Once there was a king who decreed that his was to be the happiest of all kingdoms, a land of no sorrows. Sorrow made the king feel unsure about himself, it made him feel weak and vulnerable which was not good for a king. He was secretly afraid that he had no power over sorrow, and that made him worry about his reputation amongst the people.
He asked his wisest man why sorrow was different from all other burdens that man carried in this life. The wise man said he didn’t know, but there was something strange about it. Sorrow was like a hazy shadow that all things cast even on a sunny day, or a distant echo in the sound of all life living. It could keep its grip on the heart even after danger or pain had passed, and you could feel it waiting patiently in every joyous moment and in the silence between the words of every song.
When the king asked his subjects, what sorrow was, they also said it was like everything different, a clear stream that disappeared into the deep ocean where no one could ever follow. It was so close you could feel its breath, but so far that if you tried to touch it, it would disappear into the distant Nothing of all things untouchable.
Then the king asked his High Priest about sorrow, and he said ‘sorrow comes from the darkness before creation, the misty deeps that God’s spirit hovered over before anything emerged, before anything was. It is a darkness you can’t see into, no matter how much you know of all heaven’s secrets or how many angels you command to do your bidding. It is the darkness to be most feared, the place of God’s most precious secrets’.
So the king gathered his court to find one who could take the sorrows, one that would save his people from the greatest of all burdens. He questioned his wise men, soldiers, doctors, priests, jesters, and anyone who would come forward, but nobody had any idea of how to take away sorrow.
The king was very troubled that he couldn’t find anyone to rid his realm of sorrow, until one of his guards brought a very strange looking man to him. ‘Who are you’, asked the king, ‘and where do you come from;’ ‘I come from Everywhere’, said the man, ‘I’m the one who wanders, the one who sees, and the one who hears’. ‘Then can you take away sorrow from my kingdom,’ the king asked? ‘Yes, the traveler said, but you must be satisfied with my work once it is completed- you who claim to know the will of God who created all things visible and invisible’. But the king was determined and commanded the wanderer who could see things and hear things to be the Keeper of the Sorrows.
The Keeper of the Sorrows went from the castle and made his way into the deepest of the land’s deep forests. People didn’t venture far into its tangled shadows for it was said that the Old Forest went on forever, and no one who tried to discover its secrets ever came back. They also said that in the middle of the forest was a beautiful garden, but no one had ever returned to tell of it.
Now the Keeper of the Sorrows knew about the forest and he knew about the garden because he could see and hear. He also knew that in the garden there lived a serpent who was the cause of all sorrow and longed for the darkness before Creation, and that only the serpent’s venom could cure sorrow. Though this might seem strange to most, it was because the serpent was the only creature that could not feel sorrow, and it was not its venom that was poisonous, but its tongue. Every day the serpent would lie hiding from the Light, feeding on ancient bitterness and dream of destroying the dreams that others dared to dream.
The Keeper collected a vile of the serpent’s venom and mixed it with the bright fruits that grew in the garden to make it sweet and desirable, then returned to the realm of the king.
The Keeper of the Sorrows didn’t live in a house or at the castle but wandered day and night through the streets and lanes, down through distant roads, in search of sorrow. Anytime sorrow appeared, the people would call the Keeper. He would come and give them a sip of the potion he had made from the serpent’s venom and the fruits of the garden. At once, the grieving person would feel a calm sleepy happiness flowing through their veins, would sigh and think this is so much better, life is truly wonderful.
Now the king felt happy and secure, his court and all his ministers felt very happy and very secure, now that there was no sorrow in their realm. Everything seemed very right indeed. But the people were somehow different. They were happy enough, but it was a different kind of happiness, as if each one had their own happiness and no longer shared their delight with others. In fact, they would argue about who was the happiest, and become angry when they thought the others didn’t understand just how happy they really were. Families no longer shared with each other but just lived together. Lovers thought only of love, but never of the lover. People no longer remembered why they celebrated birthdays, births, Holy Days, harvests or marriages. No songs were written, and the poets were silent.
On the first day of harvest, the king traveled through the farthest reaches of his realm to bless the newborn, the newly wedded, count the granaries filled with wheat, and hold a great celebration for all that assured prosperity and goodness for his kingdom. He became quite angry when he saw that there had been virtually no grain planted or harvested that year. There were no newborn to bless, no newlyweds to celebrate, and almost no one came to the grand and costly celebration to drink the harvest’s first vintage.
So he called his Wise man and asked ‘why are the people not building up my kingdom?’ The Wise man said, ‘the people felt that building was what one did to become happy, but now that they had no sorrows, they felt that the building had been accomplished’. The king then called his High Priest and asked, ‘why are the people defying my rule?’ The High Priest answered that they were not defiant, just pleased. They feel happy and secure now that the day has no sorrows, and thinkt that their happiness could not get any better no matter how many celebrations they attended. And in a sad voice he added, ‘they no longer come to worship God. Now that they are free from sorrows, they feel they have achieved all that God had promised’.
The king returned to his castle in wrath and frustration. He paced up and down getting more and more angry and confused, then commanded that the Keeper of the Sorrows be brought to him. The Keeper came before the king and stood in silence. ‘What is it’, he demanded, ‘that you have done, speak!’ ‘Only that which you commanded Sire’, he answered. ‘Did I not tell you O’ king, that God had a purpose for all things?’
‘O’ king, did you not know that God is the Lord of the sowing and reaping? And did you not know that sorrow is the Keeper of the hope in which man sows and why man must sow and reap all the days of his life?’
‘Did you not know that God is the Lord of all that is brought forth from the womb of Creation, and that sorrow is the Keeper of the womb’s sanctity, even when it is tempted or violated?’
‘O’ king, did you not know that sorrow is the Keeper of Joy, for only sorrow is meek and humble enough to hold a place in man’s heart for true delight?’
‘O’ king, did you not know that sorrow is the last consolation for those in the deepest pain of fear or loss? That it is a hiding place made of every hurt and every despair- the only place where God calls you by name and his love is the only comfort?’
‘Turn back then O’ king! Let God once again return to your kingdom to share his great longings and desire, so that you, your people, and all your lands will be blessed. It is I, the one who Wanders, the one who Sees, and the one who Hears that speaks’.
From then and until now, the people in the king’s realm sow and reap, fear and feast, sorrow and hope, and feel the breath of God sweeping over their lands and singing in their songs. Except for those who choose the serpent’s venom and continue to live in happiness- alone.
David Russell OFS Fyn