Shel Silverstein was a well known artist, author, playwright, songwriter and poet from New York City.
Now, Shel was something of an over-achiever: He was a well known cartoonist for Playboy Magazine, you know, that magazine we all read for the great articles and interviews? He won Grammy awards as a songwriter (amongst others, he wrote Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue"), had plays produced on Broadway... And all sorts of other things. He also published several volumes of some of the finest poetry ever written for Children.
When I was 7, I was given a copy of his book, "Where the Sidewalk Ends", and from it memorized my first (and longtime favorite poem): Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Shel Silverstein's epic work: "My Beard"
My Beard Grows
Down to my Toes.
I never wears no Clothes.
I wrap my Hair
Around my Bare,
And down the Road I goes.
Thank you very much.
Steel was born and raised in a Jewish family, and was a pious and faithful man. He had a great interest in comparative religious studies and was always up for a chat about faith and philosophy. One day, he had a long conversation with a Christian Minister in a New York Park about the nature of Jesus, and the way that Jesus asks people to love.
Following that conversation, he returned to his apartment and wrote a story, that became a book. It's not particularly long, so I'd like to read it to you.
There is a story. It's a story about a tree. And it's a story about a little boy the tree loved.
Every day the boy would come by the tree and play, Picking up the tree's leaves, playing make believe, climbing the tree's trunk, and enjoying the tree's shade. All of this made the tree very happy.
But time passed. The tree was alone and it was sad. One day the boy came by and the tree tried to get the boy to stay and play. But the boy asked the tree, "Can you just give me some money?"
The tree said "I'm sorry, I have no money. I only have apples. Take my apples and sell them in the city and then you will have money. Then you will be happy," So the boy climbed the tree, took all the apples and sold them in the city. And the tree was very happy.
One day the boy came by and the tree once again tried to get the boy to stay and to play. The boy said "I'm too busy. I want a house to keep me warm. 1 want a wife and a child. So, I need a house. Can you give me a house?"
The tree said, "l'm sorry but I have no house. But you can cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy." So the boy cut off the branches, carried them away, and built a house.
And the tree was very happy.
More time went by. Again, the tree was alone, and it was very sad. One day they boy came back. The tree once again tried to get the boy to stay and to play. But the boy said, "I'm too old and sad to play. 1 want a boat that will take me far away. Can you give me a boat?"
The tree said, "I'm sorry but I don't have a boat. You can cut down my trunk and make a boat." So the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy...... but not really.
After a long time, the boy came back again. The tree this time said, "I am sorry, Boy but 1 have nothing left to give you. 1 wish I had something to give you but I have nothing left." The boy said, "1 don't need very much now. I am old and very tired, I just need a quiet place to sit and to rest." The tree said "Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, boy, sit down and rest."
The boy did. And the tree was happy.
I must admit, I wasn't sure I liked the story of the giving tree the first time I heard it. It seemed to me that the boy had problems. As he grew older, thou ght he became self-centered and greedy and that he as<ed too much of the tree. And then I though of my kids, and I said.... Yup. I see what's going on here.
And, the tree well -he seemed to problems, too. I thought she suffered from what we, in our modern vernacular might refer to as poor self-esteem and/or the inability to set healthy boundaries.
To give up parts of herself until she had nothing but a stump left seemed like the ultimate sacrifice to me . . and perhaps more than she should have agreed to do.
Reading The Giving Tree myseif years later, I still wish the boy hadn't asked the tree to give up so much, and I still wish the tree had learned to stop trying to fix the boy's sad feelings.
However, f also recognize that The Giving Tree a story about selfless love . . and encountering it again has caused me to wonder about the nature of such love.
Selfless love can seem superhuman, irrational, and exhausting when we are examining it from the outside. "How does she do it?" we may wonder of the young mother who has multiple small children in tow that require her constant and undivided attention. "He has a heart of gold," we may say of the husband who is caring for his wife whose health is in serious decline.
These instances of giving are likely not the times when we are keeping score and expecting a favor in return. Rather, when we give from the heart and in a self-sacrificing way as the Giving Tree did to the little boy, it seems that we're giving from a primal place within one that may not be easily explained by human kindness or a sense of duty.
Physicists, neurologists and psychologists are just a few of the scientists who have attempted to explain selflessness, or what we understand as altruistic behavior.
Albert Einstein, for example, argued that selflessness is a dynamic found in existence itself. Selfless acts of integration had to occur for the universe to evolve from chaos into stars, planets and galaxies and atoms to merge into molecules, molecules into compounds and compounds into organisms.
Some social psychologists believe that selflessness is a prosocial behavior, meaning that it is a behavior that is intended to help other people. And, some neurologists explain that altruistic behavior activates pleasure centers in the brain. But then, hey, science can ruin anything, right?
Whatever the underlying reasons are for selfless love, it seems to me that the central message in Shy: Silverstein's story is that those who give love selflessly do so from a place of abundance.
While the Giving Tree may have once had an abundance of apples, branches and wood to share with the boy, her heart it seems was abundantly full of cherished memories.... memories the tree had of loving a boy who visited her, played with her, and slept peacefully at her side. It seems that the boy gave the tree an abundance of joy she had never known before or since, and that this abundant joy was the wellspring from which t he tree acted so selflessly.
What are we to make of such a story? Perhaps we can start by asking ourselves, What in our lives gives us abundant joy? And, how might this abundance enable us to give to others with humility and a sense of gratitude?
There's a famous prayer, often but mistakenly attributed to St.
Francis of Assisi............................................................................
At this precise moment of the meditation, a vision appeared leaving everyone in a state of shock............ Something was flying low between the rows of church benches and was only stopped from hitting a member of the choir because she let out a great screeching scream and lifted her hymn book in front of her face, at the exact right moment.......
and then after twirling around a few times, the bat returned to the belfry...... where another member of the congregation closed the upstairs door.......
After a few minutes where everyone regained their composure, we continued on another shocker....
There's a famous prayer, often but mistakenly attributed to St.
Francis of Assisi. A version of it goes:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
0 Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
Note from the webmaster : the prayer wrongly attributed to St Francis originated from another source : www.monasteryicons.com/product/Who-Wrote-the-Prayer-of-Saint-Francis/did-you-know
It seems to me this prayer of selfless giving is contained within the story of the Giving Tree. While there may be limits to what we are able to give (as there were even for the Giving Tree)there are never limits to living lives characterized by a spirit ofhumility and gratitude.
And don't forget, in just a couple of weeks, we' begin ourjourney of renewal as we begin the Church year with the Advent Season. Well hear a reading from the Prophet Isaiah that will talk about a stump in the wilderness, and a shoot that will grow into a great tree. Maybe we can take a little time during the frantic season to some to spare a thought for the Giving Tree that we heard about today.
Humble lives, and grateful hearts; gifts given, and received in selfless love: As we go from this place this morning, let's go with hearts fur of the all these gifts we've given and received this weekend the gifts of friendship, Nature's beauty, children's laughter, sweet rock and roil jams for some of us) and the peace of the beautiful country in which we live.
Let's live our lives with the courage to give selflessly, trusting that we can do so from a place of abundance deep within. And may we find happiness, every one of us, as we bring a spirit of gratitude to our days.
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