Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Good in the Bad

I’d like to tell you a story. It’s the story of a man, but begins with a boy. One day, several years ago, a young boy - he was about ten years old at the time - was kidnapped from his middle-class parents’ home. There were no news crews with bright lights; no outcry of social media. The perpetrators took the boy very quickly and very violently from his home in Britain and sold him into slavery in another country. The child was put to work tending livestock for unforgiving masters in a foreign land. He was made a shepherd, this young boy, and forced to live and work with limited human contact in a bitterly isolated area.

Think of yourself at that age, being faced with such a situation. The thought that “life’s not fair” seems to be a bit of an understatement. But that’s pretty much the point, isn’t it? Life is rarely what we expect it to be and even less often is it what we think we deserve. However, instead of lamenting “if only this had been better,” or “that had been different,” the question we ought to be asking is, “What can I do with what I have?”

Back to the story: if you were expecting this incredible difficulty somehow to turn into an incredible blessing, then good for you. The boy looked inward for his strength, meditating and controlling his thoughts, fears, and emotions. He had not been raised in a religious family, but he quickly found focus and peace of mind through prayer. So he prayed, and prayed, and prayed; and six years into his forced captivity, he heard an answer.

The boy, now a young man, heard a voice, and that voice told him that a ship would take him home. Sometimes that’s all we need - a little direction. The young slave escaped his captors, made his way cross-country to a seaport, and convinced a group of sailors to let him board their ship bound for Britain and home.

But things were not the same. He was not the same. The boy who was taken from his family had returned home a changed man - a spiritual man. He devoted his energies to his new calling and entered the priesthood, all the time determined to return to the land of his captivity as a missionary. Several years later, he got his wish when Pope Celestine I consecrated the priest, Patrick, Bishop of Ireland. The year was approximately 431 A.D..

During that period of history, Ireland was considered “a land outside of time.” It was a culture of semi-nomadic, illiterate, Iron Age warriors, whose wealth was based on herding and slavery. For centuries, the Roman Empire had expanded its control and ideas of civilization from Africa to Britain, but they had never conquered Ireland. So how did the slave-boy turned bishop plan to turn an island of warring Celts into a literate and peaceful people? He began by teaching people to read. And amazingly, when students became teachers and spread throughout the land, they also brought the knowledge of how to turn sheepskin into paper, and paper into books. Copying religious manuscripts became a major activity among the growing number of Christian monks on the island. Monks spent their entire lives copying books, and not only the Holy Bible. They reprinted the great works of Roman culture, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew texts; grammar; the works of Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Homer; Greek philosophy; math; geometry; and astronomy. When the Roman Empire finally fell, the accumulated knowledge contained in these copied manuscripts was not lost to the Dark Ages that followed. Bishop Patrick had turned his suffering into purpose, helped to introduce culture and civilization to a pagan people, nearly eliminated the practice of slavery on the island, and for his efforts, he was made a saint - Saint Patrick.

“Quite a story,” you might think, “but what’s that got to do with me?”

Just this: there will come a time when you will find yourself in a situation that makes you uncomfortable and subject to circumstances not necessarily of your own making. When you face these issues, what are you going to do? You may not have all the answers or a solution that you even partially like, but keep in mind that these issues that are causing you so much grief may turn out to be the very motivation you need to turn a bad situation into something good.

Hundreds of years after the time of Saint Patrick, a Persian poet named Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi came to a similar conclusion when he wrote:

“The Guest House”

This being human is a guesthouse.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and attend them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, 
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, still,
treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. 


“St. Patrick.” 2014. website. Apr 13 2014

Khan, Adam. “A Slave to His Destiny.” 2014. After Hours Inspirational Stories website. Apr 13 2014

Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization. The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Print.

Rumi, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad. “The Guest House.” The Essential Rumi: New Expanded Edition. Tr. Coleman Barks. New York: HarperCollins. 2004. Print.

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