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.
Sometime after teaching one of his novices how to be still in his heart while remaining active in the world, the same novice came to him with another problem. While he was sure that he was excelling as a monk, having understood his Abbot’s previous lesson, he was discouraged by those around him in the monastery. They were far cries from what he knew monks should be! So he approached the Abbot and explained the situation. The Abbot could plainly see the novice’s sincere distress. After describing the many short comings of his brothers and sisters in the monastery, he asked the Abbot, “Father, what can I do to change them and make them see how they should be better monks as I know they should be?”
After a moment of thoughtful prayer and consideration, the old Abbot rose and gestured for the novice to follow. He led him down to the same river as before that ran near the cloister. The novice was reluctant to approach the river bank, remembering the Abbot’s previous lesson, but when the Abbot kept walking down the river, he quickly followed. Eventually they came to a pool in the middle of the river where the monks in previous generations had dredged the soil and lined the shore with rocks so they would have a place to soak and bathe. As the Abbot knelt down at the pool’s edge, he called over his shoulder to the novice, “Come here and see my son.”
The novice looked down to the water where the Abbot had indicated and saw only their reflections in the still waters. “Now watch the water carefully,” the Abbot said. And the novice knelt closer so that all he saw was the Abbot’s clear reflection on the water’s surface.
Suddenly, the reflection of the Abbot began to glow. A radiant light shone around the reflection and the novice was amazed by the sight! After a moment, the Abbot rocked back on his knees and the reflection disappeared from the water.
The novice looked up at his Abbot but before he could voice his marvel at the sight, the Abbot said to him, “Learn to do that with your reflection, and then we can discuss what needs to be done about the other monks in our monastery.” With that, the Abbot rose and left the young novice kneeling by the water.
For the rest of the afternoon and for days thereafter, the novice sat by the water and intently stared at his reflection, trying to make it shine as he had seen with the Abbot’s. At first he thought it was a trick of the light, so he changed his view point from side to side, trying to make the sunlight reflect off the water around his own reflection. While it would sometimes look similar in appearance, if he squinted his eyes, he knew it wasn’t the same.
Next, he thought that perhaps the Abbot had previously hidden a reflective glass or stone under the water where his reflection fell. He scoured the shore and water’s edge, but could find no such stone.
Perhaps he had been distracted and hadn’t seen the Abbot manipulate the water, he thought. So next he tried to splash the water and throw small pebbles at it to send ripples across the surface to affect the radiance he had seen. This, however, only proved to distort his reflection and break it apart.
For days, he sat by the shore, staring at his reflection, directing his thoughts at it and trying to make it glow with sheer force of will. No matter how much he stared at it, or how much he prayed for God to make the reflection glow, it simply stared back at him on the water’s calm surface.
Finally, consumed with his frustration, he sat back and decided to center himself in silence to take a much needed break from the problem. As he closed his eyes, he stilled his mind and moved into his heart. There inside, he sat with the Presence of God and allowed himself to enjoy the Love that consumed him. After a while, much refreshed and still feeling the Presence in and around him, he leaned over the water to try again.
When he leaned over and saw his reflection, what wonder do you think met him? His reflection was glowing just like the Abbot’s!
Amazed, he rushed back to the monastery to find the Abbot. Soon, he found him calmly walking through the cloister gardens. “Father Abbot!” he cried. “I did it!” And without needing to see his reflection, he turned inward and touched the Love of God that was there. The smile on the Abbot’s face told him that he was glowing with light just as the Abbot had done. The smile on the Abbot’s face made him want to shine all the more!
“Now,” said the Abbot, “shall we work on your earlier problem?”
“Earlier problem?” asked the novice. “What on earth could be more important for me to work on now than to be able to do this at all times?” With that, he left the Abbot in the garden and went into his cell to sit with God and shine with God’s Love. And sure enough, the Abbot was pleased to see that every other monk that came in contact with the novice thereafter began to shine on their own as a reflection of God’s Love that shined from him.