Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Sacred Sound

Over a year ago I received an email that included a story with a message that impressed me enough that I saved it in my writing file with the thought that at the right time I would weave it into an article for my blog.  As I recently reread the story and researched the author and the book containing the story, I realized it could only be shared just as it was written and not as an example used by me to illustrate some point of my own.  I hope you can connect with the story as I did.


A man is driving down the road and his car breaks down near a monastery.  He goes to the monastery, knocks on the door, and says, "My car broke down.  Do you think I could stay the night?"
The Monks graciously accept him, feed him dinner, and even fix his car.  As the man tries to fall asleep, he hears a strange sound . . . . a sound not like anything he's ever heard before.  The Sirens that nearly seduced Odysseus into crashing his ship comes to his mind.  He doesn't sleep that night.  He tosses and turns trying to figure out what could possibly be making such a seductive sound.
The next morning, he asks the Monks what the sound was, but they say, "We can't tell you. You're not a Monk."
Distraught, the man is forced to leave.

Years later, after never being able to forget that sound, the man goes back to the monastery and pleads for the answer again.  The Monks reply, "We can't tell you.  You're not a Monk."
The man says, "If the only way I can find out what is making that beautiful sound is to become a Monk, then please, make me a Monk."
The Monks reply, "You must travel the earth and tell us how many blades of grass there are and the exact number of grains of sand.  When you find these answers, you will have become a Monk."

The man sets about his task.

After years of searching, he returns as a grey-haired old man and knocks on the door of the monastery.  A Monk answers.  He is taken before a gathering of all the Monks.
"In my quest to find what makes that beautiful sound, I traveled
the earth and have found what you asked for:  By design, the world is in a state of perpetual change.  Only God knows what you ask.  All a man can know is himself, and only then if he is honest and reflective and willing to strip away self deception."
The Monks reply, "Congratulations.  You have become a Monk.  We shall now show you the way to the mystery of the sacred sound."
The Monks lead the man to a wooden door, where the head monk says, "The sound is beyond that door."
The Monks give him the key, and he opens the door.  Behind the wooden door is another door made of stone.  The man is given the key to the stone door and he opens it, only to find a door made of ruby.  And so it went that he needed keys to doors of emerald, pearl and diamond.
Finally, they come to a door made of solid gold.  The sound has become very clear and definite.  The Monks say, "This is the last key to the last door."
The man is apprehensive to no end.  His life's wish is behind that door!  With trembling hands, he unlocks the door, turns the knob, and slowly pushes the door open.  Falling to his knees, he is utterly amazed to discover the source of that haunting and seductive sound . . . .

But I can't tell you what it is because you're not a Monk.

"The secret of seeing is, then, the pearl of great price.  If I thought he could teach me to find it and keep it forever I would stagger barefoot across a hundred deserts after any lunatic at all.  But although the pearl may be found, it may not be sought. The literature of illumination reveals this above all: although it comes to those who wait for it, it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, a gift and a total surprise. I return from one walk knowing where the killdeer nests in the field by the creek and the hour the laurel blooms. I return from the same walk a day later scarcely knowing my own name. Litanies hum in my ears; my tongue flaps in my mouth Ailinon, alleluia! I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff." ~

Grateful appreciation to the author, Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Check out the monks of Glenstal Abbey

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