A holy man was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said, "Lord, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like."
The Lord led the holy man to two doors.
He opened one of the doors and the holy man looked in.
In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew, which smelled delicious and made the holy man's mouth water.
The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished.
They were holding spoons with very long handles, that were strapped to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful. But because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.
The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering.
The Lord said, "You have seen Hell."
They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one.
There was the large round table with the large pot of stew which made the holy man's mouth water.
The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking. The holy man said, "I don't understand."
"It is simple," said the Lord. "It requires but one skill."
"You see they have learned to feed each other, while the greedy think only of themselves."
I received this story via email this week, and perhaps it is one that has made the rounds before but I had never read it before. I thought it was a very powerful illustration of all we have often lost as human beings...of the lack of connectedness and humanity that would provide simple and obvious solutions to what at first appear to be complex problems.
But how many of our problems are really that complex? What really can't be resolved with just a modicum of kindness and generosity of spirit? How often do we all "starve" ourselves, be it emotionally or physically, because we can't reach out beyond our own isolation and ask for help or offer help to others. We fear appearing weak, we fear revealing our inner selves to others for fear of judgment, we fear that we might actually have to DO something if we reached out to someone else, never recognizing that in helping others we are helping ourselves as well.
And we find ourselves sitting at a table, slowly starving while we feed on our fears.
What a great sadness that we don't all immediately recognize our interconnectedness, that we unneccessarily divide ourselves. We lose so much ourselves by not grabbing that spoon and feeding our neighbor. For when we "feed" others we somehow find ourselves being "fed" as well. We become so focused on the problem at hand, that we don't see what is right before our eyes.
The only skill that we need, the one that will serve us best...is to be able to serve others. That servant attitude, that dropping of our haughty veneer, can allow us to learn more and to be more than we ever might have imagined.
One can debate over and over again what Hell really is. Is it a burning lake of fire? Is it a never ending gnashing of teeth? Is it inhabited by a little man in a red suit with horns and all of the unbelievers?
Or is Hell the hunger of a child, the unheard cries of the unloved, the loneliness of the forgotten?
Is there Hell on earth?
And the bigger question remains,
Are you the vision of Heaven that could reach out and touch those who are hungry, unloved and lonely?
Thank goodness for those who don't ignore the person sitting next to them, who do not turn a blind eye to their need whatever it may be. Thank goodness for those who do the uncomfortable things that cause others to turn away. For those who see the humanity and dignity with which every person ought to be treated.