Stories & Reflections
A Peruvian priest’s sermon
In my book “The Alchemist”, the young shepherd Santiago meets an old man in the town square. He is searching for a treasure, but does not know how to reach it. The old man starts up a conversation with him:
“How many sheep have you got?”
“Enough,” answers Santiago.
“Then we have a problem. I can’t help if you think you have enough sheep.”
Based on this extract, the Peruvian priest Clemente Sobrado wrote an interesting piece, which I transcribe below:
One of the biggest problems that we drag around with us all our life is to want to believe we have “enough sheep”. We are surrounded by certainties, and nobody wants someone showing up to propose something new. If we could only suspect that we don’t have everything, and that we aren’t all that we could be!
Maybe we are all faced with a very serious problem, namely that although we have the opportunity to help one another, the truth is that few people let themselves be helped.
Why is that? Because they think they have “enough sheep”. They already know everything, they are always right, they feel comfortable in their lives.
Almost all of us are like that: we have many things but few aspirations. We have many ideas already sorted out, and we don’t want to give them up. Our life scheme is already organized and we don’t need someone trying to make changes.
We’ve done enough praying, practiced charity, read the lives of the saints, gone to Mass, taken communion. A friend of mine once said: “I don’t know why I come to visit you, father. I am already a good Christian.”
On that day I could not help answering:
“Then don’t come to visit me, because there are a lot of people waiting to see me and they are all full of doubts. But one thing you ought to know: You aren’t bad enough to be bad, nor good enough to be good, nor holy enough to work miracles.
“You are just a Christian satisfied with what you have achieved. And all those who are satisfied have in fact renounced the ideal of always improving. Let’s talk about this some other time, all right?”
Ever since then, whenever we speak on the telephone he starts by saying: “this person who is calling hasn’t yet grown up as much as he could”.
Lord, give us always a dissatisfied heart.
Give us a heart where the questions that we never want to ask can be voiced.
Deliver us from our conformism.
Make us able to enjoy what we have, but let us understand that this is not everything.
Let us appreciate that we are good people.
But above all, make us always ask ourselves how we can become better people.
Because if we ask, then it is quite possible that You will come and show us horizons that we couldn’t see before.
I finally manage to get my editor, Masao Masuda, to invite me to a traditional tea ceremony. We go to a mountain near Hakone, enter a small room, and his sister, dressed in the ritual kimono, serves us tea.
That is all. However, everything is done with such seriousness and protocol that a daily practice is changed into a moment of communion with the Universe.
The tea master, Okakusa Kasuko, explains what happens: “The ceremony is the adoration of the beautiful. All efforts are concentrated on the endeavor to attain Perfection through the imperfect gestures of daily life. All its beauty consists of respecting the simple things we do, because they can lead us to God.”
Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro
Strolling along the promenade, I hear a young woman saying to another in a very convincing voice: “I’ve programmed my life in the following way …”
That made me wonder: does she take into account things that happen just when we are not expecting them? Has she considered that maybe God has a different plan, a far more interesting one? Has she thought seriously about the hypothesis that, by including other people in her program, she might be interfering in different ideas and projects?
I am not sure whether the sentence I overheard was born of inexperience or total delirium.
I step out on to the stage with the usual apprehension. A local writer, introduces me and starts asking me questions. Before I can conclude my reasoning, he interrupts me and asks another question. When I answer, he says something like “that answer wasn’t very clear.” Five minutes later, I feel a certain restlessness in the audience. I remember Confucius, and do the only thing possible:
“Do you like what I write?” I ask.
“That doesn’t matter,” he answers. “I’m doing the interviewing, not you.”
“But it does matter. You don’t let me finish a sentence. Confucius said: ‘whenever possible, be clear.’ Let’s follow that advice and make things quite clear: do you like what I write?”
“No, I don’t. I have read only two books, and I hated them.”
“OK, so now we can continue.”
The camps were now defined. The audience relaxes, the environment fills with electricity, the interview turns into a true debate, and everyone – including the writer – is satisfied with the result.
In the plane between Melbourne and Los Angeles
This extract from the on-board magazine is attributed to Loren Eisley:
“The journey is difficult, long, sometimes impossible. Even so, I know few people who have let these difficulties stop them. We enter the world without knowing for sure what happened in the past, what consequences this has brought us, and what the future may have in store for us.
“We shall try to travel as far as we can. But looking at the landscape around us, we realize that it won’t be possible to know and learn everything.
“So what remains is for us to remember all about our journey so that we can tell stories. To our children and grandchildren, we can tell the marvels that we have seen and the dangers that we have faced. They too will be born and will die, they too will tell their stories to their descendants, and still the caravan won’t have reached its destination.”