THE following is a profound and yet very real story, told in relation to our human need in times of crisis as we turn to prayer. So often we can judge and be negative when we evaluate our communication to God. Perhaps the conversation seems one way. Perhaps words are inadequate or simply we do not know what to say. This ancient tale might well resonate with an experience in our lives when in crisis we may have been lost for words as we try to pray.
In a time of plague and hardship, hundreds of years ago, oxen were dragging wagons full of fresh corpses to the lime-pits outside the local village. There is no-one to bless their burial because the parish priest has already died from his risky sick calls. The little village juggler begins to fear for his life. How will his wife and his small child manage if he catches the plague?
He decides to pray. So he steals into the parish church that he only visits at Easter because the Church law obliges him. He kneels in front of the altar, but he hasn’t a prayer. What can he say to God Almighty, that stern magistrate? Instead, he stands in front of a statue of Our Lady and he tries to recite the Hail Mary, but it’s been too long since the last time he blessed himself. The words of that small prayer are beyond him, let alone the litanies he learned as a child.
‘I shall pray in my own words’, says the little juggler. ‘I shall speak from the heart to the Virgin Mother. She was a villager, too.’ But the little juggler has no knack for the smooth sentences he wants. Whistling at women and cursing the world are his usual way. He is dumb. And then he thinks: ‘I shall do what I do best. I shall juggle for her!’ He takes the balls from his pouch and begins to throw them, there and then, in the empty Lady-chapel. First slowly, now swiftly … one, two, three, higher and higher the little juggler spins them until there are four, five, seven in the air, dancing like planets in the dust-clouds, the Galilean satellites of Jupiter.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, the sacristan appears, rude and red-faced. He punches the little juggler in the belly with his broomstick and he says: ‘Do you not know where you are, you ignoramus? Do you not know?’ But the statue of Our Lady softens and smiles and laughs aloud. She leans down to the little juggler from her tilting plinth and she wipes his sweaty forehead with the palm of her hand.
I firmly believe we will be most surprised at how compassionate and present our God is in our day-to-day lives, when we meet our creator face to face.
God asks us to be nobody other than who we really are. In a culture that often places huge emphasis on the external, our creator God is much more concerned and in love with our unique interior lives. Yes, we are sacred. Yes, we are a blessed and chosen people. Often it is our weakness, our scars and bruises that our God blesses and heals most. The next time we turn to God, we may not have to juggle, but simply say ‘it’s me, Lord’, and be prepared for the wonderful response of God’s blessing.
Slow me down prayer
***Slow me down, Lord, slow me down!
Ease the pounding of my heart
By the quieting of my mind
Give me amid the confusion of my day,
The calmness of the everlasting hills
Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles
With soothing music of the singing stream
That live in my memory.
Help me to know the magical restoring power of sleep.
Teach me the art of taking a minute vacation
Of slowing down to look at a flower,
To chat to a friend, to pat a dog,
To read a few lines of a good book.
Remind me each day of the fable,
Of the hare and the tortoise,
That I may know that the race is not always to the swift.
There is more to life than increasing speed.
Let me look upward into the branches of the flowing oak
And know that it is great and strong because it grew slowly and well.
Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me
To send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values
That I may grow towards the stars of my great destiny.***