Sean Coghlan S.J.
Mountains and streams are two of the commonest subjects in Chinese painting. On long scrolls mountains tower to the heavens. Waterfalls tumble down their sides through wisps of cloud, feathery clumps of bamboo or twisted pines to spread into placid streams at the base. And amid all that awe inspiring grandeur one almost always finds a tiny human figure, standing meditatively on a rock or on a sandy spit jutting into the stream or poling a boat or, rod in hand, fishing in the widening stream. A tiny human, figure, dwarfed by the majesty of mountain and falling water.
In a famous Chinese poem "Moored at Night by Maple Bridge" we find another lone human person.
"The moon sets, crows call, the air is sharp with frost.
River, maple, fishing lamps frame my face with sorrow crossed.
From Ho Shan outside Koo So City at midnight I hear float,
The sound of temple bell to me, lonely wanderer in my boat."
One of the best loved Chinese stories is "Monkey" or "Journey to the West", based, at least in part, on a journey made by a Buddhist monk to Sri Lanka to bring back to China some sacred writings. Some commentators believe that the four main characters represent four of the commenest human types. The monk represents the contemplative type, tending to withdraw from the world, shy, diffident and a little panicky. The second character is a pig, not surprisingly called "Piggy", who stands for the sensual, pleasure loving type. "Monkey", who is indeed a monkey, has been welcomed with delighted amusement by countless generations. He is "Mr. Fixit" himself, cocky, irrepressible, scheming, bursting with energy and ideas. Finally we have "Sandy", the ordinary man or woman, you or me, finding his way as best he can through this perplexing life of ours, very unsure at times, but hanging on with a certain kind of dogged courage, anxious to know what the future holds, eager for some clarity and peace of mind.
The tiny human figure, the lonely wandener "Sandy" stand for you and me, at least in those hours, when we feel lost, puzzled and alone in this towering, overwhelming world of ours.
We may well have a very solid belief in God and his love for us. Often he may be as real to us as the line of hills we can see from the bedroom window, or as matter of fact as the bus that brings us to work in the morning. But, sometimes. He may seen very far away. We may not know what to do, what choices to make. We may not understand why. God allows certain things to happen or why He seems to leave us stewing, not knowing which way to turn.
Has God given us no guidelines at all? Yes, of course, has. He is at work in the world through the ten commandments which are, in some way or other instilled in the hearts of all. He is present in the advice of decent, honest men and women and in the customs and traditions of our people. We find Him in healthy common sense and practical psychology. But we may need to meet God in a more intimate way when we are faced with seemingly contradictory demands, great trials or disappointments or when like the young man in the Geopel we feel we are being asked to do something more.
Then we must look into our hearts. We must follow the best instincts of our hearts - but, of course, not any kind of heart! It must be a heart made wise and compassionate, open and generous, by prayer. If God is at work in the world he must surely be at work in the hearts of believers too. He stirs up imagination and initiative, idealism and courage in our hearts.
If we can come to know God's majestic and compassionate ways, our hearts will become attuned to what is best in life. Without too much fuss or drama we will almost automatically know, sense, feel, taste what is the right thing to do.
Very early in St. John's Gospel, John the Baptist points Jesus out to two of his disciples. They follow him. He turns and asks them what they want. Hardly knowing what, to say, they ask him "where do you live"? His answer was "Come and See". In John's Gospel "coming" and "seeing" lead to a practical faith in God and in Jesus. They are essential parts of a movement towards the person of Jesus and the understanding in faith of who he is.
Jesus invites us too to "come and see". As we watch and ponder him, our hearts are made like his. We assimilate what he prizes. As a result we may with a certain sureness of touch be able to find our way through the mazes and seemingly impenetrable thickets that, at times, threaten to turn us into wanderers, exiles, lost souls in a world that is just too much for us.