John The Dwarf, was sold for a bottle of wine in the market place of Corinth to Likas. From then on, he was condemned to play the clown to satisfy his audience to laughter. When he was fifteen years old he fell sick and Likas having no more use of him discarded him in the market place like an old piece of junk.
It was there that Abba Silvanus found him and took him under his protection. He took such a good care of him that John slowly recovery completely. Once well again, Abba asked him to go and live with another monk.
Before leaving him however the Abba handed him three neatly packed gifts. “Treasure their implications!” he just told him.
Eagerly opening his gifts, John found out that the first gift consisted of a small desert stone – it could be held in the palm of a hand. It was clean and shining and had a small hole drilled in its middle. The dwarf smiled as he remembered the story Abba used to tell him about the ants who lived in a small garden. They all worked and played, built and dug in the soil, made war and peace, lived and died … all within the area of the small garden. Except one ant, which unlike the others, just stayed put and stared all day long at the garden wall. When asked why, she would always answer, “I want to find ways and means to drill a hole in the wall through which I can pass and see what lies beyond”.
The message? We are not doomed to live within the enclave of our resignation. We are all called to embark on a voyage without end. Let us shed off our mediocrity and start seeking Christ, our Beloved who is always beyond!
The second gift was a sculpture in the shape of a small frog. The dwarf laughed because he remembered the story. “There were many frogs who were theologians. They were all very intelligent but still, they could not agree about the nature of God. All agreed that his supernatural nature was in the shape of a frog. But some would contend that He has two heads and four eyes, others maintained that he had three eyes and two tongues whereas other frogs insisted that he had an infinite number of heads, legs, eyes and tongues”.
The message here was also very clear: God is far beyond what our mind can conceive. We can never understand God. How can one describe the taste of wine, the kiss of a couple in love, the serenity of a mother hugging her baby in her arms? How can one put God in one’s mind? We are called to move in the dark and go on a venture beyond our understanding.
The third gift was a whistle, aptly made of silver. This also reminded John of a story Abba used to tell him. “Once upon a time there were two birds. One of them, that lived always on the same tree, asked the other bird who had flown across the wood in its entirety: “How I would like to meet with the ‘ruah’ – ‘ruah’ is a Hebrew word that means spirit! I have been years searching for him for many years to no avail; I suppose he is not here!” The other bird was quick to answer: “No, my friend! He is here! You already know the ruah. You meet him every day. He keeps you fresh and gives you peacefulness. Without him you cannot fly. He plays music to your ears all the time. Your friend Ruah is the wind!”
Even here the lesson is clear: We are all under God’s shelter. He is SO close to us. There is no need to go far to look for him and find Him.
“I still remember” concluded John the Dwarf, as he put these three gifts on the shelf, “the words that the Abba told me when he picked me, half dead, from the market place and took me to his home. ‘My son, you must know that He who spreads the stars in the sky, who fills the oceans with water, who decorates the peacock in dazzling colors, who gives the bird a melodious song …you must know that it was He who, in his love, created you!”
Happy New Year!
Adapted from Derek Webster, The Abbot and the Dwarf, St. Paul’s Publications 1992.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.