Sunday, July 29, 2012

Perceiving the Divine

A mountain rose above the valley. Its towering snow capped peak shone brilliantly in the sunlight. When darkness settled over the land the top of the mountain glinted in the last hours of illumination.

In the valley below there was a village. The people of the village lived simple lives. They rose each morning to their chores tending their livestock and their gardens, gathering to discuss some slightly unusual happening, to gossip, to laugh, and of course to pass judgement on others. For that is the way of people.

A young woman of the village was considered ugly by everyone. Her brothers and sisters had no use for her. Her parents despaired of ever finding any kind of spouse for her. She was just too ugly.

Now comes the part about the handsome prince. He came from a kingdom far away and he was of course searching for a bride to reside with him and rule over his kingdom. He had promised to visit every neighboring kingdom and to go to every single village to find the perfect woman for him.

As he passed through the village of the ugly young woman he saw her and instantly fell in love with the most rapturously beautiful woman he could ever have hoped to lay eyes upon.

Okay, now what does all this mean? Do the people of the village have some outlandish aesthetic that makes a mockery of the form, balance, symmetry, and character that we know as Beauty? Has a witch cast a spell on the prince to make him look ridiculous in the eyes of his subjects? Does the prince himself have really bad taste? Somewhere in all this lurks the idea that Beauty is a universal quality that somehow transcends as well as unites all cultures, tastes, and social norms; that Beauty is seen with and by the soul by everyone regardless of ethnicity or experience.

Anyway, as it turns out our young woman is now considered by everyone to be the most beautiful woman in all the kingdoms. Even the people of her village now think of her as the most beautiful woman in all the kingdoms. And, strangely enough, they never wonder at their former opinion of her.

At this point a sage comes down from his cave on the mountain, sees all this foolishness, and begins to chastise everyone even the prince. "You are all fools," he cries, "This woman is not beautiful. She is a horror to look at. Be done with this stupidity!"

Everyone is at first dumbfounded, but then some narrow their eyes at the young woman. And they begin to think. And the more they think, the more they convince themselves that the young woman is some kind of sorceress who has cast a spell on them. And then they see her ugliness. And soon the prince does too. So the prince casts her out of the palace and she winds up a beggar on the streets.

One day while sitting on a corner with her begging bowl, the young woman spies the sage walking by. "Oh Great Sage," she calls out to him, "Have pity on a poor soul whose fate you have so cruelly sealed."

The sage stopped in his tracks and stared at the young woman. She stared back. All at once the sage saw the form of his mother in the young woman. Then he saw his sister's form. Once he had married and had a wife, and this form too he saw. And then he saw what he had been looking for all his life. He saw the Goddess. For this story was never about a young woman and a prince. It is the story of the search for the Divine Presence in our daily lives. May we be prepared to perceive that Presence when it appears before us.

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