Surprised by grace

In the remote mountains of northern Greece, there once lived a monk who desired all of his life to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre-to walk three times around it, to kneel, and to return home a new person. Gradually through the years he had saved what money he could, begging in the villages nearby, and finally, near the end of his life, had enough set aside to begin his trip. He opened the gates of the monastery and, staff in hand, set out with great anticipation on his way to Jerusalem.

But no sooner had he left the cloister than he encountered a man in rags, sad and bent to the ground, picking herbs. “Where are you going, Father?” the man asked. “To the Holy Sepulchre, brother. By God’s grace, I shall walk three times around it, kneel, and return home a different man from what I am.”

“How much money to do that do you have, Father” inquired the man. “Thirty pounds,” the monk answered. “Give me the thirty pounds,” said the beggar. “I have a wife and hungry children. Give me the money and walk three times around me, then kneel and go back into your monastery.”

The monk thought for a moment, scratching the ground with his staff, then took the thirty pounds from his sack, gave the whole of it to the poor man, walked three times around him, knelt, and went back through the gates of the monastery.

He returned home a new person, of course having recognized that the beggar was Christ himself-not in some magical place far away, but right outside his monastery door, mysteriously close. In abandoning his quest for the remote, the special, the somehow “magical,” the monk discovered a meaning far more profound in the ordinary experience close to home. All that he had given up came suddenly rushing back to him with a joy unforeseen.

To be surprised by grace is a gift still to be prized.

taken from “Spirituality of Imperfection-Storytelling and the Journey to Wholeness” by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham.

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