Soul Stories – I love a good story. Many stories have nourished my soul. Not all of them are profound or necessarily spiritual, although many are. This morning let me share a sampling of the better stories that have aided me in my journey. (Note: The manuscript has one version of the stories. But in the video, I share the stories differently because I was not reading them, I was telling them.)
Pre-story “The Fable of the Eagle in the Chicken Yard”
A fable is told about an eagle that thought he was a chicken. When the eagle was very small, he fell from the safety of his nest. A chicken farmer found the eagle, brought him to the farm, and raised him in a chicken coop among his many chickens. The eagle grew up doing what chickens do, living like a chicken, and believing he was a chicken.
A naturalist came to the chicken farm to see if what he had heard about an eagle acting like a chicken was really true. He knew that an eagle is king of the sky. He was surprised to see the eagle strutting around the chicken coop, pecking at the ground, and acting very much like a chicken. The farmer explained to the naturalist that this bird was no longer an eagle. He was now a chicken because he had been trained to be a chicken and he believed that he was a chicken.
The naturalist knew there was more to this great bird than his actions showed as he “pretended” to be a chicken. He was born an eagle and had the heart of an eagle, and nothing could change that. The man lifted the eagle onto the fence surrounding the chicken coop and said, “Eagle, thou art an eagle. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The eagle moved slightly, only to look at the man; then he glanced down at his home among the chickens in the chicken coop where he was comfortable. He jumped off the fence and continued doing what chickens do. The farmer was satisfied. “I told you it was a chicken,” he said.
The naturalist returned the next day and tried again to convince the farmer and the eagle that the eagle was born for something greater. He took the eagle to the top of the farmhouse and spoke to him: “Eagle, thou art an eagle. Thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The large bird looked at the man, then again down into the
chicken coop. He jumped from the man’s arm onto the roof of the farmhouse.
Knowing what eagles are really about, the naturalist asked the farmer to let him try one more time. He would return the next day and prove that this bird was an eagle. The farmer, convinced otherwise, said, “It is a chicken.”
The naturalist returned the next morning to the chicken farm and took the eagle and the farmer some distance away to the foot of a high mountain. They could not see the farm nor the chicken coop from this new setting. The man held the eagle on his arm and pointed high into the sky where the bright sun was beckoning above. He spoke: “Eagle, thou art an eagle! Thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” This time the eagle stared skyward into the bright sun, straightened his large body, and stretched his massive wings. His wings moved, slowly at first, then surely and powerfully. With the mighty screech of an eagle, he flew.
(In Walk Tall, You’re A Daughter Of God, by Jamie Glenn)
Story #1 The Telescope Stone by Rev. Douglas Taylor
I remember one time when I was a teenager sitting alone in the woods. I had a free afternoon and nothing better to do, so I sat on the ground in the woods. I was staring at a stone. I suppose I had recently had science lessons about atomic structures because I started thinking about the small parts of the stone that go into making it a stone. I stared at the stone and thought about how it was made up of smaller parts that are in turn made up of even smaller parts. How far down does it go? What is the smallest part made of?
As I thought of little electrons swirling around a nucleus, my perspective suddenly shifted, it telescoped out from the very small to the very large. Atoms became planets. I reeled with the awareness that the subatomic particles and swirling galaxies of another universe were the same thing. For a brief moment I and the whole universe swirled inside that stone. Everything was connected. Inside that instant the stone and I and ten thousand universes were the same thing.
And then it was over, in less space than a breath it was finished because I noticed myself. I thought, “Hey, I’m having a really profound thought.” And suddenly it was over, my parietal lobe turned back on, the universe fell back into place, and I was simply sitting alone in the woods staring at a stone. Try as I might I could not get the stone to do that trick again.
Story #2 The Homeless Man in Church (anonymous)
The story begins in a simple New England white-clapboard church. The minister was mid-way through the reading of the text when people in the back noticed a disheveled man walking up the aisle. He was not someone who had been there before. He had the look of a homeless person, unwashed and unpleasant. The people in the pews could smell him before they saw him. And people would lean a little, or move their bags up onto the pew making it clear to the man as he looked around the seats on his way up the aisle: “don’t sit here,” “there’s no room for you in this pew.” The homeless man made it all the way up to the front pew without finding a space to sit. With a shrug, he walked a few steps in front of the first pew and settled himself down on the floor in front of the pulpit.
The minister had noticed him by now, having reached the conclusion of the reading and looking up to see everyone’s attention was fixed on the homeless man as he sat on the floor in the front. The minister noticed the head usher making his way down the aisle and knowing the situation would soon be in hand, he launched into the pastoral prayer. Other people also notice the respected elder of the church who served as head usher coming down the aisle. He moved slowly and with great purpose, leaning heavily on his cane as he walked. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as they saw the old pillar of the community coming forward. He would deal with the homeless man; he would kindly but firmly escort the man out.
When the elder arrived at the front of the church he promptly dropped his cane onto the floor and to everyone’s great surprise and chagrin, they watched as he slowly lowered his stiff old form down onto the floor to sit with the other man. The minister had stopped his prayer mid-sentence. An awed silence filled the room.
After a moment the minister spoke with wisdom and humility saying, “All of you here will quite likely not remember a word of the prepared remarks I am about to offer. But every one of you will remember for the rest of your lives the example of compassion and hospitality we have just witnessed.”
Story # 3 The Humming Planet by Joshua Searle-White
Astronaut Annie was lost. Definitely lost. She had been in her spaceship, coming back from a meeting on the planet Baldon, when she had run into this huge space storm, and it blew her way off course. By the time she had gotten control of the spaceship again and gotten everything back together, she had no idea where she was or how to get back to Earth.
“Well, now what?”, she said to herself. “I guess I’d better ask for directions.” So she looked in her space radar, and sure enough, there was a planet not too far away. She headed for it, came in through the atmosphere, found a flat place, and landed her ship gently on the ground. She stood up and pushed the button to open the spaceship door.
And when the door opened, she was greeted with a beautiful sight. She was in some kind of a garden, on a lawn of green grass, with purple and red flowers growing all over and a thick forest nearby. It was pretty much like Earth, but somehow the colors were just a little bit … brighter. But when she stepped out of the ship onto the grass, she had the strangest experience. From somewhere out there, she heard … a soft, humming sound. (hmmm … ) Not really a song, more like … like … like velvet hands holding her. Like a warm soft blanket wrapped around her. Like a sweet taste in the air. And there was just a hint of it everywhere, coming from everything – from the flowers, from the trees, from the grass, and even from the wind rustling in the trees. And even stranger, it seemed to change as she moved around, sometimes louder and sometimes softer, depending on where she moved and what she was looking at. It was almost like it was alive. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard, and she wanted to hear it more and more and more.
Annie saw a path heading out of the garden, and so she decided to take it and see if she could find someone who could give her directions for how to get home. She walked down the path, through the trees, and then into a small town, all the while accompanied by just a faint trace of the hum. When she walked into the town, she saw crowds and crowds of people, walking, going into and out of stores, going home after the day’s work. And as she walked into the crowds, she noticed something strange. The humming came from the people, too! She could hear it as they passed by, as they talked, as they looked at and helped and thought about each other, sometimes louder, sometimes softer, sometimes changing its tune, sometimes disappearing into the air. They weren’t actually humming, but the sound somehow came from inside them.
Well, Annie saw that among all of the rushing people there was one man, standing next to a store window looking at something on the ground. Annie walked over to him to ask him about where to find directions home. She tapped him on the shoulder, but when he looked up at her, she gasped. He had only one eye, and his face looked kind of twisted, as though had had some kind of terrible injury. The man said, “Yes, may I help you?”, but Annie was so scared by how he looked that she turned away from him without saying anything and began to walk away.
But you know what? As she began to go away from him, the music stopped. And so Annie also stopped, startled at the silence. She’d gotten used to the beautiful hum, and now it was gone! And she turned back towards the man, and as she looked at him, injured face and all, the humming started again. She looked at him and moved closer to him, and the humming became even louder, and as she walked up to him again, she heard it even more clearly than she had ever heard it before. And this time, it was coming from someplace inside her!
She was still afraid of him, because of how he looked, but she loved to hear that music, and so she walked back up to him, and looked at him, and apologized for running away, and asked him how she could find out how to get home. He told her very kindly about a building where there were people who could help her, and she thanked him and went on, all the while with that humming soaring inside her. It was a great feeling, a feeling she had never had before. It was a very strange experience, but the more she walked, the more she could hear the song in herself, when she looked at other people, smiled at them, didn’t turn away and run or hide from people. And the song ebbed and flowed, and twisted and turned, almost as if it were alive, almost as if she were dancing with it. And when at one point she tripped and almost fell over a curb, and some people caught her so she didn’t fall, she heard the song from their hearts, and the song came from her in response, and … and even from the trees, and the buildings, and the sidewalks the song came in response, all flowing together in an intricate and beautiful harmony.
Well, she finally arrived at the building that the old man had told her about, and sure enough, in there they had star maps and computers and telescopes and stuff, and they told her where she was and how to get back to earth. And so she walked back through the town, through the woods, and into the garden, and back to her ship. All the while that humming sang to her, mostly quietly, but sometimes with new melodies and harmonies, until she finally stood at the doorway back into her ship. She turned and looked out at the garden, and for a moment, she really, really, really did not want to go home. She had never felt anything like what that humming made her feel; she had never heard a song so alive, so embracing, and it was like it was calling her to stay. But then she thought of her home, and her family, and all the things he knew back on earth, and she knew she had to leave. So she went into the spaceship, closed the door, and took off back into space.
And she flew through space for a couple of days, and then sure enough, she found Earth right where it should be. She orbited the planet once, found the place where she lived, came down through the atmosphere, and landed, right back in her own country, in her own town, in her own backyard. As the ship settled down, she had a mix of feelings – she was really happy to be home, but she still felt a little sadness at leaving the Humming Planet. And once the ship was down, she stood up, and she pushed the button to open the door, and it opened, and she saw all the familiar sights and sounds of her home – the backyard with some trees, some spring flowers growing, and best of all, her family running out of the house shouting “Annie’s back! Annie’s back!” But as she stepped out of the spaceship, she had the strangest experience. From somewhere out here, she heard … a soft, humming sound. Not really a song, more like … like … like velvet hands holding her. Like a warm soft blanket wrapped around her. Like a sweet taste in the air. And it was coming from everywhere, from the grass, and the trees, and the flowers, and from her family, and … and … and from inside herself, too. How could this be? This wasn’t the Humming Planet! And as she stepped out, and hugged her family, and said hello to her friends, and went about being home again, that song was there, in her and in others and from all around, whenever they loved, helped, and lived.
Maybe Earth is the Humming Planet, after all.
Story #4 John Muir and the Wind Storm
John Muir, some of you may know, was the great naturalist from the late 1800’s. He is the “Father of our National Parks” and founder of the Sierra Club. He was also a bit of a thrill seeker. He loved to really get out into nature and experience it as fully as possible. He would climb trees, scramble up rocky inclines, and he got out in all manner of weather to experience nature. I offer remarks from his own journal to reveal this teaching story.
“One of the most beautiful and exhilarating storms I ever enjoyed in the Sierra,” Muir wrote in A Wind-Storm in the Forests, “occurred in December, 1874, when I happened to be exploring one of the tributary valleys of the Yuba River.”
He was on his way to visit a friend that day, but when he noticed a fine wind-storm brewing he decided to instead push out into the woods to enjoy it. I don’t know about you, but when I see a wind storm coming, I like to have some shelter. John Muir was led by a different impulse. “For on such occasions (he wrote) Nature has always something rare to show us, and the danger to life and limb is hardly greater than one would experience crouching deprecatingly beneath a roof.” After spending a good while walking around the woods in the midst of this great windstorm it occurred to him “that it would be a fine thing to climb one of the trees to obtain a wider outlook.”
So he hunted for a good choice. He found a stand of tall Douglas Spruces growing close together. He knew that the wind was strong enough to uproot a single tree standing alone, but a dozen or more trees together served to protect all the trees in the copse.
“Though comparatively young, (he writes in his journal) they were about 100 feet high, and their lithe, brushy tops were rocking and swirling in wild ecstasy. Being accustomed to climb trees in making botanical studies, I experienced no difficulty in reaching the top of this one, and never before did I enjoy so noble an exhilaration of motion.”
He clung to the high slender tree as it bent and swirled in the storm. The tree bent from 20 to 30 degrees in arc but he trusted the companion stand around him to keep his tree rooted and upright throughout the experience. He describes it as exciting and beautiful. He felt the wind in his pulse. He described light and wind sweeping across the valley spread before his eyes as if he were watching waves on the open sea; the trees undulating and swaying in concentric circles, lines of wind chasing each other in a water-like flow from one end of valley to the other. “I kept my lofty perch for hours, (he writes) frequently closing my eyes to enjoy the music by itself, or to feast quietly on the delicious fragrance that was streaming past.”
This experience was a seminal moment for Muir’s sense of connectedness with all nature. “We all travel the milky way together,” he wrote, “trees and men; but it never occurred to me until this storm-day, while swinging in the wind, that trees are travelers, in the ordinary sense. They make many journeys, not extensive ones, it is true; but our own little journeys, away and back again, are only little more than tree-wavings–many of them not so much.”
Story #5 Angry Nails (anonymous)
There a story of a boy who had a hard time controlling his anger. He would often lash out when he was angry. Finally, his mother told him that every time he lashed out in anger he should go out to the back yard and pound a nail into the fence. During the first few days, the boy was out in the back yard pounding nails several times a day. Over time, the boy went to the fence less often. Then the boy went an entire day without going out to the fence to pound in a nail.
The boy said this to his mother who replied, “Now every time you control your anger and do not lash out I want you to go out and remove one of your nails from then fence.” And this the boy did. Sometimes he would still pound a nail in, but more often he removed nails.
Eventually there came a day when the boy had not pounded a new nail into the fence in weeks, and he had removed all the nails from his earlier visits. His mother then took him out to the fence and said, “I am proud of you, you have learned to control your anger. I want you to remember, however, that although you have removed the nails you had pounded into the fence, the holes from those nails are still there in the wood. You cannot take those away. You can always remove a nail that you have pounded into the fence but you can never remove the hole that you make with the nail.”
“So it is when you lash out with your anger,” his mother continued. “You can apologize and be forgiven, but the damage you cause will always remain, at least in some fashion. It is good to apologize, better to not need to. But you will need to. No one can move through this life without creating a few nail holes.”
Story #6 Did You Find Any Pieces Today? by Rev. Douglas Taylor
When Mariam was a child, her favorite thing was when her grandfather would visit and tell her stories at bedtime. They lived nearby and so she was able to get a bedtime story from him at least once a week. She loved to hear his stories. And her favorite was the story about the shattered vessels.
“It is my favorite as well,” he would always say. And then he would tell her, “There are many versions of how the world came to be. But the best one is Tikkun Olam because we get to take part. At the beginning, God created Love, and there was so much Love it filled ten large vessels. And God sent those vessels to the world. But the Love was so powerful and so much, that it could not be contained by the vessels. The Love burst the vessels, it shattered them. The Love broke into many pieces and was scattered all over creation, all over the world.”
“And it is our job to find all the pieces?” Miriam would ask.
Her grandfather would smile and nod, “Yes Miriam. That is our part in creation, we need to gather all the scattered pieces and bring them back together to repair the world.”
And then he would lean closer to her and ask, “And did you find any pieces today?”
She always had an answer for him. When she was five, there was always a sparkly rock or a beautiful sunset she would mention to him. On this day, she said, “I found a very pretty feather today.”
“A feather?” he would say, impressed. “Tell me about it.” And she would.
One time she asked, “Grandfather, I have figured this out, right? It’s like a big hide and seek game, and I need to find all the bright and beautiful pieces and collect them.”
Her grandfather would smile down at her adoringly. “Maybe,” he would say with a shrug. “It is a mystery. We tell the story and we ask our questions. It’s good.”
That was when she was five. Later when she was twelve, she had found a different answer. She still loved that story. She still asked for that one as often as any other story each week. He would tell her about the Love and the shattering vessels and the scattering of the pieces. And he would ask, “Did you find any pieces today?”
As a mature twelve-year-old, she was proud to tell him. “I have figured it out, grandfather. I used to think the pieces were pretty things, like glitter that had exploded all over everything. But now I know it is not about finding shiny rocks. It’s about love. Isn’t that right grandfather?”
“Love?” He said, smiling at her. “Maybe,” he would say with a shrug. “It is a mystery. We tell the story and we ask our questions. It’s good.” And then he asked, “Tell me more about the Love you have found this week.”
And she would. She would tell him about how she loved her parents and how she loved him and grandmother, and on and on.
Later, when she was in high school, he would still come over sometimes and they would talk. Sometimes she would ask him to tell the story of Tikkun Olam – even though she was too old for bedtime stories. He would tell her and he would ask “Did you find any pieces today?”
And she would tell him about kindness she had given or received. About a boy who helped her figure out the answer to a homework problem, or the time she helped a stranger who had fallen in the grocery store. She said, “I think it is silly that I used to think the pieces of God’s love were shiny rocks. And it is embarrassing that I thought it was about something as mushy as love. It must be about kindness. Do I have it right this time grandfather?”
And he would smile and shrug, “Maybe. Tell me more about the kindness you found this week.”
The years went on and Miriam grew older. She fell in love and got married. She asked her grandfather to tell her favorite story at the wedding – which everyone loved.
A few years after that, when she was in her early-twenties, her grandfather grew ill and went to the nursing home. She visited him every week and he would ask her to tell him stories. Which she did. She would tell him her favorite story about Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. And he would ask her, “Did you find any pieces today?”
One day when he asked that of her, she was quiet for a while, thinking. She said, “Grandfather, I think I finally get it. The pieces are not just beautiful, shiny things. But they are not love or kindness either. It’s all of it. All of it together. Isn’t that right?” she asked.
He smiled up at her adoringly and shrugged. “Maybe. It is a mystery. We tell the story and we ask our questions. It is good.”
And so her life went on. She had a career helping people in her way. She and her spouse had a child together and she told her child the story. And each day, she would find a few piece; she would look for beauty and show it to others; she would make her life and the lives of people around her better; she would repair the world.