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Thursday, July 03, 2003  

Into the Village came the Strong Man. In the generation that lived after the creation of the metal circle, he was the seventh man of strength to enter the Village and there was a great commotion among the citizens as the muscular man marched through the winding streets. Children hid in shadows in the narrow alleys as he approached, and older youths walked in step behind the man, but at a distance, whispering among themselves. There were faces, only briefly, at the windows as he walked by.

The Strong Man walked to the Square and then to the house of the Village Mayor. He knocked on the door. The Mayor opened the door and paused, without surprise and without recognition of the man, but still with a look of fulfillment.

"You have come to test the metal circle?"

"I have come for my mission," said the Strong Man.

"Come with me." The Mayor walked into the street and led the Strong Man to a building behind the Square. He unlocked the entrance and slid aside a massive door. Inside was a pedestal upon which rested an indeterminately shaped metal mass. The bent metal tube on the pedestal glistened in the dim light: its color, similar to ivory, suggested manufacture from a precious metal. The Mayor beckoned the Strong Man over to the object.

"Here is the metal circle, Strong Man, such as it is," he said. "Six men of strength before you have tried to return this bar to its original shape and each failed to accomplish the task. It was created before my time as a symbol of peace and hope for the children of our Village. A brazier, an artisan of great fame, manufactured a perfect circle from rare, forged metals and it took twenty of our hardiest men to mount the circle in the center of the Square. There this sculptured gift was displayed until, in a rage that broke the peace of our little village, a strong man tested himself by tearing it from its pedestal and twisting it into the shape of a pretzel. The peace must be returned to our Village! This symbol must be returned to its original shape! Are you ready now, Strong Man, to test the metal circle?"

The Strong Man walked to the massive metal object and ran his large fingers over the angles of the metal bar, the twists and turns that were never part of the sculpture's original design. After a moment, he turned to the Mayor and said: "I have come to your Village not to undo the new design of this object. Even men stronger than I could never return this gnarled metal to its original form. Men have already tried this—you know that—but the most successful will still leave you with only an exasperating memory of what it once was. The peace you seek was never in the circle, and was not lost in its destruction."

"But I cannot go to my people with those words," said the Mayor. "They will not understand. And strong men after you will want to test the circle, believing that its restoration is still possible."

"Very well," said the Strong Man. "Then I will leave you with this." In his hands he grasped the gnarled mass of glistening metal, the same that had tested the strength of strong men before him, and with no little effort pressed it into a smooth, bright globe, afterward placing it on the pedestal. With that, the Strong Man left.

Today visitors to the Village can see that the pedestal has been returned to the Square and upon it now rests the bright globe as a new symbol of peace for the Village's citizens. The Mayor does not speak of his conversation with the Strong Man: he is certain that his listeners would scoff and deride him. He is pleased that his Village is at peace again. Perhaps, thought the Mayor, it is true that the metal globe is the cause of our peace.

posted by Merle Harton Jr. | 5:03 PM |

Wednesday, July 02, 2003  

As I finish Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, I am impressed by how close the mystical Roman Catholic approaches the ideal of the Quaker. Speaking of the contemplative life as the goal of every Christian, he admits in the end that for the Christian "there is only one vocation." Says Merton:

"Whether you teach or live in the cloister or nurse the sick, whether you are in religion or out of it, married or single, no matter who you are or what you are, you are called to the summit of perfection: you are called to a deep interior life, perhaps even to mystical prayer, and to pass the fruits of your contemplation on to others. And if you cannot do so by word, then by example."

The Body of Christ needs solitude, contemplative prayer, the discipline to "pray without ceasing" [1 Thes 5:17 NKJ], and total focus on God's purpose for us. Such is the Body's supernatural food, fed by the Holy Spirit, without which the Body will starve and disappear without remnants.

posted by Merle Harton Jr. | 11:50 PM |
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