Monasteries of the Heart

Give Me a Word First 100 Stories

In the early centuries, seekers desiring a deeper spiritual life went and sought direction from seasoned monks saying, “Amma (mother) or Abba (father), give me a word. The same word might be offered over and over, year after year, until finally its meaning revealed itself to the seeker. Monasteries of the Heart continues this tradition by reprinting these wisdom stories.

Story 100

The composer Stravinsky had written a new piece with a difficult violin passage. After it had been in rehearsal for several weeks, the solo violinist came to Stravinsky and said he was sorry, he had tried his best, the passage was too difficult, no violinist could play it. Stravinsky said, “I understand that. What I am after is the sound of someone trying to play it.”

Discuss: Try this. Write the phrase “It’s too difficult for me to…..” on a sheet of paper 10X and fill in the blanks. For example:
It’s too difficult for me to love unconditionally.
It’s too difficult for me to be kind.
It’s too difficult for me to forgive ___(person’s name.)
Then choose one of the statements and try to do it anyway. Try it for a month, a year, a lifetime….

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Story 99

An old pilgrim was making his way to the Himalayan Mountains in the bitter cold of winter when it began to snow. An innkeeper said to him, “How will you ever get there in this kind of weather, my good friend?” The old pilgrim answered, “My heart got there first, so it’s easy for the rest of me to follow.”

Discuss: Where is your heart’s desire? What do you want so much that nothing can stop you from attaining it?

Story 98

To a pioneering spirit who was discouraged by frequent criticism the Elder said, “Listen to the words of the critics. They reveal what your friends hide from you.” But he also said, “Do not be weighed down by what the critic says. No statue was ever erected to honor a critic. Statues are for the criticized.”

Discuss: Based on the Elder’s words, name three people—arts, religion, politics, humanitarianism-- that you think deserve a “statue” and give a reason for your choice. Don’t forget the opening words, “To a pioneering spirit.”

Psalm 131

God, my mind is not noisy with desires,
and my heart has sanctified its longing.
I do not care about religion
or anything that is not you.
I have soothed and quieted my soul,
like a child at its mother’s breast.
My soul is as peaceful as a child
sleeping in its mothers arms.
--translated by Stephen Mitchell

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Story 97

You are eight years old. It is Sunday evening. You have been granted an extra hour before bed. The family is playing Monopoly. You have been told that you’re big enough to join them.

You lose. You are losing continuously. Your stomach cramps with fear. Nearly all your possessions are gone. The money pile in front of you is almost gone. Your brothers are snatching all the houses from your streets. The last street is being sold. You have to give in. You have lost.

And suddenly you know that it is only a game. You jump up with joy and you knock the big lamp over. It falls on the floor and drags the teapot with it. The others are angry with you, but you laugh when you go upstairs.

You know you are nothing and know you have nothing. And you know that not-to-be and not-to-have give an immeasurable freedom. –Janwillem Van De Wetering

Discussion: Do you have an “enlightenment” or “freedom” story to share? It could be one that happened to you personally or maybe it’s a story that you read somewhere.

Story 96

On his way back from Mecca, Bayazid, the Moslem saint, stopped in a small town. The townsfolk, who revered him, rushed to make him welcome. Bayazid, who was quite tired of this adulation, waited till he reached the marketplace. There he bought a loaf of bread and began to munch it in full view of his followers. It was the day of fasting in the month of Ramadan, but Bayazid judged that his journey fully justified the breaking of the religious law. Not so his followers. They were so scandalized at his behavior that they promptly left him and went home. Bayazid remarked to a remaining disciple, “Notice how the moment I did something contrary to their expectation, their veneration of me vanished.”

Discuss: Name three instances where Jesus scandalized his followers. How do you feel about that? Have you ever been scandalized because someone did not live up to your expectations of “holiness.”

Story 95

As he grew older a renowned Rabbi found it more difficult to see. He visited an eye doctor who advised him to wear glasses whenever he studied Torah. In this way, the doctor assured him, he would save what little eyesight he had left. The Rabbi refused saying, “Nothing shall come between my eyes and the Torah.” A disciple of the Rabbi had a similar problem and visited the same eye doctor and was given similar advice. Citing the precedent of his Teacher, he, too, refused to wear glasses when he studied Torah. But out of deference to the learned doctor, he chose to wear them at all other times.

Discuss: How do you read Scripture, God’s revelation? Do you prefer to see things as others do, sharing the conventional 20/20 worldview of corrected vision? Or are you willing to make mistakes and discover new truths? And if you are willing to do this with the Word, are you willing to do it with the world?
--from Hasidic Tales: Annotated and Explained, translation and annotation by Rabbi Rami Shapiro (SkyLight Paths).

Story 94

When a man whose marriage was in trouble sought his advice, the Master said, “You must learn to listen to your wife.”

The man took his advice to heart and returned after a month to say that he had learnt to listen to every word his wife was saying.

Said the Master with a smile, “Now go home and listen to every word she isn’t saying.”

Discuss: Compare this story to Saint Benedict’s invitation in the Rule: “Listen with the ear of your heart.” Any thoughts?

Story 93

A daughter of a renowned Rabbi fell ill and her husband sent daily telegrams to the Rabbi updating him on her status.

One day there was no telegram and the Rabbi became very distressed. His son comforted him by saying, “it will come later, don’t worry so.” In fact, a telegram did arrive later in the day, informing the rabbi that his daughter had made a complete recovery.

The son rushed to the house expecting his father to be celebrating. Instead, the son found him weeping. “I don’t understand your tears,” the son said. “Sarah is fine, why are you not consoled?”

And the Rabbi explained, “All my life I have tried to purify my character. The most difficult trait, one that I found almost impossible to master, was: loving my neighbor as myself. I thought I had finally arrived at a state where I could love all people as I love your sister, you, and myself. When this telegram was late in arriving, I realized that I reacted not as rebbe but as a father. I still love you more than them. And for this I am quite sad.”

Discuss: If the Rabbi came to you with his dilemma, what would you say to him?

Story 92

A certain chieftain from the first century A.D., in Tamilnadu, India was well known for his tenderness and generosity.

According to legend, his kindness was even extended to birds and animals. It is said that one day, as the chieftain was going home in a chariot, his charioteer was riding fast and ringing a bell very loudly. When they passed through a grove, the chieftain noticed two bees mating. Since he did not want to disturb them, he told the charioteer to stop ringing the bell immediately, and to drive as slowly as he could. He knew that if the bees were disturbed they would fly away. Such was the tenderness for the honeybee.

Discuss: “Tenderness for the honeybee…” isn’t that a beautiful phrase. Try practicing tenderness toward something or someone today. If you’d like, tell us about it.