A Trickster in Training

My sincere apologies, Master Lo. I meant to write to you sooner, having been inspired by your Nothing Never Was epistle. It is a deep study and, shallow as I am, I had to sit quietly and let my heart become “dyed with the colour of your thoughts”, as the great stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius advised in his meditations.

One thing I discovered in reading your piece was a faint echo of recognition in the words of the apostle Thomas. I once spent time on a retreat at a monastery in Kerala at the turn of the millennium. The monks there followed Thomas’ teachings in a rota composed of divine office, private prayer, and Aramaic plainchant buttressed by breakfasts of paripoo with fresh baked bread and mid-day vegetarian meals harvested from their own gardens. Their lineage dated back to 52 AD when Thomas arrived in India.

My days there were spent in silent reflection on his teachings, the most memorable of which you mentioned. “You must bring forth what is within you, else what you do not bring forth will destroy you”. I try to follow this wisdom every day in some way, as I know you do. It is a long rocky road through alien boulder-strewn terrain. Countless are the times I’ve failed to bring forth anything worthwhile from within me yet I’m always up for trying again. I find the comedy of errors inspires me.

This is the way of the cross an agile eight-year old stand-up comic from Kerala showed me. Wandering there in the mist-enshrouded hills I met little Tomas thambi, a local trickster-in-training. The monks’ holy cow, Moouna, had strayed away from her paddock and Tomas’ task was to bring her back home. It was a dance of endurance vs. enchantment with the hills shifting shape in the mist as the day grew long and Moouna conspired with Tomas to amaze, mystify and mortify the befuddled mendicant, at long last delivering me home in time for vespers.

The boy delighted in this game he’d learned at his father’s knee and no doubt with every excursion afield he elaborated upon it in ways that confounded even him. Surely I was not the first pilgrim he’d led astray. He lived for these magical mystery tours and always knew exactly where he’d find Moouna in the end.

She was a pious cow and Tomas knew she would follow the Stations of the Cross that wound their way through remote hills upward to an unapologetically gruesome crucifixion of our Lord on the summit.

I didn’t speak Malayalam and he knew only a few English words, but that didn’t stop him from chattering away while pausing en route to inscribe glyphs with a hidden message on the rock face using a stone shard he’d picked en route. I didn’t have a clue what he was trying to tell me but I gladly joined the conversation drawing glyphs of my own which summoned his seraphic smile and a flurry of more inscriptions.

When we came upon the ravaged body of Jesus on the cross at the summit Moouna gazed up in sorrowful adoration while little Tomas knelt down, crossed himself and prayed. I followed his example and knelt beside him. I thought of kids at the Butterfly Garden. They were Tomas. Tomas was them. We sat together in silence until he picked up another stone and drew Jesus flying low overhead. The cross was gone. Jesus was free. He circled above us in the sky then landed in our hearts, first Tomas’, then mine.

Simple as that. When we stood up he gave me a heart-wrenching hug that, to this day, holds me in the aura of his embrace. We descended Calvary hand in hand going our separate ways when we parted company at the foot of the hill.

look up and you can see light
shining in the darkest night

witness through a child’s eyes
delight in life’s unfailing surprise

follow the evening star  then
taking you back home again

the home you lost to find your soul
broken pieces make us whole