Working on a new book over the holidays brought this Thomas Merton quote to life for me:
“The poet enters into himself in order to create. The contemplative enters into God in order to be created…If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy. If you write for men—you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write only for yourself you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted you will wish that you were dead.”
It parallels nicely with this story of greed and the result it brings:
Abbot Anastasius had a book written on very fine parchment which was worth eighteen pence, and had in it both the Old and New Testaments in full. Once a certain brother came to visit him, and seeing the book made off with it. So that day when Abbot Anastasius went to read his book, and found that it was gone, he realized that the brother had taken it. But he did not send after him to inquire about it for fear that the brother might add perjury to theft. Well, the brother went down into the nearby city in order to sell the book. And the price he asked was sixteen pence. The buyer said: Give me the book that I may find out whether it is worth that much. With that, the buyer took the book to the holy Anastasius and said: Father, take a look at this book, please, and tell me whether you think I ought to buy it for sixteen pence. Is it worth that much? Abbot Anastasius said: Yes, it is a fine book, it is worth that much. So the buyer went back to the brother and said: Here is your money. I showed the book to Abbot Anastasius and he said it is a fine book and is worth at least sixteen pence. But the brother asked: Was that all he said? Did he make any other remarks? No, said the buyer, he did not say another word. Well, said the brother, I have changed my mind and I don’t want to sell this book after all. Then he hastened to Abbot Anastasius and begged him with tears to take back his book, but the Abbot would not accept it, saying: Go in peace, brother, I make you a present of it. But the brother said: If you do not take it back I shall never have any peace. After that the brother dwelt with Abbot Anastasius for the rest of his life.
I love this for so many reasons:
1: Grace shown by the Abbot to the brother
2: The value and the admittance of its value
3: The buyer taking it to the author to determine its value
4: The repentance of the brother
5: Abbot Anastasius’ gift of the stolen book
6: The brother’s commitment (lifelong) to the Abbot
7: God’s use of all involved
The abbot wrote for God and never compromised his commitment to Him. His book wasn’t his pride and joy. His creativity wasn’t more important than his love for the brother. His treasures weren’t in manmade things (even those created by his own hands). A 1-of-1 copy didn’t stir his heart to greed and anger. Instead, he kept his faith in God’s purpose during this theft, and he listened and forgave the man. The first edition of his book wasn’t what stirred his soul to worship. It was God’s place in his life. His time with the Creator prompted him to love the man, the buyer, and everyone involved. His time with the Creator gave him patience and wisdom to listen while the story developed. His time with the Creator caused his heart to forgive and forget. A wonderful interpretation of how unimportant our gifts are and how precious God’s will is.
Brian L. Tucker