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Speaking to the Soul: A Modern Parable

Speaking to the Soul: A Modern Parable

by Linda McMillan

Middle-aged women traveling alone are not common in Ye. English-speaking women from America are not common either. Thus, last week, when the traveler stepped into the beer station, all eyes turned to gaze upon the fat, white, lady from afar.

“Where you come from?” they wanted to know.

“I am from America,” said the traveler. And all nodded that they know where that is, and they murmured “Obama, yes… Obama, strong.”

“Why you come Ye?” They wanted to know.

“I came to meet you,” she said. They were unimpressed with this answer, but let it go. “I went to the lake,” she said, “…and I saw your fish.” And, finally, she was invited to sit down and tell the story of her day in Ye.

“I saw the fish fighting for food. They seemed do desperate, like they would die if they didn’t get some.” And they all agreed, the fish are desperate.

They are shiny fish, about the size of a human hand, and they vie for small pellets which pilgrims buy and drop into the water. The fish literally swim on top of one another in the quest for some food. Sometimes, in their enthusiasm, they jump out of the water entirely, landing on the sharp rocks that line the edge of the lake. A young lad usually pushes them back into the water, but there were fish bodies that didn’t make it back in too — fish who struggled so hard for survival that they didn’t survive. Other fish were injured, swimming crooked but still trying for a few nibbles of food.

“I think that we are also desperate for some kind of food,” she ventured. Everyone agreed, we are desperate for something.

“Later,” she continued, “I walked out on the causeway to the little Buddha shrine. Even out there, I could hear the fish smacking and swimming, begging for some bit of food. But, I believe that out beyond the Buddha — past his placid expression, the candles, and incense, and hopes of many worshippers, out past all the accountments of religion — there is a big fish who swims alone.”

“Yes, the lake is deep,” they said. There would be food, and there would be release from the clamor of constant desire.

No conclusions were drawn. The beer was finished, and the traveler left.
Usually, I work with one of our Revised Common Lectionary readings for the week and try to lay out what it might mean. But, this week I want to do something different.  Today, I am not going to lay out what I think it means. I want to hear from you.

What is the meaning of this story for you? Are we desperate for something too? What are the ineffective ways we try to get the things we need? Are there alternatives? Who are the main players in the story? Do you see yourself in any of these roles? What has the storyteller left out?

We can read this story as Christians, as people of a scientific age, as (mainly) westerners. How does this way of seeing the story change it for us?

What is different from your own culture? Are there beer stations in your town? (A beer station is like a water station, a place where there is some water. Only there is beer because water is often not clean.) Do people invite strangers to the table where you live? Are there places of truly public worship or do people divide themselves up into various believing factions?

This week, you interpret the parable. Leave your insights in the comments. And, thank you for being willing to do something different once in awhile.

Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China. She is a native Texan. Linda is currently in Yangon, Myanmar.

Image: Beyond Buddha, by Linda McMillan, Ye, Myanmar, Mon State. 2016

Some Notes of Possible Interest

Most of us have enough food, but food insecurity is still a big problem in the USA.  You can read more about food insecurity in the USA here

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Elizabeth Kaeton

This reminds me of another parable – one by Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. So, I’ll answer your parable with another parable.

Letting Go

Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all — young and old, rich and poor, good and evil — the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self.

Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current was what each had learned from birth.

But one creature said at last, “I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.”

The other creatures laughed and said, “Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed against the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom!”

But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.

Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more.

And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, “See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the messiah, come to save us all!”

And the one carried in the current said, “I am no more messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.”

But they cried the more, “Savior!” all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a savior.

— from Illusions by Richard Bach

Suzanne Curis

To answer to the first question, FOR ME, is the easiest. The meaning of the story is that we are all desperate for something, and our fear and seeking to fill that need is so powerful that we sometimes die in the pursuit. This is despite the fact that there is ENOUGH, that there is someone who wants to fill us up. As long as we are stepping over each other to get one more morsel, we will never be satisfied. If we give up the struggle and “go deep”, we will find that there was no need to pursue the pellets, that the real food that satisfies, is free and all around.

This takes faith. We must trust first that leaving the struggle behind will satisfy in ways that are beyond what we could even ask or imagine.

The other questions are more complicated, so I will leave it there and reflect on them.

Barbi Click

Working with people who experience food insecurity daily, of course, this immediately brought me into the reality of four days of my life each week where I see some people willing to risk injury to get enough for themselves and for their own. It can irritate me when I see what I perceive to be greed pushing its ugly head into the midst of plenty. Because there is always enough on the table for all who come.
But that midst of plenty is my own knowledge, my own viewpoint because I exist in a reality that has a freezer that mandates whether or not we can buy taquitos or ice cream sandwiches. My pantry has to be rummaged through to find the particular item that I want at that moment because it has so much more than I actually need. I try to remember that as I watch people grabbing fresh greens and vegetables off the table and stuffing far more than will last in a two day stretch without going bad. The ignorance on my part disallows me the view that this mess of greens will be fixed and eaten in one, two days at most.
Fear among those who have little, fear among those who have more, we are desperate for a life without fear yet we are not able or willing to understand that letting go of the need/greed to grab as much as we can at the moment is exactly what we need to do; that enough is all we need and all we need will be provided for us as we need it.
Fear makes us selfish. Fear makes us hate the big fish swimming out in the deep, in the deep of plenty. Fear, I suppose, makes the big fish in the deep hate the others not there.

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