(More scattered, simple reflections at the just-past-mid-point of Orthodox Lent)
“Unless you become like a little child…”
What is funny is that, in the end, the joy of Pascha/Easter along with the many joys of life, are all freely-given gifts. This is easy for me to say, but much harder to practice. Yet, I know it’s true. No matter how diligently I fast, pray, root out sin, etc., I will never be “worthy” of the grace of Pascha. I will probably always be learning how to live in this extraordinary tension and gift of the overwhelming grace and “enough-ness” of God and the daily practice of taking action, working out salvation, and following Christ in tangible ways.
I came across this story in an amazing book called Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov (trans. Julian Henry Lowenfeld, Pokrov Publications, 2012, p. 209). I think somehow the simplicity of this peasant’s offering to God captures the goal and essence of our childlike approach to Him and I hope the image of his bowl of milk and the little fox stays with me through these last days of Lent.
The Tale of the Prayer and the Little Fox
In Egypt, in whose ancient Christian past there had once been many grand monasteries, there once lived a monk who befriended an uneducated and simple peasant farmer. One day this peasant said to the monk, “I too respect God who created this world! Every evening I pour out a bowl of goat’s milk and leave it under a palm tree. In the evening God comes and drinks up my milk! He is very fond of it! There’s never once been a time when even a drop of milk is left in the bowl.”
Hearing these words, the monk could not help smiling. He kindly and logically explained to his friend that God doesn’t need a bowl of goat’s milk. But the peasant so stubbornly insisted that he was right that the monk then suggested that the next night they secretly watch to see what happened after the bowl of milk was left under the palm tree.
No sooner said than done. When night fell, the monk and the peasant hid themselves some distance from the tree, and soon in the moonlight they saw how a little fox crept up to the bowl and lapped up all the milk till the bowl was empty.
“Indeed!” the peasant sighed disappointedly. “Now I can see that it wasn’t God!”
The monk tried to comfort the peasant and explained that God is a spirit, that God is something completely beyond our poor ability to comprehend in our world, and that people comprehend His presence each in their own unique way. But the peasant merely stood hanging his head sadly. Then he wept and went back home to his hovel.
The monk also went back to his cell, but when he got there he was amazed to see an angel blocking his path. Utterly terrified, the monk fell to his knees, but the angel said to him:
“That simple fellow had neither education nor wisdom nor book-learning enough to be able to comprehend God otherwise. Then you with your wisdom and book learning took away what little he had! You will say that doubtless you reasoned correctly. But there’s one thing that you don’t know, oh learned man: God, seeing the sincerity and true heart of this good peasant, every night sent the little fox to that palm tree to comfort him and accept his sacrifice.”