I was always a reader. I read wisdom tales from other cultures. Koans, riddles, and so on. As a young man I began writing some of my own. Occasionally I still write them. From time to time they may appear here. They are tall tales because they are not literally and factually true. They are from a low altitude because I’m physically short and I don’t presume to be a lofty or arrogant voice.
Confronting and Accepting Life: A Tale
A youngish fellow, disenfranchised by much of his religion, culture and politics, was moaning to friends at the Mall.
“Go and have a chat with ‘ole Henry.” They sniggered.
“Henry, down there.” They gestured.
“The bloke at the southern entrance, near the phone shop, who hands out ‘The Big Issue’?”
“Yeah. His name’s Henry.”
Off he went.
“Hey, umm, Henry is it?”
The old man looked at him.
“Yeah. Did those boys send you over?”
“Umm, well.. Yeah, no, they kinda did. I’m shitty with life.”
“So, it’s your life mate. I’m just selling mags.”
“They said you had a story.”
“Oh. Well, you better sit down. But I can’t promise you any ‘bolts outta the blue’, alright?”
“Ok… so what’s your story.
As a young bloke a mate and I went to a youth group at our local church. My mate was abused, well, raped really, by one of their staff. The minister saw us and heard the story. But he didn’t really do much and nothing changed. So we left youth group and church.
I went all angry for a while. Challenged everything, criticised everything. And I mean everything from religion to politics, the whole lot. Some of it was in a kind of sarcastic humour, which got a few laughs. I became a constantly narky type of agnostic. After a while my friends started saying things like ‘whatever’. Then they’d always be ‘busy’. They wouldn’t answer my calls and stopped inviting me out. I guess I was getting toxic and they were smart enough to get away from me before I made them worse.
So, I thought, bugger this! I got a new crowd. Parties, big nights, late mornings, grog, drugs and living from one high to the next. Just enjoying the moment. Sometimes I felt so empty I just longed for the next party or the next hit. Outside a party one night, a drug drop went bad. The others ran off and I tried to help my mate. But I was too late. The drug dealer beat him to death and knocked me out as security arrived.
I went to rehab and the journey of looking at myself began. At first I was all self-righteous and ‘poor me’. Then the anxiety and panic attacks set in. I lost sight of what was real and what was just real for me in my little head. The narcissism was driving life ape-shit. I had all the cognitive behaviour therapy I could get.
Then I remembered a session I had with a counsellor about how I discovered that nothing, no way, no one, no meaning system, no religion, or idol, was faultless. Nor was any of it without its inconsistent, hypocritical leaders and followers. All of us are limited. None of us are perfect. This includes me. Maybe especially me.
I went back to church. I help with the night patrol on the streets. You know, with soup and sandwiches and stuff. And I do this.
He held up a copy of ‘The Big Issue’ magazine. Then he concluded.
I’m still not perfect. But I know I need to live with others and for something, someone, bigger, deeper and more lasting than me and my passing needs.
Simon C.J. Falk 18 November 2017
Rex’s Paddock of Life
A pleasant smile was on the face of Dr Yassmin Punnakunnel as she left Rex’s bedside.
Cheryl, the kind and care worn social worker, was reining in a conversation.
“Rex, you said you went to Church as a youngster.”
“Yup.” Came a clipped reply.
“Did you want us to call a minister or priest?”
“If they can handle me.” Jibed Rex in a cynical laugh. And he added, “I was a Tych, an RC. You can call them, err, please.”
“Ok, will do.” Replied Cheryl and she spun on her heels and thumbed her mobile for the priest’s number.
The big smile of Fr Hamish Lim greeted Rex at the bedside. The eldest child of a foreign affairs romance, Hamish sported the first name of his very Catholic Scottish mother and the surname of his Singaporean diplomat dad.
He and Rex exchanged pleasantries for a while, talking of sport, family gene pools, current affairs and each other’s lives. Finally, Rex got down to torrs.
“’Spose I best get ready for the end, eh, Father?”
“Yes, Rex. If you want to.”
“Well, you heard my story. Do you reckon the Big Fella, you know, God, is ready for me?”
“God’s got thick skin and big arms, Rex, and can handle himself well enough. Do you reckon you are, well, ready to meet him?”
“Arr, yeah, no. I mean, I’m not evil. But I’ve done some pretty bad things.”
“Rex”, began the priest. “When you opened up the throttle on your Harley did you ever cruise by the crops in late spring?”
Rex smiled. “Yep, did it lots of times. So?”
“Did you ever see sections among the crop, some weeds – like ryegrass – growing in the crop?”
“Yeh. Bloody nuisance – oops – scuse the French, Father.”
Fr Hamish continued on as if no offence was given.
There’s a parable Jesus told about that. Weeds were growing in the wheat and he said not to pull the weeds out until harvest, because it might pull some of the wheat out.
“Rex, as I look over my life of nearly 50 years, there’s been some pretty weedy patches among the wheat –and, at 5’2” I’m still a weed.
“But some of those weeds are sown by others. Some, are from my own lack of experience. Some of those mistakes, challenges, difficult jobs, humiliations, overbearing and bullying people, some of those, as I look back, were what tested my metal. They made me stronger in myself, more understanding of others, and eventually helped me to laugh off stuff that weighed me down.
I think one of Jesus’ greatest lessons in that parable is that the weeds have something to teach us and we shouldn’t ditch them until we’ve heard what they have to say to us.
So Rex, as you think over the parts of your life that you think weren’t so flash, don’t wallow in the guilts and I shoulda this and that. Think about what they taught you about you, about others, about life.
I’ll come back later on and we can go through some of the good and weedy bits of your life and pray with you.
Don’t worry about finding the words to pray. St Paul, in his letter to the Romans and to us, said that the Holy Spirit comes to help us. When we can’t pray, the Holy Spirit prays for us in sighs deeper than words.
I’ll be back later, Rex.
Fr Hamish Lim left Rex to reflect on the paddock of his life for a while.
Simon C.J. Falk 2017
The Parable Scholar: Theory and experience
A leading New Testament scholar worked in a university in a large city. His specialty was in the parables of Jesus. It often troubled him that societies were becoming more and more urban. He thought people were hard pressed to understand the agricultural imagery in Jesus’ parables.
When the time came for his sabbatical leave he went and stayed at his cousins’ farm. He was there when the ground was prepared and the crops sown. He watched the crops grow. He helped harvest the crops and bale up the hay. It was a fascinating time for him.
Returning to the university the following year he had a new lease of life. With the experience he gained many insights and could illustrate his teaching on parables. His colleagues and students were astounded by his new found passion and conviction.
At the end of that year he felt a better scholar, closer to God and a much happier man.
Simon C.J. Falk 15 February 2005
A man went to a guru and said, “how am I to find the gifts and abilities which I am meant to have?”
“Swim the river of life,” said the guru.
So the man went off and not far away he found a river. In he plunged. The water was cold, but soon he was swimming freely down the river. He saw some fish swimming with one fish out the front. They appeared to know what they were doing. So, he asked the one out front, “oh great fish, is this the way to swim the river of life and find your gifts and abilities?”
“It is if you are a fish! Replied the fish, and added, “but you are not, so go soar the sky of life.”
So the man went away till he came to a high hill. Climbing the hill, he saw a pair of eagles. He went over to them, one was just leaving the eyrie and was borne gracefully over the valley below.
“Is that how you soar the sky of life to find your gifts and abilities, o majestic eagle?” said the man.
“For eagles it is. But you are not,” spoke the eagle. Sensing the man’s next question, he continued, “go walk the paths of life.”
Again the man set out and began walking along a path, passing nothing on the way. He started feeling lonely. At last, as the day was fading, he came upon a light off the main path. He made his way up to the light and then realized it was the guru’s place. He was welcomed warmly by the guru, who was delighted to have him stay overnight.
The next morning, as the man was leaving and thanking the guru for his hospitality, he could not help but ask one more favour. He told the guru what happened with the fish and eagles and asked the guru what it meant.
The guru smiled. “They are saying the same as what I said. Swim the river of life, soar the sky of life, walk the paths of life, they all mean the same thing. Let life take its course.” as they were parting he added, “take some time to listen to the stirrings of your heart along the way. You’ll have started to encounter the use of your gifts and abilities before you even realise what they are.”
SCJF, Written between 1990-93.
Boris and Yuri
Boris had lost his son Yuri and Boris was bereft, inconsolable.
He stared at his disheveled reflection in the back of a bottle of Nemiroff vodka.
There were no words.
His mind went back over the course of events.
Yuri, a toddler, was playing in their yard as the blizzard came in.
He had rolled down their hill in the snow and vanished.
Boris had searched frantically for his son, voices were unable to be heard over the squall and vision was impossible in the moving whiteout.
As the wind dropped Boris frantically scooped and scraped at snow, flicking it this way and that.
Others also came to search and, when they were almost despairing, he was found.
Yuri was so cold.
His big, burly mechanic of a dad scooped him up.
Boris’ torrent of tears flowed warmly over Yuri’s frozen face.
The clinic had been unable to revive Yuri. He was gone.
Days and weeks since were a nightmare for Boris.
It had come to a head when, in Church, Boris heard this psalm (Psalm 39):
I waited, I waited for the Lord
And he stooped down to me;
he heard my cry…
You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings,
but an open ear.
You do not ask for holocaust and victim.
Instead, here am I.
“Aargh”, grunted Boris. He made a fist to pound the pillar he was leaning against.
Instead, his fist pushed off as he pirouetted and stomped out the door.
“He didn’t stoop to me or my son!” Spat Boris.
His rage eventually subsided until, here he was, his grey face reflected and distorted in the wide back of a Nemiroff bottle.
When he finally returned home, his wife, Zoya, and the dinner she had prepared, were tolerated in near silence as Boris succumbed to a spirit induced slumber.
Whilst Boris slept he witnessed a strange dream.
He saw two shadowy figures, silhouetted in the ebbing light.
One was a large man stooping to pick up the smaller figure.
This man placed the child on his shoulders.
Giggling could be heard and the words of that strange psalm returned:
I waited, I waited for the Lord
and he stopped down to me;
he heard my cry.
A light then shone upon the figures and Boris saw they were he with Yuri on his shoulders.
They were both laughing and Yuri said (in between giggles)
“Come and see, Papa. Come and see.”
Simon C.J. Falk 17 January 2015
CHRIST THE KING YEAR A – 2014
A MODERN PARABLE
Paolo Merlino was a man with a story. It could be his story. It could also be a collection of many people’s stories.
Paolo was a traveling sales representative. At times he worked long hours and even had nights away from his wife and children.
Life was busy and he often had to be up early, even after busy days and late nights.
We meet him on one of those mornings. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes as the alarm went.
“Here we go again,” he mumbled.
The sun was barely up as he reversed out of the driveway and streetlights were still glowing like beacons along the road.
Before too long he was out on the highway.
The heavy feeling after breakfast began to sink in and he noticed he was getting drowsy.
“I’ll enjoy that motel bed tonight,” he said to himself as he cranked up the car stereo volume.
Paolo’s eyes got heavier and then… wham!
Scenes of Paolo’s life flashed before him at lightning speed. Then he was surrounded in white light.
A man was walking towards him.
The man was of middle-eastern appearance in worn, earthy coloured robes.
What looked like a simple, wooden cross was hanging around the man’s neck.
Paolo could be mistaken but, the cross appeared to be upside-down.
In a rope around his waist there was a bunch of keys.
Piercing eyes, an outstretched hand, and what appeared to be a briny/fishy smell, came towards Paolo.
“Paolo? I’m Peter. We weren’t quite ready for you yet!”
Paolo was unable to speak.
“I’m meant to read a couple of things to you. So, here goes…”
“’I was hungry and you gave me food;
I was thirsty and you gave me drink;
I was a stranger and you made me welcome;
Naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me,
In prison and you came to see me.’”
“And this too…
‘The greatest commandment is that you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
The second resembles it. You must love your neighbour as yourself.’”
“I know what you are thinking, Paolo,” continued Peter.
“Yes, you have been a good man, loyal and faithful.
You have done many good things for your family, colleagues and others.
I’m now giving you an opportunity to go below the surface to somewhere deeper
Do you remember busy days where you met with people in your tiredness?”
Paolo remembered meeting a new client last week.
He was really tired and pushed.
He hadn’t listened properly to the client and, consequently, a follow-up conversation was very awkward.
It took some careful manoeuvring.
Then there were the times he was snappy with colleagues and other clients.
“You see Paolo”, said Peter.
“Remember the Lord used to go off to quiet places to pray with his Father.
He also used to hang out for meals with Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
He knew he needed to refresh himself with prayer and quality time with his loved ones.
If we are pushing ourselves too much we end up only giving what is left over to people, the scraps.
Our work time loses productivity; our time with loved ones suffers.
This is not feeding the hungry; it is just teasing them with mere morsels.
It doesn’t feed their hunger; it doesn’t visit their sickness and sense of imprisonment.
At its worst it becomes tokenism.
“I know Paolo, this is really hard to hear.
But to love others we have to love ourselves, because you cannot give what you haven’t got.
You need to be a neighbour to Christ in yourself so that you can take that presence with you to others.
If you can’t recognise Christ in you how will you know what he looks like in others?
You will then do good things poorly or do it for your credit and accolades instead of because you see Christ in others.”
As Peter turned and walked away Paolo saw Jesus some distance off,
his arms outstretched and repeating words from the prophet Ezekiel:
“As a shepherd keeps his flock in view when he stands in the middle of his scattered sheep, so shall I keep my sheep in view. I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered during the mist and darkness.”
Jesus then looked at Paolo with an intent compassion and spoke:
“Paolo, you had allowed yourself to become scattered, driven, shallow and spent.
But you have been gathered again. Remember this.”
The scene faded away and Paolo could hear a sound, faint at first,
A boop, boop, boop!
He began to feel an oxygen mask on his face, and, as his eyes strained to focus,
He saw what appeared to be a hospital emergency department surrounding him.
His wife and children were gathered in vigil around his gurney.
And, on a quiet country road, ants scampered in the broken glass under an old gum tree.
Higher among the branches and boughs a pair of magpies were busily building a nest.
A promise of a new life to come.
Simon C.J. Falk
Jerry was a boy who used to go to school with things stuffed in his shoes. Sometimes it would be those big “man-sized” tissues, you know, like the ones dads often use to clean their glasses. Occasionally Jerry’s shoes would be stuffed with newspaper, at other times it would be patterns from his Mum’s sewing and sometimes it would even be toilet paper (clean of course!).
Sarah, who was one of Jerry’s classmates, had noticed the stuff in Jerry’s shoes when they took off their shoes for gymnastics.
“What’s all that for?” she exclaimed.
“What would you know?” he barked back.
It went on and on for Sarah and Jerry had been arguing and fighting with each other for years. What’s more, their parents didn’t get on very well either. But that’s another story.
The truth was that Jerry’s feet were growing bigger and his parents refused to keep buying him shoes so they bought them too big for him hoping he would grow into them. The problem was that the shoes were a bit sloppy and in the winter the cold air would get in slipping in between the shoe edge and his socks. But Jerry couldn’t tell Sarah about that and he wasn’t going to admit he was weak, especially to a girl!
One night Sarah snuck out of bed when her Mum and Dad were watching TV. On the screen she happened to see a poor man who looked like he lived on the street. He had found an old pair of boots to wear but they were too big for him. So the man began stuffing bits of newspaper and wrappers and things into the boots. Then they were a firmer fit. Sarah thought such a scene was horribly sad. She ran back to her bed and closed her eyes tightly. But in her memory she could still see the man on the TV. Sarah tossed and turned in her bed all night. Just before morning she thought of Jerry and started to feel sorry for him.
“Maybe Jerry has a problem like that man does?” she thought. She remembered her brother had been given a pair of extra-thick socks last winter. He never wore them because he thought they weren’t cool. “Tomorrow,” thought Sarah, “I’ll ask my brother if he wants those socks, and if he doesn’t, I might just see if that Jerry at school might like them.”