Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Story you can use: Sacred Flame

I wrote last week about the importance of ritual in storytelling and more generally in our lives. I said Ritual helps us see ourselves as part of a continuum of work. It helps us state our role in the web of the world. It helps us remember why we do what we do. It helps us set aside the time we need for something we might otherwise consider foolish. I am, by no means, the first person to make such an observation. Ritual also helps us remember that there is meaning in what we do, even if we lose the details over time.

I probably first heard this story from the wise Doug Lipman, but I'm not sure. There are dozens of versions floating around. For those of you who need some context, the Baal Shem Tov was an 18th-century mystic rabbi, generally credited as the founder of the Hasidic movement. While I am not Hasidic, I have great affection and respect for the stories told about the Baal Shem Tov. What follows is my version of this tale.

Whenever the Baal Shem Tov was troubled, he had a habit of walking to a certain spot in the woods. There he would light a fire, say a particular prayer, meditate, ask for help and find comfort or even a solution to his woes.

Time passed and the great teacher died. His student, upon finding himself troubled, went to the woods and found the spot where his teacher gone. He lit the fire, meditated and asked for help, but he didn't know the words to the prayer. In time he was comforted.

Time passed and this student became a teacher himself. He told his students the story of the Baal Shem Tov and showed them the place in the woods. In time he too died. His students when troubled would go to the place in the woods, meditate and ask for help, but they didn't know how to light the fire in the right way. In time, they too were comforted.

And time passed. The next generation knew of the woods, but not the particular place. They knew only to meditate and ask for help. And the generation beyond knew only to ask, yet they too were comforted.

Now, in our own troubled times when we face our own woes, we are left with the plea for help and the story. The story still can offer comfort and guidance, even if we have lost the particulars of the place, the fire, the prayer and the meditation. The story and the memory alone can offer us hope.

(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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