Saturday, September 11, 2010

Learning to Pray

A man woke up in a cave high in the mountains with a bruised head and no memory. “How did I get here?” he wondered. “And who am I?” He looked at his clothing and saw the rough robe of a monk. He looked around and saw copies of holy books. “I must be a monk,” he concluded.

So he tried to pray. But he did not know how to pray. He asked God to remind him how to pray, but there was no answer from heaven. “The Lord must be busy. I will wait for an answer.”  So he waited and waited, but still no answer came.

“Perhaps I am not worthy enough for God to answer my prayer. I will practice mortifications to purify my body and mind.” So he fasted until he was little more than skin and bones. But still there was no answer. “Perhaps I need to perform acts of charity to be worthy of God’s attention.”

So he descended the mountain and entered a nearby village. He tended the sick and cared for the homeless. He read to them out of the holy books. In return the people of the village fed him. But still he was unable to pray.

In time he returned to his cave disillusioned that he still had not learned to pray. But by now the townspeople had come to respect him as a holy man. They brought him gifts of food and new robes. In return he would read to them from the holy books. In time he knew the books so well he could recite them by heart.

Years passed and the reputation of the monk grew. Kings and philosophers sought his presence. Holy men came to hear his wisdom. But in his heart the man knew that he was an imposter, unworthy of this respect. He did not even know how to pray!

One day an old man came to the cave. “I have come to confess my sins, Abba,” he said.“Many years ago I came to this cave. I was cold and hungry, and the young monk who lived here showed me hospitality. I stayed with him many days. He came to trust me and showed me the treasure hidden deep in the recesses of this cave. I rewarded him by beating him, taking the riches, and leaving him for dead.”

The old monk looked deeply into the eyes of the visitor. “I am that monk,” he replied. “Only now have I remembered those events.”

“Can you forgive me?” asked the old man. “Of course,” replied the monk. “When you left me for dead, you took my identity as well as the riches of this cave. I was a very self-righteous man, proud of my religious knowledge and my holiness. By taking my memory, you gave me my life. It was the kindest thing you could have done. Thank you.” Then the monk began to pray.
Painting is Monk Reading by Rembrandt

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