Once upon a time, there was a young man who came to an old hermit in the desert and asked him: “How can I become holy and happy quickly?”
The old man replied, “It’s easy. Just go to one of those caves over there and take your Scriptures with you, read them night and day and you will find what you are seeking.”
The young man, off he went and obeyed and came back in three days. “How is it going?” the hermit asked him expectantly.
“Terrible,” the young man said, and he complained that it was boring and his mind was wandering and he didn’t remember much of what he was reading and didn’t understand it either.
The old man smiled at him and said, “Don’t worry. You’re doing just fine. Go back and keep reading every hour of the day, but add one thing to your practice: get a wicker basket and fill it with sand and set it outside the entrance to your cave. Every morning and every evening, go to the spring and get a bucket of fresh water and pour it over the sand in the basket. Come back in about seven days and tell me how you’re doing.”
Off the young man went, obeying dutifully what the Master told him, and returned at the end of the week.
“How is it going now?” the old man asked. “Still terrible,” was the laconic answer. “I drift off constantly, and I don’t understand anything …. It’s even worse than before.”
“What about the sand?” “Oh, that – I pour water in, just as you told me. Some of it leaks out of the bucket, some of it pools at the top and some sink down in the basket full of sand.”
“Good,” said the old hermit, “you’re doing just fine. Go back and continue, and return every week to tell me how it’s going.” Off the man went again, doing exactly what he had been told and every week he came back with the same report. Nothing was happening at all.
One day, however, he came and announced that something had changed: all the sand was gone from the basket!
“Good,” said the old hermit.
“But I’m just as unholy as before and now I’m pouring water into a clean basket.”
“Yes,” said the old man, “and the same thing is happening to you, you just don’t know it yet. You see, you are the basket and the Word of God is the water that you’ve been pouring over the sand. The sand is your sins, deficiencies, weaknesses, pride, unhappiness, needs, selfishness, impatience.
The basket doesn’t remember which drop of water washed away which grain of sand, but the sand can’t resist the water. And neither will you remember which Word washed away which sin, but all that requires to be changed in you, will be transformed. Your soul can’t stand long unchanged against the water of the Word of God.
Go home now and live your life, but keep pouring the Word of God over your life and some day you’ll know what it’s like to be the clean basket, empty and open, and ready to carry life …”
(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.