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 young and headstrong novice came up to the Abbot, and pointedly told him, “Father Abbot, you should know about all the terrible ideas that some of the Brother and Sisters here believe and are teaching! I’ve made sure to correct them as often as I can, because they are teaching terrible and contradictory things about God! I wanted to tell you myself so you know just how dangerous their questions and behaviors are towards God.”
Taken aback, the Abbot asked, “What exactly are they saying? What exactly are they doing?”
Glad to see the Abbot’s concern, the zealous novice explained, “One Brother said that God was in everyone, not just those who believe correctly! I made sure to correct him on that since God would not want such accusations said about Him. One Sister said that God would accept everyone into heaven, and I know God wouldn’t want that, so I corrected her right away. And then!” he continued, “one Brother went so far as to smile and even laugh under his breath in the middle of prayers! I know how much this must disturb God, so I made sure to correct him right there on the spot!”
“You are indeed filled with such a great responsibility, my Brother,” the Abbot responded. “Because of your great zeal and purpose, I have a very important task for you.”
The novice puffed up his chest at this, glad that the Abbot understood how important his efforts were.
“I need you to go out along the road towards the lake,” the Abbot instructed, “and along the way, you will find a very large stone in the middle of the path. It is quiet massive, so I know you won’t miss it. It has been there for a very, very long time, and it’s important that it’s there for many years to come. So, I need you to guard and protect that stone. Brothers and Sisters have been walking over it as they go down the path instead of going around it, and their feet may hurt it. Also, the wind and rain could hurt it, so I need you to be sure to protect it from that as well. I’m sure you understand how important this is!”
“Absolutely, Father Abbot! I’ll be sure nothing happens to the rock!” And with that, he ran out the door to take on this very important commission.
When he came to the rock in the road that led down to the lake, he took up his post in the middle of the path, certain that he would protect the rock.
It was not long before a Brother came down the path on his way to the lake to catch fish for their evening meal. As he approached the rock to climb over, the novice jumped in his way, pushing him to the side, and insisting that he go around.
Annoyed, but not wanting to argue, the Brother went around the rock and met up with the path on the other side. Proud of what he had done, the young novice took up his post again in the middle of the path, ready to protect the rock.
Later in the afternoon, a group of Sisters came down the path to fetch water from the lake. Quickly, the novice jumped in front of them, and insisted that they go around. One he was able to push to the side, but the others ignored him, skirting around him, and started climbing the rock. Leaving the first Sister that he had corralled away, he leapt up on the rock to push the others away. He managed to shove on Sister off, who stumbled and fell, but the others still managed to get around him and walk down to the path on the other side. The Sisters, regrouped on the path, continued on down to the lake, glancing back with disapproving glares at the headstrong novice.
Though he had gotten some of the Sisters off the rock, he was discouraged that some still got by him. He was even more discouraged that he had to walk on the rock himself to try and corral them away! Determined to do a better job, he planted himself back in the middle of the path, ready to guard the rock from the next onslaught.
As the afternoon wore on, the sky began to grow dark with clouds and brought with them a strong easterly wind. Remembering his Abbot’s admonition to guard the rock, he placed his body squarely between the rock and wind and spread his arms to intercept the wind. He quickly realized that his body wasn’t big enough to ward off the wind, but before he could solve this problem he felt a drop of rain on his bare cheek. Within moments, a torrential rain was drenching him through his habit. He frantically tried to protect the rock from the drops of rain, covering it with his body, then darting around waving his arms in the hopes of catching all the drops with his hands.
It was not long before he was completely exhausted and slumped down in front of the rock, resting his back against it. As he sat there panting for breath, he fell from frustration into despair. He had failed his important task! The more he thought about it, however, the more he became upset with the Abbot for giving him what was surely an impossible and even useless task!
Leaving the rock to fend for itself in the middle of the road, he trudged off in sodden sandals to find the Abbot. He found him soon enough, warm and dry in his cell.
“Father Abbot! Why did you assign to me such an impossible and useless task? Surely you knew that there was no way I could protect the rock from all the Brothers and Sisters, and surely not from the wind and rain! And why protect a rock that has withstood such an onslaught for so long already?”
The Abbot held up a hand to calm the novice and simply replied, “If you see that protecting the rock is impossible and that it in fact does not even need you to protect it, then why do you spend the same amount of time and energy protecting God Almighty?”
In that moment, the novice saw how he had diminished God and even separated himself from his Brothers in Sisters. It is said that thereafter, he gained a remarkable reputation for listening to others’ diverse thoughts on the Divine and whispering, as though to himself, “That and so much more.”