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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 novice came to the Abbot, in evident great distress.  After a quick bow to his superior, he hurtled into a long tirade about the other Brothers and Sisters in the community.

“Forgive me for saying so, Father Abbot, but I feel it’s my duty to point out how so many of the members of our community are not acting as they should!  They really are an embarrassment to us!”

His brows knitted in concern, the Abbot asked him to explain.

“Well, there is one Brother who is an absolute slob.  I saw him leave his bowl from breakfast in the kitchen sink.  When I told him to clean, he simply brushed it off saying that he would get to it shortly.  Then there is a Sister who is a mess with her habit.  When she comes in directly from the garden for Evening Prayer each day, she’s covered in dirt and sweat.  It is most unbecoming for our Order!  And then there is another Brother who is far too noisy as he eats, completely disturbing the silence of the morning meals.  And then there is another Sister…”

The Abbot cut off the novice with a raised hand and said, “My dear young Brother, it is obvious that you care very much about everyone’s behavior, and are most observant about how this reflects on the community.  Perhaps God will be able to help us in this.”  And so the Abbot reached up his arms and prayed, “Dear Lord, who sees all that we are and all that we do, help our young brother with the sight necessary and words effective to correct his fellow Brothers and Sisters.  Amen.”

“Thank you, Father Abbot!” cried the young novice as he rushed out the door to see how readily God would answer this wonderful prayer.

As he was walking down the hall to his cell, his heels thumping against the hard wood floor, he heard the rustle of beads up ahead.  He knew who it was without looking.  This Brother was always noisy as he walked with his rosary beads swinging at his side.  This always disturbed the silence in the community wherever he went!

Wanting to see if the Abbot’s prayer had been answered, he prepared himself to confront his Brother.  As he looked up, he was startled to see that the Brother was holding a mirror in front of his face so that all the young novice could see was his own face.  Flustered by this odd behavior, he hurried by without saying a word.

As midday approached, he made his way to the refectory for lunch.  Once he was seated with his food, he spoon clinking in his bowl of stew, he was disturbed by the Sister across from him softly blowing on each spoonful of her hot stew.  Didn’t she know how selfish and disruptive that was?

Again, hoping his Abbot’s prayer had been answered, he prepared himself to confront his Sister.  As he looked up, he was startled yet again to find that the Sister was holding up a mirror in front of her face!  Annoyed even more, he rose quickly from the table to leave.  In his haste to depart, he accidently left his dirty spoon on the table.

As he reached the kitchen to wash his bowl, he saw the Brother he had mentioned earlier to the Abbot, again leaving his bowl in the sink.  Didn’t he know that someone else would have to take care of it?

Desperately hoping his Abbot’s prayer would be answered this time, he prepared himself to confront this Brother.  As the Brother turned around, the novice was startled yet again to see his own reflection staring back at him in the mirror that the Brother was holding in front of his face.

This was just too much!  Needing time to himself, he stormed outside to walk the ground and try implore God for help.  He was so consumed in his own thoughts that he paid little attention to the path, and often tripped over roots and rocks, his habit catching on thorns and briars along the way.

Without realizing how long he had been outside, he heard the bells for Evening Prayer, and rushed back to the Abbey.  Just as he made it to the door, he saw the back of the Sister who was coming in from the gardens, her habit dirty and stained as usually.   He quickened his step to catch her.

Surely, this time, God would answer the Abbot’s prayer so that he could properly correct his Sister.  As he reached out to grab her shoulder and pull her aside, do you know what he saw when she turned around?  Sure enough, he was taken aback to find his own face reflecting back at him in the mirror that she was holding.

As he entered the choir for Evening Prayer, his mind was racing.  He was so flustered that he was having difficulty focusing on the chants and prayers.  And to be sure, the rustling of a Brother here, and the coughing of a Sister there, all of this was distracting from the holy service.  With this in mind, he looked up and saw that every member of the community was holding a mirror in front of their face!

This was too much!  Why on earth would all his Brothers and Sisters contrive to do something so absurd as this?  Unable to continue his prayers, he left his choir stall and fled the chapel.  Determined to speak with the Abbot about their behavior, he headed for the Abbot’s cell.  As he stood outside the door, waiting for the Abbot to return, he fumed about this offensive behavior.  Perhaps they had found out about his conversation with the Abbot, and before he could correct them, they had conspired to make a fool of him.  That must be it!  Didn’t they realize he was correcting them for their own good?

After the conclusion of Evening Prayer, the Abbot made his way back to his cell and found the young novice still standing vigil outside his door.  Seeing his obvious distress, the Abbot asked him what was troubling him so.

“Father Abbot,” he replied, “your prayer did not work!  In fact, the other member of our community must have found out about it, because they have all conspired to derail my efforts to correct them!”

“How is that,” asked the perplexed Abbot.

“Surely you saw it!  Every time I find someone that needs to be corrected, they’re holding a mirror in front of their face so I can’t talk to them.  The whole community were holding mirrors in front of their faces in the middle of Evening Prayer!  Even if God does answer your prayer, how can I correct them if they are all behaving like that?”

It did not take long for the Abbot to see what might be going on.  Gently, he said, “Brother, I have seen no one with a mirror at all today.  All the same, God may have answered our prayer most effectively.”

“What do you mean?” asked the novice.

“When you found someone whose behavior bothered you, and you were certain of someone’s fault and were ready to correct them for it, what exactly was it you saw when you looked at them, ready to correct the fault?”

“Why, I saw myself in the mirror, of course.”

“And what is it then, that God is trying to show you, my young Brother?”

“I don’t know!” cried the novice.  In his exasperation, he slumped down onto the floor.  The noise of his rosary hitting the floor startled him, sounding so loud in the otherwise silent room.  As he hung his head in frustration, he noticed for the first time the dirt on his habit, and the loose threads from where it had snagged on the briars earlier in the day.  As his mind tried to retreat from his own embarrassment, he realized how much of a disturbance he must have caused when leaving the choir at Evening Prayer.  Unbidden, the rest of the day came flooding back, and his embarrassment threatened to overwhelm him.

“Father,” chocked the novice, trying to hold back obvious tears, “Am I really so bad as I’ve said others are?  Am I really no better at all?  What can I do?”

Tenderly, he bent down and held the novice’s shaking shoulders in his hands.  “All I can offer to you is this one practice, which you must do every day as often as you can:  Ask God to forgive you, knowing that God always loves you…”

“But I already do that in confessional,” interrupted the novice.

“Then this is the practice you must take on, and you must work hard at it every day.”

“What practice is that, Father?”

“After you have asked God to forgive you, you must forgive yourself.”

And without another word, the Abbot helped the novice to his feet and sent him back to his cell for the night.

From that day on, the young Brother never felt the need to correct another Brother or Sister, so busy was he finding forgiveness for himself.  And after living out his many years in the Abbey, it was said that the community found him in his cell one morning, having passed on in the night, clutching a small mirror to his chest, with the hint of a smile on his lips.


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.

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 of his monks, a young novice with great energy and strong opinions, came to him complaining about the lack of uniformity in the way that the brothers and sisters of the monastery prayed on their own.  Some would pray the rosary, another would pray the Prayer of the Heart, and still others would pray the Divine Office in their cells with prayers that varying according to each monk’s individual preference.

“Father Abbot,” said the young novice, “how can we all be brothers and sisters in this monastery if we are all praying to God differently on our own?  You should make everyone pray the same way so that we are ‘all one’ as Jesus commanded.”

Knowing the novice’s heart, the Abbot led the young man down to the spring out in the abbey grounds the flowed out of one of the grassy hills.  So as to refresh themselves during the day and make drinking the water easier, the monks had fashioned a stone basin under the spring that would collect the water and allow multiple monks to drink at one time.

As the Abbot walked through the kitchens, he beckoned to the monk who was working the ovens, and invited him to come and drink water from the spring with them, for he saw that the monk was hot and tired from preparing and cooking the food.  On the way to the spring, the Abbot beckoned to one of the monks working in the garden and invited him to come and drink as well, for he saw that the monk was hot and tired from his labors in the field.

The Abbot stood back and let the three brothers drink.   The young novice, proud of himself for thinking ahead, used a cup that he had picked up from the kitchen to dip into the spring and drink.  The monk from the kitchen took a ladle that he had and dipped it into the water to drink.  The monk from the field simply cupped his hands to raise the cool water to his mouth.  The young novice drank in small, quiet sips, as he knew who befit a monk.  The monk from the kitchen, gulped  the water from the ladle to quench his thirst.  The monk from the gardens slurped loudly as he drank the water from his hands.

The novice was appalled by their lack of poise and the noise they made as they drank.  After another sip from his cup, he could stand it no more and dumped out his water in frustration.  Turning to the Abbot he said, “Father Abbot, it is impossible for me to drink from here with these two brothers drinking the water the way they are!  I cannot drink this water if they do not drink like me.”

Gently, the Abbot asked the novice, “Are they drinking all the water so that you cannot draw any with your cup?”

“Of course not, Father Abbot,” he replied.

“Are these two brothers preventing you from getting to the spring, then, so that you cannot dip your cup in the water?”

“Of course not, Father Abbot.  There is plenty of room here for us all to get water.”

“Then how is it,” continued the Abbot, “if there is plenty of water for all, and plenty of room for everyone to get to the water, that these two brothers are actually stopping you from drinking the water if you in fact really want to drink it?”

In that moment, the young novice saw that it was pride, a need for control, and judgment of others that comes from fear and personal insecurity which stopped him from drinking the water.  The other two monks had done nothing to stop him at all.  Freed of these sins, he dipped his cup into the basin, and drank deeply, enjoying the sweet water.

Thereafter, the Abbot was pleased to see that the novice prayed on his own, never again criticizing the prayers of other brothers and sisters, and even eventually was seen praying in new ways that he had observed from others.

“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.”  Matthew 13:34

Using parables to teach life lessons has been a long and ancient tradition.  We find it in Greek and Roman story telling, ancient Jewish writings, in the teachings of Jesus, in Rabbinical stories, and in Eastern Zen Buddhist tales, just to name a few.  Many contemplative teachers have used parables over the years to teach lessons that are both essential and difficult to grasp.  The gifts of parables are many.  For one, they shift us just enough out of our usual frame of reference that we are able to see ourselves through a new lens.  Second, though related to the first, parables are simply stories and can thus be disarming.  They put us into a different state of mind, and in doing so, have the ability to sneak under our well placed defenses in order to get a necessary point across.  Third, parables, like all metaphors, can teach lessons at multiple levels, and invite new discoveries with each re-reading.

Over the past seven half years of leading this Order and teaching contemplative spirituality, I have been asked questions that I could only illustrate through parables.  As our Order has grown and had to deal with the natural growing pains of any intentional community, parables have come to mind that have most poignantly illustrated the growing edges of individuals and the community that need to be addressed at times.

At this year’s Convocation, we reflected on a series of parables that I had put together over the years which fostered some wonderful conversation and growth.  As the primary mission of our Order has always been to offer resources for the renewal of contemplative formation in the greater Church, I’m happy to be able to share these parables here.  Whether you are in formation on your own, in a community, or just part of a parish, each of these may speak to you in your own life journey, wherever that may be.  God’s Peace.

Silentio Coram Deo,

Br. Kenneth

October 2019
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RSS The Order’s Alleluia Garden

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