Many centuries ago, there was an Abbot who was head of a monastery in Northern Ireland. He was renowned for his compassion, insight, and great inner silence. As Abbot, his charge was to lead the monks of his monastery and teach them the spiritual life that had been passed down through the monastic communities. He was a teacher, and this is one lesson he taught.
One day, a novice came to the Abbot, greatly disheartened, and said, “Father Abbot, I have been praying with my prayer rope ever since I arrived here. I have been praying the Divine Hours every day. I seek God in all whom I see and in all of God’s creation around me, but I still do not know God. With all my heart, I want to know God, to truly experience God’s presence! What am I doing wrong?”
With a soft smile, the Abbot went to a shelf and pulled down a beautiful purple platter. It was polished smooth, and clearly reflected the room around it. Along with the platter, he took down a polished orb of pure white quartz. Walking over to the novice, he handed him the two items. “Hold up the orb in front of the platter and tell me what you see,” he instructed.
Holding the platter at arm’s length, the novice held up the orb in front of it. He peered into the reflection and said, “I see the quartz orb reflected in the platter, of course!”
“And what color is it?” asked the Abbot.
“Why, the orb I’m holding is white, but the reflection shows it to be purple.”
“Very good,” encouraged the Abbot. “Now, come back to me when you have learned how to make the reflection in the platter appear as white as the orb you are holding.”
Perplexed, the novice went away and wondered outside to set himself to the task the Abbot had given him. He held up the orb again, and sure enough, the reflection in the platter was purple, not white.
“Perhaps I need to shine light through it,” he thought. So he held up the platter with the sun to his back, and held up the orb so the sunlight would shine directly through it. While the reflection grew brighter, and washed out some of the color, it still was not complete white.
“Maybe I should try the opposite,” he thought. So he found a dark corner in the abbey and held up the orb to the platter. When he looked at the reflection, he saw that it was no longer purple. In fact, it was so dark, he couldn’t see a reflection at all!
For days he kept the platter and orb with him. Most of his fellow Brothers and Sisters threw him curious looks, but said nothing. “What a strange man this young novice is,” they thought. And still a few others looked at him with gentle, almost knowing smiles.
As the days drew on, he failed again and again to make the reflection appear white as the quartz. Finally, discouraged by the impossible puzzle the Abbot had given him, he wondered out towards the lake, sat down and started to cry. Tears of frustration ran down his cheeks and fell upon the platter. So angry with himself that he couldn’t figure out the meaning of the Abbot’s test, he cried more and more. Then he grew angry at the Abbot for giving him such a silly test, and he cried bitter tears of anger! Eventually he grew ashamed of himself that he couldn’t figure out what was surely an easy lesson, and he cried tears of disappointment. All the while, the tear run down his cheeks and splashed upon the platter.
At least, the tears began to run out, and he wiped his eyes on his sleeve. When he looked down, he saw that his tears had washed away some of the purple on the platter, and where his tears had fallen, there was shining silver underneath. The platter wasn’t purple at all but simply stained! With the back of his sleeve, he wiped away at the platter. Tears of joy streaming down his face and onto the platter, helping him wash away the purple haze. When he was done, he was holding a beautifully polished platter of pure silver with a mirror finish.
With slightly trembling hands, he held up the platter and the orb, and there in the reflection he saw the same pure white quartz that he was holding!
Quickly, he ran back to the Abbot and held up the shining platter and orb to show him the perfect reflection mirrored in the silver.
“Excellent!” cried the Abbot. “Now what have you learned?”
“Well, Father Abbot,” replied the novice, “the reflection and the orb were always the same thing. The only thing that made it different was the stain on the platter. At first I didn’t realize it was stained because it was so perfectly covered, but my tears started to wash it clean. Once I removed the purple stain, then the reflection was perfect. “
Then the novice paused, looking down at the platter. “Yes?” prompted the Abbot.
“Well,” said the novice, “what does this have to do with me knowing God?”
Gently, the Abbot took the orb and the platter and held them up. “You say the reflection and the orb were the same, yes? That it was only the stain on the platter that made it look different?”
The novice nodded.
“Then here is a secret for you to explore. God is like this beautiful white orb, and God is reflected throughout the entire world, and reflected in all of God’s creation. You, my little Brother, have the image of God reflecting in you. The image of God is already there in your heart! It is in each of us. The only reason we fail to see it is because we are all stained and only our tears can wash us clean. But when we do that, then we can see God clearly in us, seeing that we are the reflection of God in the world, and knowing that God and the reflection of God are really one in the same.”
Overjoyed with this good news, the novice hugged the Abbot before running out the door so he could find a quiet place and gaze lovingly at God and God’s reflection within him and all around him.