I am grateful to have the opportunity to share an abbreviated version of the story contained in M. Scott Peck’s ‘The Different Drum”. I hope that it will go a little way to drawing your readers eyes away from the divisive and dismissive rhetoric that we South Africans are plunged into again this year, and towards a more quiet and compassionate conversation about sharing wisdom and affection wherever it roots.
A certain monastery had fallen upon hard times. A once-great order had lost all its branch houses, to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbot and four others, all of considerable age.
In the woods surrounding the monastery was a little hut, sometimes used by the rabbi from town as a retreat. The old monks always seemed to know when the rabbi was there. “The rabbi is in the woods again”, they would whisper to each other. At one such time the abbot decided to visit the rabbi on the off-chance that he might have some advice for saving the monastery.
The rabbi welcomed the abbot to his hut but could offer no solution to the problem. His congregation too had dwindled and together they wept at what had been lost. At the time of parting, and after quietly sharing the deeper things in their hearts, they embraced, and the abbot said, “I have still failed in the purpose of my visit. Is there no advice you can give to save my dying order”? “No, sorry”, the rabbi replied. “The only thing I can tell is that the Messiah is one of you”.
When the abbot returned to the Monastery he related what had happened, including the rather cryptic statement that the Messiah was one of them. In the days and months that followed the old monks pondered this, and whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words.
Could it really mean that the Messiah is one of us here at the monastery? And if so, who? Could he have meant the abbot? Most likely, as he has been our leader for many years. On the other hand, what about Brother Thomas? He is certainly a holy man. Everyone knows him as a man of light. Surely, he couldn’t have meant Brother Elred! He’s often so crotchety. On the other hand, when you look back on it, Elred is nearly always right. Maybe the rabbi did mean him. Definitely not Brother Phillip. He’s so passive, rather a nobody. But then, he does have this wonderful gift of being there when you need him. He just seems to appear. Maybe Phillip IS the Messiah. Of course, the rabbi didn’t mean me; couldn’t possibly be me. I’m very ordinary. But what if he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? God, not me! I couldn’t be that much for you – could I?
As the old monks pondered they began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off-chance that one of them might well be the Messiah. And because each might himself be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.
So, it was, that the occasional strollers and picnickers in this beautiful forest, sometimes visited the dilapidated chapel to meditate. And almost unconsciously they sensed this aura of extraordinary respect that surrounded and seemed to radiate from the five monks. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling about the atmosphere of the place, which drew visitors back more frequently to share some of this inner strength and peace. They began to bring friends to this special place. And friends brought friends
Slowly there was more and more contact with the old monks till one visitor asked if he could join them. Then another and another. And within a few years the monastery became a thriving order, and a vibrant center of wisdom and light, thanks to the rabbi’s gift.
By Ivan Grant