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 so, shallow as I am, I had to settle down, sit quietly and let my heart become “dyed with the colour of your thoughts”, as the great stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius advises in his Meditations.

One thing I discovered in reading it was a faint echo of recognition in the words of the apostle Thomas. I once spent time on retreat at a monastery in Kerala at the turn of the millennium. The monks there followed Thomas’ teachings in a daily ordo composed of divine office, private prayer,  Aramaic plainchant, paripoo porridge with fresh baked bread, mid-day vegetarian meals harvested daily from their own gardens. The only thing missing was good Trappist home brew. The lineage dates back to 52 AD when Thomas arrived in India.

My days 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 wrestle with this angel every day in some way as I know you do. It is a long slog on a rocky road through remote boulder-strewn terrain. Countless are the times I’ve failed to bring forth anything worthwhile but I’m always good for another kick at the can. And a laugh. The divine comedy may disturb but it never disappoints.

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 him 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, elaborated upon in ways that confounded even himself. Surely I was not the first pilgrim he’d led astray. He lived for peremptory peregrination and always knew exactly where he’d find Moouna in the end along with the offerings of bananas and delicious rotten fruit pilgrims had left for her.

She was a pious old cow and Tomas calculated 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 hidden messages for aliens on the rock face using a stone shard he’d picked up along the way. I didn’t have a clue what he was trying to tell me with his instant improvised inscripturations in stone but I gladly joined the conversation drawing glyphs of my own which summoned his seraphic smile in a flurry of more stoned semaphore.

When we came upon the ravaged body of Jesus on the cross at the summit Moouna gazed up in dolorous adoration singing moo-full hymns while little Tomas knelt down, crossed himself and prayed. I followed his example and knelt beside him. I thought of kids at the Butterfly Peace Garden back in Batticaloa. 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 holds me to this day in the the aura of his embrace. We descended Calvary hand-in-hand Mooana leading the way back to her paddock where we said goodbye and parted company.

look up and you see light
shining in the darkest night

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

follow thou then the evening star
taking you back home up close afar

  the home you lost to find your soul
broken pieces have made you whole


June 2023


Written by Paul Hogan