Sometimes as I read and study throughout the week, I find myself so moved and inspired by something that to try to recreate it would be a disservice to the original author and to the work itself. This week, such inspiration came my way, and I want to share it with you. The following is an offering from one of my most favorite folk singer/songwriters, Carrie Newcomer. Carrie is a Quaker, a musician, a lover of nature, and the co-host of the Growing Edge podcast with fellow Quaker, author, and friend, Parker Palmer. Please soak in her words this week and let them be balm for you.
Learning to become a lake with you,
Stop being a glass. Become a lake.
What to do with a handful of salt
I was working on a new song this week with my friend and colleague Gary Walter’s. When we sat down to write, Gary read a quote from an old story. This is the story.
Once an unhappy young apprentice came to an old master and told the master that he was deeply sad and asked for a solution. The old master instructed the unhappy young apprentice to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. Then he asked “How does it taste?” “Terrible!” spat the young apprentice. The master nodded and asked the young apprentice to take another handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to a nearby lake and the apprentice swirled his handful of salt into the lake. The older master said, “now drink the lake.” The apprentice cupped his hands and drank. Again, the old master asked, “How does it taste?” “Good!” said the apprentice. The master then asked, “Do you taste the salt?” and the apprentice smiled and said, “No.” The master sat beside the trouble young apprentice and took his hands. “The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same. But the amount we taste depends on the container we put it into. So when you are in pain, the wisest thing to do is to enlarge your sense of things. Stop being a glass. Become a lake.”
Stop being a glass. Become a lake.
I really loved this story. I know that when I am angry my vision narrows. When I am worried or in pain my world tends to get smaller and feel more confined. I’m trying to drink a glass of water that contains a handful of salt. The salt is bitter. A human being cannot survive on water that salty, you can drink the full glass and still be utterly parched. But that same amount of salt in a lake is diffused, becomes part of a larger whole. When I am suffering, in pain, worried or outraged, it is wise to enlarge my sense of things. Yes, there is a handful of salt, but the lake is also filled with so much more. My life may have its struggles, but there is still the light on the water, time working in the garden, walking with my dogs, chatting with my daughter. There is music and laughter, potlucks and fresh blackberries. There is poetry and birdsong, kindness, courage and decency. There is beauty and there is a handful of salt. Sometimes there might be 2 handfuls of salt.
I think the point of the story is not to deny the salt, to pretend it isn’t there. I think it is a story about how we negotiate the presence of that handful of salt. To know it, acknowledge it, feel it—but then to enlarge to heart and mind and spirit in a way that helps me carry that salt in a more life giving way.
In such troubled times, it can feel as if the world has poured a handful of salt into my open palm. But that is not the end of the story. I can expand my sense of things, engage in life-giving activities and heart opening contemplation. I can hold unease or outrage in tension with love and grace, simultaneously and creatively.
Life is going to bring salt. But oh my friends, there is a wider lake and the most beautiful living water to help us carry what might otherwise leave us in despair or stuck.
Question: What does “Stop being the glass. Become the lake.” mean for you? When some kind of pain or suffering narrows your vision, what helps you to expand your vision and enlarge your heart?
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Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.