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 82

A man left seventeen camels to his three sons. He left half the camels to his first son, a third to his second, and a ninth to his third. Despairing of their ability to negotiate a solution—because seventeen could not be divided by two or three or nine—the sons finally consulted an elder. After pondering the question, the elder announced, “I don’t know if I can help you but at least take my camel.” That way the sons had eighteen camels. The first son took his half—that made nine. The second took his third—six—and the third took his ninth—two. Nine and six and two made seventeen. They had one camel left and gave it back to the elder.

Discuss: Name a major issue in church or society that you think could use a fresh angle, a new way of looking at what seems impossible to solve. Then do the same for an issue in your personal life. Any creative solutions?

7 comments
Story 81

Before he died, Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol said, “In the world to come, they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”

Discuss: Imagine you are in the world to come and you are asked: Why were you not _____________(put your name in the blank)? Answer the question in 100 words or less.

22 comments
Story 80

Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi came upon Elijah, the prophet, and asked him, “When will the Messiah come?”
Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.”
“Where is he?”
“Sitting at the gates of the city?”
“How shall I know him?”
“He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds. The other unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But he unbinds one at a time and then binds it up again, saying to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed: if so I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.’”

Discuss: Based on Elijah’s information, how would you answer the question: “When will the Messiah come?”

7 comments
Story 79

A great Sufi teacher told of the time when Jesus went for a walk and was insulted by some townsfolk. Jesus responded by including these townsfolk in his prayers. “Why didn’t you answer their insults?” a disciple asked. Jesus replied, “I can only pay people back with coins I have in my purse.”

Discuss: Give a name to the coin that Jesus had in his pocket. Now name three coins that you would like to have in your pocket

8 comments
Story 78

A great Sufi teacher told of the time when Jesus went for a walk and was insulted by some townsfolk. Jesus responded by including these townsfolk in his prayers. “Why didn’t you answer their insults?” a disciple asked. Jesus replied, “I can only pay people back with coins I have in my purse.”

Discuss: Give a name to the coin that Jesus had in his pocket. Now name five coins that you would like to have in your pocket

9 comments
Story 77

The rabbi of Sassov once gave away the last money he had in his pocket to a man of ill repute. His disciples threw it up to him. The rabbi answered them: “Shall I be more finicky than God, who gave it to me?” --Tales of the Hasidim

Discuss: If you had a chance to interview one of the three characters in the story—the rabbi, the disciple, the person who received the coins—which person would you choose? Why? Write down three questions that you would ask them.

7 comments
Story 76

Abba Evagrius said that there was a brother, called Serapion, who didn’t own anything except the Gospel, and this he sold to feed the poor. And he said these words, which are worth remembering: “I have even sold the very word which commanded me: Sell everything, and give to the poor.”

Discuss: Is there a scripture quote that called you to some radical action? Can you share your experience?

4 comments
Story 75

Abba John said that the saints are like a group of trees, each bearing different fruit but watered from the same source. The practices of one saint differ from those of another, but it is the same Spirit that works in all of them.

Discuss: This story is similar to the Pentecost reading of each person receiving a different gift but all coming from the same Spirit. List one gift that you’ve been given, one way that you bear fruit in life. Are you satisfied with your gift? If you could, would you trade it for another gift? Why? Why not?

5 comments
Story 74

Chuang-tzu was a Taoist philosopher, but he was also an artist of great skill. One day, the Emperor asked him to draw a crab. “Very well,” said Chuang-tzu. He would be happy to do it. But first he needed a country house and twelve servants, as well as five uninterrupted years. Five years later, the Emperor returned for his drawing. But Chuang-tzu had not even started work. “I need another five years,” he told the Emperor. And once again the Emperor agreed. At the end of that time, Chuang-tzu picked up his brush, and in a single stroke, he drew a perfect crab.

Discuss: I ask myself, is there anything in life that I work on with such concentration? What happened to Chuang-tzu in those ten years? It might be fun writing a journal entry by Chuang-tzu. Imagine that Chuang-tzu kept a journal during that period. Write one or two journal entries. Here’s an example:

Day 8, Year 6: I sat with CRAB in meditation for three hours this morning. Nothing. CRAB is still a stranger to me. Spent the rest of the day painting flowers. In the evening I walked along the sea and bowed each time a CRAB appeared. I am not ready to admit failure. Not yet.

2 comments
Story74

A father left his village on business and while he was gone bandits came and burned down the village and kidnapped his son. When the father returned he found a burned corpse near his home and thought it was the remains of his son. Then father almost went mad with grief and, after an elaborate cremations ceremony, placed the ashes of his son in a beautiful velvet bag that he carried with him always. One day the son escaped from his kidnappers and arrived at his father’s home at midnight. He knocked, and his father who was holding the bag of his son’s ashes, said, “Who is there?” The child answered, “It’s me, papa. Open the door. It’s your son.” But the father was so certain that his son was dead that he told the boy to stop tormenting him and go away. The boy knocked and knocked, but his father never answered. He held the velvet bag closer and cried without ceasing. Finally the child left and the father and son never saw each other.

Discuss: Each of us clings to a velvet bag or some sort. What idea or “truth” do you clutch with absolute certainty?

9 comments

Pages