The Pearl

There’s a very old Hebrew folktale about a man who went to the forest to seek his dinner one afternoon.  It had been a particularly difficult harvest season and his crops had failed to produce the rich abundance to which he had become accustomed.  The change in the harvest had created a change in almost every aspect of the man’s life, making the days long and the night’s worrisome. With his cupboard thinning and his growling hunger growing, the man set out to the woods to hunt a meal.

The man harvested natural herbs that grew wild about him, gathered nuts and grain that nature offered in abundance, filling a small basket with things that spice a delicious meal. The only thing needed was a bird.
In the late Spring, the birds of the air filled the forest with chirping and the cacophony of fluttering as the birds filled   their days with dancing.  How the man wished he felt the joy of the birds, the freedom to fly with abandon, and the heartfelt inspiration to sing through the day. He watched the birds launch into the air, swirl in formation, creating shapes and objects: now a triangle, then an arrow,  before landing on the soaring heights of a mighty tree with the happy cry of exhilaration.

The hunter set his net high in a nearby tree and decided to leave the net to walk amongst the beauty of the forest.   The sunlight streamed through the limbed forest and the path was fragrant with the pungency of Spring.  Nearby a mountain creek gurgled as water from crystalline sources flowed across the rocks. And all around the vibrancy of life beaconed him.Peace fell on him amidst the natural beauty that made him almost forget about his net.

Upon returning to the net, the hunter was pleased to see that he had caught a bird. His heart gladdened as he imagined the tasty feast that awaited him.  But as he approached the net, the bird began to plead with him to let her go. The man had never heard a bird speaking intelligible words before and was a bit frightened. Was his hunger making him dream these things?

The bird pleaded for release once again and this time, in return, she promised to give him three pieces of wisdom for the favor. Still unnerved at the speaking bird, the man could not imagine eating the creature.  What would his friends say to him if he told them of the talking bird and then confessed to eating it. So, the man listened. He swore to release her for the wisdom she promised.

She said, “Don’t seek what you cannot obtain. Don’t regret what you’ve lost. Don’t believe what can’t be true.” Having received the strange wisdom, being a man of his word, the hunter let the bird go.

The bird flew to the top of a tree and began chirping with laughter.  “Stupid farmer. If you would have kept me, you would have found the pearl inside me that’s as large as a goose egg!”

Frustrated by the taunting bird, the deepening growl in his belly, and the realization of the bird’s ruse, the hunter began to climb the tree with the intent of recapturing the succulent bird. Unfortunately, due to his hunger and the lack of strength that accompanied it, the hunter lost his grip and tumbled to the ground with a loud bruising thud.

The bird’s taunting laughter grew louder as it called down again, “Just how stupid are you? Have you already forgotten the wisdom I shared with you? In just three minutes, you have sought after something you can’t obtain, regretted the loss of something you thought you had, and believed something that couldn’t possibly be  true – that a huge pearl would fit in my body.” And with that, as the hunter rubbed his aching head, the bird of wisdom flew away.

This little story speaks to the power of folk wisdom, what mountain people call “having a lick of sense”. But, as is readily apparent in the stories emerging in our times, people today seem to have forgotten the folk wisdom they have been taught. Even with wise people and sophisticated information all around us, we continue to demonstrate that we are seeking after things we can’t obtain, regretting the loss of things we thought we had, and believing things that couldn’t possibly be true. And when the bird of wisdom flies away, somebody is going to get bruised.

During this unprecedented time, as our communities prepare to emerge from the devastating quarantine of the Covid19 pandemic, as businesses begin to reopen, families begin to regather, and some around us throw off the mantle of restraint and caution in frustration to walk freely amidst the beauty of our communal forest, let’s demonstrate that we have listened to the wise birds and remembered what they have taught us. Let’s be people with a lick of sense.  A pressure is growing  that will taunt us to forget or ignore what we have learned from this life-changing time. Unfortunately, a fall likely awaits those who forget.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it." Matthew 13:45-46

Stay wise. Stay well.

Pastor Frank Waugh
Amazing Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
Granite Falls, North Carolina