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"My dear God..." I said half-loud. "How can I solve this?"
As a child I used to feed the birds. In those days we used to have real European winters, ones with snow coming until your knees, and already as a five-year-old I worried about the ducks and other feathered creatures who might not have enough to eat. It became my habit to walk outside for hours with my bag of bread crumbs, visiting all the parks near our house. I didn't mind having frozen hands and toes if I could make the birds happy.
It didn't surprise anyone that I continued in this line when I became older. As a teenager I dreamt of doing volunteer work in poor countries. What I had done for the birds, I could do for the suffering masses in Africa and India. God wanted me to do that, I decided one summer after I had spent a month in a monastery and talked deeply with the monks there. There was something in spirituality that deeply attracted me.
A few years later I was both volunteer doing work and teaching God's word. On the other side of the world, in a country where the rich didn't care much about the poor, I started a childrens home and a centre for God, and I meditated every day for several hours. Happily I wrote to my friends back home that I had found my life's fulfillment.
It turned out, however, that feeding children is not as easy as feeding birds. It costs more, for instance. In my religious practices I began to worry about the unpaid bills on my desk. During sleepless nights I admitted to myself that maybe I had been a bit naive. Still I clung to my idea that God takes care of those who take care of others, but this belief was being severely tested.
When disaster seemed unavoidable, a rich couple visited the children's home. They wanted to see everything and seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing there. I thought that if I could talk more with them, they might be willing to help me. So I invited them to come to the spiritual centre, that night, and have dinner with me.
"Thank you, God, thank you," I said again and again in my prayers. It was only afterwards, when I thought about the meal, that I realized that there was one little problem left.
A few days before I had run out of food and I had been living on oats and water since. There was no money in the house - not even for the children's home. How could I give my guests a nice meal that night and make them feel happy in my house?
I thought of asking the people that I knew in the town for a donation, but I didn't like the idea. Until now they had always given grudgingly.
I went to all nearby shopping centres and asked the vegetables-sellers there if they had some older stuff for me that they couldn't sell so well. But just like when I tried before, they would rather throw food away than give it to a beggar.
Crestfallen I went home. If I made a bad impression on my guests, they would certainly not help me.
"My God..." I said half-loud. "How can I solve this?"
I had heard from others, who did the same kind of work as I, that they sometimes received miraculous help. But nothing like that seemed to be happening to me now. Maybe I didn't believe hard enough in God's help.
"Meeting these people is the miracle." I told myself rather sternly. "You should be grateful."
I sighed. I was grateful but what to do without food for my guests?
After some time I thought of a last possibility.
Part of my daily religious practices was singing devotional songs. I looked at my watch. It was already four o'clock now. I expected my guests at seven. I might have just enough time to go out into the street with my guitar and sing some of the songs. I had seen other street musicians, trying to earn a little money. I was not good at playing the guitar, I had only learned a few chords from a book, but hopefully the devotional songs would attract people.
Was it good to try to collect money with something devotional, I wondered briefly. Maybe not. But what else could I do? I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to trust that God would make everything happen for the best, and then I left the house.
It was cold in the streets and my fingers soon became stiff. I played and sang for an hour and everyone ignored me. Except one time - when the owner of a nearby shop chased me away, saying that I was disturbing his customers.
Dejected I tried several other places and nowhere did I get any positive reaction. The guitar case that I had put open in front of me remained empty.
Then I said in myself: "Dear God, it's not for myself that I want to receive my guests tonight. I want to help my children. If you like, please send me someone who will give me a little money."
I continued playing with my cold fingers and saw the people hurrying past, sometimes glancing scornfully at me that I dared disturb them with my bad playing.
"Dear God, just a little money would be enough..." I said in myself. "If You want, of course." I added quickly.
It was at that moment that somebody came to me. He was a rather short man, maybe fifty years old, and he had friendly wrinkles all over his face. He looked a bit sad, I thought.
"What kind of music is it that you are playing?" he asked.
I had to talk loud to him, his ears were not so good. I explained the nature of the songs, and he nodded, interested. He said: "It's nice to hear you play. I used to play myself, when I was younger. Haven't heard much music since."
He put a few small coins in my guitar case. "I'm sorry that I don't have more money to give to you. I even had to sell my guitar, some time ago." I expressed my sympathy and thanked him and we talked a little more. I thought of inviting him in my house one day, when I could offer him a nice meal.
"Would you mind if I tried your guitar for a moment?" he asked a bit shyly. "It's been so long since I had the chance."
I handed over the instrument. He absent-mindedly tuned it a little bit better and struck a few chords. "Nice sound," he said.
He was right, I thought. It was a cheap guitar, but suddenly it sounded warm and full. Must be because I'm receiving some friendliness in this cold street, I reflected. Thank you, dear God.
His fingers tried the strings, hesitantly at first, while behind him the endless gray stream of shoppers went past. Then he seemed to have found a tune. In the beginning it was slow, and without direction. But then it grew more lively and purposeful and finally he added chords that were strange and beautiful at the same time, giving a strong impulse to the melody with their rhythm. Maybe it was Spanish, I thought. I didn't know much about music. But I listened in rapture. His playing sent warmth through my whole body. I closed my eyes. He loves music, was my last thought before I was completely carried away on the flow of his playing. I forgot that I existed. There was only music.
After what must have been a long time, he stopped. The last notes were still reverberating in my mind. Reluctantly I came back in the world, opened my eyes again. The memory of the music still made my mind glow.
"Th-thank you," I stammered.
He sent me a beatific smile while he gave the instrument back to me. "I enjoyed playing the guitar again," he said. "I used to play in the big concert halls, before my ears began to fail me. When I was forced to give up my career, I never played again - until today. You helped me to find music again!"
I asked him to visit me one day in my house. "I'd like to do that." he said. "I'll be there whenever you need me."
And before I could answer, he disappeared into the crowd again.
It took me some time before I noticed the guitar case. On the bottom there was enough money to help the children's home for a long time.
Copyright 1993 by Joost Boekhoven
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My spiritual novel Gem's Story: A shy girl and a perfect monk
together search for God. First they find each other, then themselves, then...
Articles about living closer to God and other spiritual topics: www.gemstories.com/splash.html
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