Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Give it away, give it away, give it away now?

Thoughts for the Contemplative Service

The Pearl of Great Price

He asked what I was looking for.
"Frankly," I said, "I'm looking for the Pearl of Great Price."
He slipped his hand into his pocket, drew it out, AND GAVE IT TO ME. It was just like that! I was dumbfounded. Then I began to protest: "You don't want to give it to me? Don't you want to keep it for yourself? But..."
When I kept this up, he said finally, "Look, is it better to have the Pearl of Great Price, or to give it away? -
Well, now I have it. I don't tell anyone. From some there would just be disbelief and ridicule. "You, you have the Pearl of Great Price? Hah!" Others would be jealous, or someone might steal it. Yes, I do have it. But there's that question - 'Is it better to have it, or to give it away?" How long will that question rob me of my joy?

~From 'Tales of a Magic Monastery' by Theophane the Monk

I find I get distracted by this story, I want to know exactly what the Pearl of Great Price is. I want to pin down an exact meaning to every sentence, and I get frustrated that Theophane doesn't end the story neatly and tie a bow around it. We are left with the question 'Is it better to have it, or to give it away?'

The Pearl of Great Price, the item that had been the monk's desire, has become a source of anxiety. What if somebody tries to steal it? Are other people jealous of me for having it? Do they even believe me when I say it is my possession?

That anxiety is a sign that something is off balance, and so the question of Holding or Releasing robs the monk of the joy of possession. The identity of the pearl is not important, what is at issue is what the pearl has done to him. The pearl brings anxiety rather than peace, worry rather than joy, and that anxiety and worry is trying to speak to him.

The rhythm of life is one of Holding and Releasing. But moving through life with open hands, holding onto our pearls loosely and living out of grace and generosity is difficult. We need to be careful that our 'Pearls' do not become 'Idols'.

One example that my friend Jerry gave was of Reputation.

"When I thought of the pearl in these terms this morning, my mind went to “reputation” as something that we hold onto. Concern for our reputation, for what others think of us or even how we esteem ourselves is easily an idol that our culture justifies without question. We think that a stellar reputation is the highest good. “Reputation” is an investment in what others think about us (not in who we actually are). It is possible to hold onto a good reputation while what is inside us is degenerative, because “reputation” has to do with appearances, not the actual reality. “Seeking” and “holding onto” a good reputation may seem like a valuable “pearl,” but held in the pocket without touching the core it is essentially worthless in the larger scheme of life."

Paul wrote in Philippians ch 4:

I've learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I'm just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

Questions for reflection:
  • What are you seeking?
  • Where are you experiencing anxiety and what is that anxiety trying to tell you?
  • What should you hold and what should you release?

1 comment:

JWebb said...

You've hit the core issues. How difficult it is to be attentive to the anxiety and let it speak to us about our interior! Thanks for the step "out there."