Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Once there was a tree and she loved a little boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And they would play hide and go seek. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree…
Very much…
And the tree was happy…

But time went by, and the boy grew older. And the tree was often alone. Then one day the boy came to the tree and the tree said: “Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy.”
“I am too big to climb and play,” said the boy. “I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money. Can you give me some money?”
“I’m sorry” said the tree,” but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. But, take my apples, Boy, and sell them in city. Then you will have money and you’ll be happy”
And so the boy climb up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away. And the tree was happy…

But the boy stayed away for a long time…and the tree was sad. And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy, and she said: “Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and be happy.”
“I am too busy to climb trees,” said the boy. “I want a house to keep me warm,” he said. “I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?”
“I have no house” said the tree. The forest is my house. but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy”
And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house.
And the tree was happy…

But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak. “Come, Boy” she whispered, “Come and play”
“I am too old and sad to play,” said the boy. “I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?”
“Cut down my trunk and make a boat,” said the tree. “Then you can sail away…and be happy.”
And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away.
And the tree was happy…
But not really.

And after a long time the boy came back again. “I am sorry, Boy,” said the tree, “but I have nothing left to give you — my apples are gone.”
“My teeth are too weak for apples,” said the boy.
“My branches are gone,” said the tree. “You cannot swing on them.”
“I am too old to swing on branches” said the boy.
“My trunk is gone,” said the tree. “You cannot climb”
“I am too tired to climb,” said the boy.
“I am sorry” sighed the tree. “I wish that I could give you something…but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump. I am sorry…”
“I don’t need very much now,” said the boy, “just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired”
“Well,” said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, “well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down, sit down and rest.”
And the boy did…
And the tree was happy…

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Furious Longing of God

"The apostle Paul may have understood the mind of Jesus better than anyone else who ever lived. He sums up his whole understanding of the message of Jesus in Gal. 5:6 when he writes, 'The only thing that matters is the faith that expresses itself in love' . . .

. . . Back in the late ‘70s, I was living in a monastery in Philadelphia. Some millionaire friends from New York City called and asked if I’d like to come up to the city for the week, go to a play on Broadway, eat at Sardi’s. This, dear reader, was not a hard decision to make.

One evening we went to a play and, after the first act, we went out in the street for intermission. The tuxedoed husbands got into a dense discussion with their bejeweled, evening-gowned wives on the influence of the German philosopher Schopenhauer on Samuel Beckett’s “Theatre of the Absurd.” Obviously they asked me what I thought.

I was about to deliver an observation so profound that it would render the discussion moot for eternity, when she walked by. She was not one of the beautiful people. She wore a cab driver’s cap, double-breasted man’s suit with the pockets ripped out, holes in her nylons, and tennis shoes.

As she approached, I noticed she was peddling “Variety” newspapers, the show biz paper. In those days it cost 75 cents. So, in a gesture of great generosity, I reached in my pocket, handed her a dollar, and waved her away, then returned to my wealthy friends awaiting my next astute observation on the absurd.

And then she said, “Father?” In those days, I knew I couldn’t distinguish myself by my virtues, so I distinguished myself by my clothing; I always wore the collar. “Father, could I talk to you a minute?”

I snapped, “What? Can’t you see I’m busy? Do you make a habit of interrupting people in the middle of a conversation? Wait over there and I’ll speak to you when I’m done.” She whispered, “Jesus wouldn’t talk to Mary Magdalene like that.” And then she was gone.

I’d treated the woman as though she were a thing, like a vending machine you put your money into, and out comes your choice. I’d shown no appreciation at all for the little service that she was performing. No interest whatsoever in the little drama of her daily things. Not one ounce of cordial love impregnated with respect for the sacred dimension of her personality.

Frankly, I was so caught up in trying to impress my millionaire friends with how aesthetically brilliant I was that I missed her. If she had even a sliver of a negative self-image when she approached me, I had made a mountain out of a molehill.

Now let’s suppose, just suppose, that this woman came to church on Sunday and there was Brennan Manning, in the pulpit, exhorting her to believe that God loves her unconditionally as she is and not as she should be. My hypocrisy outside the Shepherd Theatre that night made the theatre of the absurd look inviting.

How could she believe in the love of a God she can’t see, when she couldn’t find even a trace of love in the eyes of a brother wearing a clerical collar whom she could see? A shriveled humanity has a shrunken capacity for receiving the rays of God’s love.

And they’ll know we are Christian by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Or not. "

From Brennan Manning’s latest book, The Furious Longing of God.