Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Abba Ah Beng: The Strongest Rope

Another little monks story:

“Settle down,” said Abba Ah Beng as he sat down on his customary seat on a platform set in the front of the teaching hall in Sow-lin Monastery, “and I will tell you a story.” Looking across the sea or rather the pond (Abba Ah Beng does not have many disciples. He gives too much homework.) of expectant faces, Abba Ah Beng started his story.

“Makua Ipo is one of the human head-shaped giant stones on Easter Island. He loves his location at the top of a hill facing the sun. The warm sunshine and cool breezes during the day, and the soft moonlight at night makes him feel at peace. In fact he feels a sense of wholeness with the universe, a sense that this is what things should be. One day, a violent earthquake shook Easter Island. Makua Ipo toppled from his place on the hilltop to lay facedown at the bottom of the hill.”

“Aiya, so terrible-lah, in the mud,” sniggered disciple Ah Lek who flinched when he saw Abba Ah Beng’s piercing stare.

“The villagers from the nearby village tried to move Makua Ipo back to his original place on top of the hill,” Abba Ah Beng continued, “They pushed and they tugged with all their might but they cannot move the seven ton stone. They tried using a pulley and tackle contraption but the ropes always break.

“One day, out of desperation, they sought the help of their village elder. The kindly, beloved old man taught them how to make a special six strand rope. ‘It will be strong enough to restore Makua Ipo to his proper position on the top of the hill,’ he assured them. The villagers followed his instructions and made the rope.

“The next day, the whole village turned out to help restore Makua Ipo to his original place on the hilltop. Using a pulley and tackle contraption, and the special rope, they pulled with all their might. The strain on the rope was tremendous but the rope did not break. Inches by inches, Makua Ipo was pulled up the slope, until at the end of the day he was happily settled back in his original position on the top of the hill.

“The villagers celebrated that night, satisfied with a job well done. ‘Bapak,’ they asked their beloved elder, ‘what is so special about this rope that makes it so strong?’ The kindly old man replied, ‘The strength of the rope lies in the materials that make up each strand. Different materials have different strength. Each strand alone is not strong but woven as a rope, the combined strength of the rope is greater than the sum of its component strands.’”

Finishing his story, Abba Ah Beng looked directly at his disciples and asked, “My disciples, what does this story tell you about spiritual life?”

There was a sudden silence in the hall in which one can hear a pin drop or the mangy dog that hangs around the monastery scratching for fleas across the quadrangle. The silence grew deadly and deafening loud as the minutes pass. Finally, a hand rose. “Yes, Ah Kow, what do you have to say about this?” Abba Ah Beng asked his number one disciple.

“Well, the rock being pulled uphill by the villagers may represent spiritual growth, and, and the villagers may represent the helpful teachers and fellow Christians,” stammered Ah Kow thinking of his friends and teachers at the monastery. “The rock on hilltop and fall down…ah, I know, it’s the fallen image of God,” Ah Kow finishes triumphantly.

“Good, good” said Abba Ah Beng with a smile. “But what of the rope? Why do some ropes break?”

“Made in China?” Ah Lek burst out only to receive a whack on the head from Ah Lian.

“What about the rope? Anyone?” asked Abba Ah Beng. The silence this time is even more deafening and the disciples could hear the cook singing a hill song in the kitchen (this hill song has nothing to do with what comes out of Australia. It is about Alisan and the beauty of its maiden).

“Ah Kow is correct about the spiritual life being a process of becoming or restoring what we already are. Makua Ipo is enjoying his commune with the universe when he fell. Yes, the villagers are people who help us in our spiritual journey. Yet sometimes we fail in our spiritual growth because these people do not know how to help us. The weak or incorrect rope breaks. The only rope that is strong enough to pull us upwards in our spiritual life has six strands. Alone these strands are weak. Weaved together, they can lift a seven ton rock.

“What are these strands? Well, they are worship, biblical learning, community, serving, mission and prayers. Remember them well, my disciples. These are the components that will make your spiritual journey strong. Makua Ipo is Polynesian for God-lover.”

Abba Ah Beng finished his teaching with a blessing and dismissed his disciples.

Reflection points

(1) What is the present state of your spiritual life?

(2) What are your thoughts of the image of God in relation to your spiritual life?

(3) In what ways can you strengthen your spiritual life?

(4) Name one way you can do to strengthen your spiritual life and focus on it for the whole coming week.

Soli Deo Gloria

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