This week we encourage you to reflect on the following story:
The Hermit’s Gift
There was once an old monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Centuries earlier, it had been a thriving center where many dedicated monks lived and worked and had great influence on the realm. But now only five monks lived there, and they were all over seventy years old. This was clearly a dying order.
A few miles from the monastery lived an old hermit who many thought was a prophet. One day as the monks agonized over the impending demise of their order, they decided to visit the hermit to see if he might have some advice for them. Perhaps he would be able to see the future and show them what they could do to save the monastery.
The hermit welcomed the five monks to his hut, but when they explained the purpose of their visit, the hermit could only commiserate with them. “Yes, I understand how it is,” said the hermit. “The spirit has gone out of the people. Hardly anyone cares much for the old things anymore.”
“Is there anything you can tell us,” the abbot inquired of the hermit, “that would help us save the monastery?”
“No, I’m sorry,” said the hermit. “I don’t know how your monastery can be saved. The only thing that I can tell you is that one of you is an apostle of God.”
The monks were both disappointed and confused by the hermit’s cryptic statement. They returned to the monastery, wondering what the hermit could have meant by the statement, “One of you is an apostle of God.” For months after their visit, the monks pondered the significance of the hermit’s words.
“One of us is an apostle of God,” they mused. “Did he actually mean one of us monks here at the monastery? That’s impossible. We are all too old. We are too insignificant. On the other hand, what if it’s true? And if it is true, then which one of us is it?”
One monks’s contemplation was similar to the four others’: “Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably 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—a man of wisdom and light. He couldn’t have meant Brother Elred. Elred gets crotchety at times and is difficult to reason with. On the other hand, he is almost always right. Maybe the hermit did mean Brother Elred. But surely he could not have meant Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, so shy—a real nobody. Still, he’s always there when you need him. He’s loyal and trustworthy. Yes, he could have meant Phillip. Of course, the hermit didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet, suppose he did? Suppose I am an apostle of God? Oh God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for you. Or could I?”
As they continued to mull the hermit’s words, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one of them might actually be an apostle of God. And on the off-off chance that he himself might be the apostle spoken of by the hermit, each monk began to treat himself with extraordinary respect.
Because the monastery was situated in a beautiful forest, many people came there to picnic on its tiny lawn and to walk on its paths, and even now and then to go into the tiny chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out of them, permeating the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, people began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.
As more and more visitors came, some of the younger men started to talk with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. Within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the hermit’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality throughout the realm.
(Adapted from M. Scott Peck, The Different Drum [Simon & Schuster, 1988].)
Where to Take It from Here…
Sometimes, just like the old monks, we ask, “How can we attract more kids to our youth group? How can we get some new life in here and grow, both numerically and spiritually?” Perhaps the answer has to do with how we regard each other. How do we treat each other? Are we always putting each other down and creating an atmosphere of criticism and negativism? Or are we treating each other with extraordinary dignity and respect?
John 17 records Jesus’ prayer to his Father for the church—for you and me. He asked that all of us would be one so that the world might believe. When we care for each other and treat each other with love and respect, then those in the world find the church to be attractive, even compelling. Let’s stop fighting and hurting each other and be one body in Christ.