On a certain day in 1456 a farmer entered the great city of Norwich with his son and a donkey. The man was riding the donkey, and his son was leading it on a rope. No sooner had they entered the city walls when they heard a passer-by say in a loud voice, “How disgraceful. See how that man sits on his donkey behaving like a lord of the manor while his little son runs himself ragged trying to keep up.” Full of shame, the farmer dismounted and set his son on the donkey while he walked beside it.
In the next street, a peddler drew his customer’s attention to the trio. “Look at that. That little rascal sits up there like the Young Pretender while his poor old father trudges along in the mud.” Deeply embarrassed, the boy asked his father to climb on behind him.
Once they turned the corner into the next street, a woman selling bat legs and toad venom spat out, “See what has become of the human race. No sensitivity to animals. Look at that poor donkey. Its back’s almost bent in two carrying the weight of those two loafers. If only I had my wand with me…disgraceful!”
Hearing this the farmer and his son without a word slipped off the donkey and began to walk beside it. They hadn’t gone more than fifty yards, however, when they heard a market-stall holder shout across the market to his friend, “I thought I was stupid but look, here’s a real ass. What’s the point of having a donkey when it doesn’t do any work?”
The farmer stopped, and having given his donkey a pat on the nose, said to his son, “Whatever we do, someone disagrees with it. Perhaps it’s time we made up our own minds about what we believe is right.”
Taken from ‘The Magic of Metaphor’ by Nick Owen and credited to Mark Richards (originally from Oriental tradition)
There was a chicken farmer who was a very keen rock climber. One day, climbing a particularly challenging rock face, he came upon a large ledge. On the ledge was a large nest and in the nest were three large eggs. Eagle eggs.
He knew it was distinctly unecological, and even undoubtedly illegal, but temptation got the better of him and he discreetly put one of the eagle eggs in his rucksack, checking first that the mother eagle wasn’t around. Then he continued his climb, drove back to the ranch, and put the eagle egg in the hen house.
That night the mother hen sat on the huge egg, the proudest chicken you ever saw. And the cock seemed pretty pleased with himself too.
In the fullness of time the egg hatched and the baby eagling emerged. It looked around and saw the mother hen. “Mama!” it squawked.
And so it was that the eagle grew up with its brother and sister chicks. It learned to do all the things that chickens do: clucking and cackling, scratching in the dirt for grits and worms, flapping its wings furiously, and flying a few feet into the air before crashing to the earth in a pile of dust and feathers. And believing above all things that it was totally and absolutely a chicken.
One day late in its life, the eagle-who-thought-he-was-a-chicken happened to look up at the sky. High overhead, soaring majestically on the thermal currents, flying effortlessly with scarcely a beat of its powerful golden wings, was an eagle.
“What’s that?” said the eagle in awe to his farmyard neighbour. “It’s magnificent. So much power and grace. Poetry in motion.”
“That’s an eagle,” said the chicken. “That’s the King of Birds. It’s a bird of the air. But we, we’re only chickens, we’re birds of the earth.”
And so it was that the eagle lived and died a chicken; because that’s all it believed it was.
Taken from ‘The Magic of Metaphor’ by Nick Owen and credited to Fr. Anthony de Mello SJ
There’s a story about an old WWII veteran, Mr Smith. He was so proud of his contribution to his country, he wore his uniform until the day he died. On the first of each month he would receive a little pension from the government and he’d make quite a ceremony of receiving that little cheque.
One sunny morning on the 1st of June he looked through his mail and picked up a letter he knew contained his little cheque. He smiled to himself as he opened the letter and pulled out the cheque. As he looked out the window he noticed a young neighbour passing by. He swiftly opened his front door and shouted out, “Come here John, I want to show you something.”
He proudly exhibited his cheque and said, “Do you see that signature at the bottom of that cheque? That’s the signature of the Prime Minister. He’s an important man, probably the most important man in this country. John, do you see the signature just below his? That’s the signature of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who signs for Her Majesty’s Treasury. He’s an important man too. He’s responsible for developing and executing the country’s finance and economic policies.”
Mr Smith then proudly straightened himself out to his full height, pushed out his chest, turned over the cheque and said, “John, do you see that little thin line on the back of this cheque? That’s where I put my signature! And you know something John, until I put my signature right there, as important as those two men may be, their signatures aren’t worth a penny!”
I love this story because it brilliantly illustrates the significance and power of our own actions within our lives.
Adapted from a story by Cavett Robert
During the early years of the fourteenth century the foundations of a magnificent cathedral were being laid in central Europe. The Clerk of Works was a monk who was charged with the task of supervising the work of all the labourers and artisans. This monk decided to carry out a study into the working practices of the stonemasons. He singled out three stonemasons as being representative of different attitudes towards their profession.
He approached the first stonemason and said, “My brother, tell me about your work.”
The stonemason stopped what he was doing for a moment and replied in a clipped voice full of anger and resentment, “As you see, I sit here in front of my block of stone. It measures a metre, by half a metre, by half a metre. And with every blow of my chisel against the block I feel as though I am chipping away a part of my life. Look, my hands are callused and hard. My face is lined and my hair is grey. This work is never-ending, the same day in, day out. It wears me out. Where”s my satisfaction? I”ll be dead long before the cathedral is even a quarter finished.”
The monk approached the second stonemason. “Brother,” he said, “tell me about your work.”
“Brother,” replied the stonemason in a soft, even voice, “as you see, I sit here in front of my block of stone. It measures a metre, by half a metre, by half a metre. And with every stroke of my chisel against the block I sense I am carving out a life and a future. Look, how I am able to shelter my family in a comfortable house, far www.atoledo.com better than that in which I grew up. My children attend school. No doubt they will look forward to even more in life than I do. All this is made possible by my work. As I give to the cathedral through my skill, the cathedral gives to me.”
The monk approached the third stonemason. “Brother,” he said, “tell me about your work.”
“Brother,” replied the stonemason smiling and in a voice full of joy,” as you see, I sit here in front of my block of stone. It measures a metre, by half a metre, by half a metre. And with every caress of my chisel against the block I know I am shaping my destiny. Look, see how the beauty trapped within the form of this stone begins to emerge. Sitting here, I am celebrating not only my craft and the skills of my profession, but I am contributing to everything that I value and believe in, a universe – represented by the cathedral – where each gives of his best for the benefit of all. Here at my block I am at peace with who I am, and I am grateful that, although I will never see the completion of this great cathedral, it will still stand a thousand years from now, a beacon celebrating what is truly worthy in all of us, and a testament to the purpose for which the Almighty has put me on this earth.”
The monk went away and reflected on what he had heard. He slept more peacefully that night than he had ever done, and the next day he resigned his commission as Clerk of Works and apprenticed himself to the third stonemason.
Taken from “The Magic of Metaphor” by Nick Owen and credited to Rachel Naomi Remen
The bird in the cage had lived there for a very long time. Often it would look through the bars of the cage, out of the window to the meadows and trees beyond. It could see other birds flying free in the open air and often it would wonder how it would be to feel the sun on its back, the wind in its feathers, to swoop and soar and catch mosquitoes in flight.
When the bird thought of these things it could feel its heart beating with excitement. It would sit tall on its perch and breath deep into its belly, sensing the thrill of possibility.
Sometimes another bird would land on the window sill, resting from its travels, and look inside at the caged bird. The traveller would put its head on one side as if quizzically asking itself how such a thing could be. A bird in a cage. Unimaginable.
And it was at these times that the caged bird felt most miserable. Its little shoulders slumped, it felt a lump in its throat and a heaviness in its heart.
One day, the owner of the caged bird accidentally left the door of the cage open. The bird looked through the door. It saw the birds swooping and soaring outside, the sun on their backs and the wind in their feathers, and it felt a stirring inside. The caged bird noticed that the window was open, and its heart beat even faster.
It considered its options.
It was still considering them at sunset when the owner returned and closed the door of the cage.
Taken from “The Magic of Metaphor” by Nick Owen and credited to David Werner and Bill Bower
It wasn’t long after the Gods had created humankind that they began to realise their mistake. The creatures they had created were so adept, so skillful, so full of curiosity and the spirit of inquiry that it was only a matter of time before they would start to challenge the Gods themselves for supremacy.
To ensure their pre-eminence the Gods held a large conference to discuss the issue. Gods were summoned from all over the known and unknown worlds. The debates were long, detailed and soul-searching.
All the Gods were very clear about one thing. The difference between them and mortals was the difference between the quality of the resources they had. While humans had their egos and were concerned with the external, material aspects of the world, the Gods had spirit, soul, and an understanding of the workings of the inner self.
The danger was that sooner or later the humans would want some of that too.
The Gods decided to hide their precious resources. The question was: where? This was the reason for the length and passion of the debates at the Great Conference of the Gods.
Some suggested hiding these resources at the top of the highest mountain. But it was realised that sooner or later humans would scale such a mountain.
And the deepest crater in the deepest ocean would be discovered.
And mines would be sunk into the earth.
And the most impenetrable jungles would give up their secrets.
And mechanical birds would explore the sky and space.
And the moon and the planets would become tourist destinations.
And even the wisest and most creative of the Gods fell silent as if every avenue had been explored and found wanting.
Until the Littlest God, who had been silent until now, spoke up.
“Why don’t we hide these resources inside each human? They’ll never think to look for them there.”
Taken from “The Magic of Metaphor” by Nick Owen and credited to Peter McNab