person stops, but to the disquiet of the beggar the stranger says that he has nothing to give.
Instead, the stranger asks, “What is that you are sitting on?”
“As you can plainly see,” the beggar replies. “It is just an old box. I found it years ago, and have been sitting on it ever since.”
“Have you ever looked inside?” the stranger asks.
“No,” the beggar replies.
Opening the box, the stranger and the beggar find that the “old box” is, in fact, filled with gold coins, a treasure chest with enough gold for the beggar to live out his remaining days with all of his needs satisfied.
When we expect something (or someone) from outside of us, to change us, fix us, or transform us, we will wait, and we will wait, stewing in our discontent, unable to see the power that is within us.
This is a story about that “treasure chest,” and the narrative or script which determines our choices, and the story to which we tether our well-being.
Just an old box, you say? Was the gold a surprise for the beggar? Perhaps. Although we don’t really know what the beggar did after he realized he was a “rich beggar”. The story doesn’t say. Hopefully he said something more creative than most lottery winners, who all read (or so it seems) from the same mandatory and uninspired script, “I plan to quit my job, buy a new car (or boat), travel, and build a new house for my mom.”
There is a version of the “box story” in the Gospels. The followers of Jesus expected a Messiah who was eager to kick-a-little-backside and take names later. You know, Messiah as Clint Eastwood, bringing in a kingdom of force and fire, from outside of their world.
That’s when Jesus throws them a curve. Jesus asks, “Have you ever looked inside? The kingdom of heaven is within.”
This “beggar on the box” is a very old story. With a very old truth: life is lived from the inside-out. Which begs the question; why do I keep sitting on the box?
Of what am I afraid? Is it ego? Public opinion? Comfort? Or all the above?
Here’s what I do know; when I live lulled or numbed, consumption, self-interest, and control replace wonder, awe, and surprise. And I lose track of my heart.
So. Let’s look in the box, shall we?
“Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.”
Marianne Williamson (Our Deepest Fear)
When I live from the narrative of scarcity (sitting on the box), I see only what is absent or missing, always on the lookout (sometimes desperate) for something to fill the perceived void. And my anxiety is no surprise; straining and yearning for what is about to arrive and rescue me. Or worrying about what I missed yesterday. Or obsessing about what I still need to acquire to impress some panel of (unseen and unknown) judges. After all, what will they think? And I am unable to look inside, to open the box of treasures upon which I am sitting.
Scotoma is selective blindness. I see only what I want to see. I look past this dusty box (of myself and this present moment and the kingdom of heaven within), because I anticipate that there is an answer or solution that lies beyond where I am now, and will come from something other than what I bring with me today. So, I give all my energy to pursuing, chasing, (and even) praying for a life that is elsewhere and otherwise.
Today. Let’s look in the box, shall we?
Yes, this moment may be imperfect (even tired or broken), but it is still the home for the holy and the sacred where beauty is alive and well.
Let’s remember that sufficiency is not a cognitive switch or a quantity you collect. It’s about what spills from our heart in the choices you make, now from a place of freedom and integrity. Think of this; when we draw on this sufficiency, we notice wonder and awe. We make space for compassion, self-forgiveness, empathy, inclusion. We see that there is more than just fault lines. From a place of freedom, integrity and generosity, we can celebrate. Give. Share.
Once asked by an interviewer what he believed to be his greatest gift, Rabbi Abraham Heschel replied, “My ability to be surprised.” He got that right.
In his book God in Search of Man, Rabbi Heschel expands the thought, “The root of religion is the question of what to do with the feeling for the mystery of living, what to do with awe, wonder and amazement.”
In other words, if there are no unsacred moments, if the reality of God’s presence infuses every moment, how do we begin to embrace that treasure?
Speaking of awe and wonder, tonight I walk the beach at Wailua Bay, Kauai. The first day of my vacation. It is stormy here, the waves and wind doing a perfect Tchaikovsky.
Are we still stuffed from Thanksgiving leftovers? Not trampled by Black Friday I hope. Although I watched the Michigan – Ohio State game, which looked like a trampling.
Advent season is here. Our season for waiting. Specifically the invitation to make space. Perhaps for treasures we have not yet seen.
As to my gratitude inventory, I can tell you that my list includes you. The readers of Sabbath Moment keep my hope alive, my spirit replenished.
Quote for your week…
I once spoke to my friend, an old squirrel, about the Sacraments–he got so excited and ran into a hollow in his tree and came back holding some acorns, an owl feather, and a ribbon he had found. And I just smiled and said, “Yes, dear, you understand: everything imparts His grace.” St. Francis of Assisi
1—My new book This Is The Life, is available. Pass the word.
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Today’s photo credit — Camino de Santiago, Galacia Spain… Jen Boyce… Thank you Jen… keep sending your photos… send to firstname.lastname@example.org
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Terry, Be whole, not broken for the many friends and associates and readers, like me, who cherish your wisdom and insights and motivating presence, in print and in person. Jay
–Hi, Terry, Here is a piece of music that I have found so powerful in holding a space of love and compassion for pain. It is a Romanian Orthodox hymn, and this particular setting is by three women in Minneapolis whose spirits shine through their harmonies. I imagine it won’t speak to everyone. I am not Christian, but the words speak to me deeply in metaphor. They are: Under a weeping willow the holy mother prayed, and in a soft voice to the willow she spoke: “If you could know my pain, and had heart to soothe me, you would give me your branches.” Then the high willow bowed its head and dropped its branches, and the mother gathered them and wove a crown with no thorns. I so hope that this music is a resource for you, to hold compassionate, tender, hopeful space for your mourning. Pam
–Thank you, Terry. I’ve been journaling about what replenishes and nurtures my soul these shortening days. A blessed Thanksgiving to you. Jo
–Terry, Thank you for Sabbath Moment. It helps me start my week. Kathy
–Dearest Terry, Thank you for being who God made you to be. Every Monday you bring joy, love, peace and hope into the world. I always think of you as my Frog and Toad Friend, who encourages everyone to color, and to imitate Mr. Rogers in showing kindness. Virginia
–Thank you Terry. Now I am in tears. I have been going through a dark time of the soul and feeling lost. The other day I dropped off 6 pairs of warm winter socks at our local homeless shelter. I was feeling sad and down but decided to do something for others. The knock on the door of the shelter was answered by a woman who greeted me with arms wide and huge smile. She was so happy to have those socks to give to the women at the shelter. She wrapped me in a huge hug as we said goodbye. By the time I got to my car I was weeping. This angel of joy was a women so damaged by fire that her face looked like melted wax, her hands were without fingers, and her eyes radiated love and compassion for me. That woman and you have broken my heart open. Thank you.
–This reflection was amazing. I have read it three times. Thank you. Rough week this week and your words moved me to tears. Happy American Thanksgiving. J
POEMS AND PRAYERS
If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Thomas Merton
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God,
Wellspring of all that is.
You are the sea on which we float,
You are the wind that fills our sails,
You are the storm that buffets us,
You are the calm that brings us peace.
Open our ears to hear Your word,
Open our eyes to see Your beauty,
Open our hearts to be warmed by Your love.
Free us from our lonely prisons of fear and selfishness,
And make us over, day by day, into bearers of Your peace.