Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker or T shirt that proclaims, “God Bless The Whole Wide World. No Exceptions” Now there’s a conversation starter that is almost guaranteed to spark strong reaction, and controversy. Try it sometime. At this very moment as I write this, we can be sure that selfless acts of love and compassion as well as unspeakable acts of terror and violence are taking place? No exceptions? Not even for those who are bent on doing us harm?
Here are two stories that speak this. One is a parable of sorts. The second from a conversation I had the good fortune to hear at a family dinner.
Once a holy man and his student were walking from village to village. Suddenly a horse drawn carriage came lunging around the corner, with the driver in a great rage, whipping the horses, and letting out great torrents of curses. It soon became apparent that the carriage would not slow or swerve, and it was only by quickly jumping into the ditch by the side of the road that they were able to avoid great injury. Bruised and shaken, they looked at the carriage as it careened out of control down the road.
The student shook his fist and screamed after the driver. But the teacher waved and calmly called out, “May all of God’s blessings be upon you.”
The student was dumbfounded by the teacher’s response, “This man almost killed us with his recklessness. How can you wish him all of God’s blessings?” The teacher replied, “Yes, his anger and carelessness almost killed us, and may yet do great harm to others. Tell me then, who more than this man needs God’s blessings?”
Sources, include, From Once Upon a Time… Storytelling to Teach Character and Prevent Bullying by Elisa Davy Pearmain; Doorways to the Soul: 52 Wisdom Tales from Around the World, edited by Elisa Pearmain (Pilgrim Press, 1998); Buddha Is As Buddha Does by Surya Das (Harper One, 2008); and Milk from the Bull’s Horn: Tales of Nurturing Men by Doug Lipman (Yellow Moon Press, 1986).
Interesting that it appears as a Jewish, Buddhist and Islamic tale!
Now for the second story. May we all consider the wisdom of my granddaughter who was seven years old at the time.
I was at a family gathering, just getting ready to sit down to dinner. The news of the day was grim. A terrorist attack had taken another cruel toll. One of the adults at the table said in anger and frustration, “We should just drop an atom bomb on the terrorists.” It was immediately apparent that Maya was disturbed by the comment. She quickly and forcefully replied. “ That’s a terrible idea!”
Perhaps it would have been better if the whole subject had not come up with a child of this age present, but having come this far, I followed up and asked her to ‘tell us more.” Maya said that she would show us with a drawing. Grabbing the ever present paper and pencil that never far from her, she proceeded to illustrate. “ There are good people and bad people in the world so I am going to fold this paper in two and draw the good people on one side and the bad people on the other. No wait. That won’t work! I’ll draw a line and put the good people at one end and the bad people at the other end. No wait. That’s not right either. It’s all continuous.” (Yes! she really said that) “ People on the good side sometimes go to the bad side, and people on the bad side sometimes go to the good side. It’s more like a circle. But if you drop a bomb on the terrorists, those bad people will never have a chance to change and come to the good side.”
Well, there it is, two stories to chew over, one from the old wisdom tradition and one from a wise child. What do you think? God Bless The Whole Wide World. No exceptions?
Please know, that I don’t write this from the perspective of someone who has not continued at times, to curse the perpetrators of barbarisms at home and abroad. But for me, these stories serve to realign my emotions with my hopes and dreams that as both Beasts and Angels I can starve the Beast and feed the Angel of my own better being.
For readers here who represents the various faith traditions, I’d love it if you would share your thoughts… what would your God think about this, what guidance do your holy texts provide?
May Peace Be Upon Us All!
Hello Bob, I’ve pondered your first story (and others like it) many times. I’ve wondered if the driver had killed the holy man’s student whether the holy man would have been as quick to bless. I know I’m prone to issuing forgiveness or compassion when the tragedy involves others at a distance but I wonder if I’d be so quick to do so if the victims were my children or loved ones. I’m always amazed and humbled by those stories of people who forgive the murderers of their loved ones. I don’t know that I have the kind of strength.
And your granddaughter sounds like a very wise young woman indeed. If I had an ounce of her wisdom and compassion I’d be a better man.
Thanks for your thoughts Michael. I have to take the coachman story as a parable… an invitation to reflection. I don’t know how I’d respond either if the offense were ‘closer to home.’ I actually don’t think that the story is about forgiveness… for some, and probably myself included, some acts are unforgivable. Still, the story holds out the possibility of redemption. There’s another anecdote, similar, where a wise man blesses a sinner… when asked why he responds… I am blessing not what this man is now, but the better man that I can I see he has the possibility of becoming.
Back to forgiveness for a moment… I had the opportunity to meet a truly remarkable woman ,Immaculée Ilibagiza the author of Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. Immaculé literally lit up the room with her presence… she tells the story of forgiving the people who massacred her family as she hid for weeks in a crowded bathroom listening as her neighbors called for her blood. This encounter with her, convinced me that even in the most extreme situations, both forgiveness and redemption are possible… as I said in the post though… I am far from that place… but trying to starve the beast and feed the angel.
the new testament is replete with stories such as this. in fact, you could say this is what it is all about. jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors, curing a child of a Roman soldier, drinking water provided by a Samaritan woman, conversing with scribes and Pharisees, consorting with a ragtag band of common people who don’t get his message and desert him when he is arrested, and parables such as rescuing the one lost sheep out of 100 or searching for a small lost coin. this story reminds me of a proverb from the Talmud: “He who saves one life saves the whole world.”
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Thanks Rich. Good to hear from you … and your example of Jesus eating with sinners reminds me of the Tlingit story of The Man Who Made Friends With the Bears, whose ‘Moral’ is ” it’s good to sit down with your enemy at a meal.”