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There is a story told about a famous monastery which has fallen on hard times.

29 January 2011
There is a story told about a famous monastery which has fallen on hard times. Once a great order, it’s many buildings had been filled with young monks, but now it was nearly deserted. Visitors no longer came there to be nourished by prayer. A handful of old monks shuffled through the cloisters and praised God with heavy hearts. It was just a matter of time until their community would die out. 

On the edge of the monastery woods, an old rabbi had built a little hut. No one ever spoke with him, but the monks felt somehow assured by his prayerful presence.

As the leader, the Abbot of the monastery agonized over the future, it occurred to him to go visit the rabbi. Perhaps he could offer some word of advice. So one day after morning prayers, the Abbot set out to visit the rabbi.

As he approached the hut, the Abbot saw the rabbi standing in the doorway, his arms outstretched in welcome. And the rabbi motioned the Abbot to enter.

They sat there for a moment in silence, until finally the rabbi said: “You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts. You have come to ask a teaching of me. I will give you this teaching, but you can only repeat it once. After that no one must say it aloud again.”

The rabbi looked straight at the rabbi and said, “The Messiah is among you.” For a while all was silent. Then the rabbi said, “ Now you must go.” The abbot left without a word.

The next morning, the abbot called his monks together in the chapter room. He told them he had received a teaching from “ the rabbi who walks in the woods”, and that after he told it his teaching was never again to be spoken aloud. Then he looked at each of his brothers and said, “ The rabbi said that the Messiah is among us!”

In the days, and weeks, and months that followed, the monks pondered this riddle, and wondered what it could mean. The messiah is among US? Could he have possibly have meant one of us here at the monastery? If that is the case then which one of us is it? Do you suppose that he meant the Abbot? If he meant anyone then he must have meant the Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation.

On the other hand he might have meant brother Thomas. Certainly brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows and respects brother Thomas’ keen spirituality and insight.

Certainly he could not have meant brother Elred. Elred gets very crotchety at times. But, when you look back on it, Elred is almost always right, often VERY right. Maybe the rabbi did mean brother Elred.

But surely not brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. Maybe Phillip is the messiah.

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect, on the off chance that one of them might actually be the messiah.

As time went by there was a gentle, whole-hearted, human quality about them which was hard to describe but easy to notice. They lived with each other as people who had finally found something. But they prayed and read the Scriptures together as people who were always looking for something.

Now, because the forest in which it is situated is very beautiful, it so happened that people did still occasionally come to visit the monastery. They came to picnic on the lawn, to wander among the paths, even now and again to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently – to picnic, to play, to pray. As they did so, even without being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of extraordinary humility and respect that now began to surround the old monks, and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling about it. They began to bring friends to show them this special place. Before long, people were coming from far and wide to be nourished by the prayer life of the monks.

Some of the younger men who came to visit started talking to the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And then another. More and more young men were asking, once again, to become part of the community. Within a few years, the monastery had once again become a striving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in that area.

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