Once there was town that knew all about itself and was very satisfied. The people that lived in the town, as well as those who were just passing through, all agreed that it was a very satisfying town indeed. But many years ago, before any of those now living could remember, the town was very different. A jumble of dwellings and houses, each peculiarly different, with streets running every which way, some leading to important places and others just ending suddenly, and others still, disappearing into the great forests and endless steppes of the Unknown.
But that was before the Builder came. He had appeared one day at the doorstep of the town’s wealthiest man, tired from his long journey and looking for work. No one knew exactly where the Builder came from, but it was said he came from the Great City, where only the wealthiest and most important people lived. He had an Iron Hammer for breaking things down and building things up, a large Ruler that could measure the width and breadth and depth of all things, and a Square that could make perfect corners.
Soon the wealthy man’s workers were busy breaking things down and building things up at the wealthy man’s house, the Builder running to and fro, directing, showing, and planning. Brick by brick, measure by measure, the wealthy man’s house rose first one story, then two, and finally an unthinkable three stories towering over the whole town. There was one very large window on the top floor where the wealthy man could look out upon all that was his, feeling ever more satisfied. There were long windows on the second floor where all who passed by could see the great feasts and parties he held, making him happy that everyone could see his happiness. And there were small windows at the main door for his servant to see who was calling so he could decide if he would let them in or not.
The house was not just higher but different than all the other buildings. The corners were perfectly square, the width, breadth, and depth were perfect, the stones were flawlessly leveled and painted a proud and imposing white. Certainly, the builder had captured all that was true and beautiful in one building, and most importantly, it could be seen from miles around.
At first people were very impressed that their town had such a new, proud and stately building, but in secret, they were envious. One by one, they sought the Builder so that they too would have such proud and stately houses. Soon the Builder was busy day and night, breaking down and building up, measuring, leveling and squaring. One after the other, house by house, the town changed. All were just like the wealthy man’s, some with only two stories with the long windows and some with only one story with windows by the door, even though they had no servant to watch. But all glowing in a pure, stately white that could be seen from near and far.
As time passed, the life of the town began to change. People started to feel that their homes were missing something; shadowy places appeared in their satisfaction they couldn’t see or name. So, they began asking the Builder to make all the rooms of their house as good and beautiful as the rooms in the wealthy man’s house. Again, the Builder worked well into the night, measuring and squaring, making some things longer and some things shorter. Soon, the rooms in all the homes were marvelously square, with perfect width, breadth and depth, and proudly lit with the lamp’s bright, shadow-less light. Again, the people were all very satisfied, nothing seemed to be missing, and every visitor remarked about the grandness of all they had seen.
Now the Builder had so much work that he had no time to build for himself as he had built for others. He lived in an old house from before, with a high wooden roof, a jumble of rooms, and lots of strange doors and windows that seemed to have no purpose, measure, or proud bearing. The house leaned, and there were wild flowers growing right up to the door. So he determined that now everyone was satisfied, he’d build a house of his own.
The Builder found a good spot right in the middle of town and began work. For days, he built and labored, measured and squared, until at last his house stood majestic and proud, bringing praise from the people and admiration from travelers even though, out of polite correctness, it was some inches shorter than the wealthy man’s.
Now one would have thought that all would have been very well indeed, but it was not so for the Builder. As time passed, he felt restless going from room to room, or looking out over the town with all of its stately buildings. He either felt alone or confined, and at night, he slept with longings that would show themselves only in his dreams.
Then one night, he awoke with pain in his heart, and he suddenly knew he couldn’t live in his house. He went to the big window and looked out over the dark, sleeping town. For the first time, he became aware of the starry heavens, a blaze of colors and a shining, beauty that would break his heart. He knew that he had to build a true home, a house that could be home to all things.
Soon people began remarking that they hadn’t seen the Builder for quite some time. Finally, they got together and went to his house but found it empty. His Iron Hammer, long Ruler, and Square had been left behind and were the only traces ever found of him. Most people were angry with the Builder, thinking that he had gotten tired of their town being so small and had gone back to the Great City to enjoy greater wealth and grandness. Though a few thought that he had found a wealthier man in another town where he could build something even more stately and grand.
The Builder had left the town, but had not gone to the Great City nor found a wealthier man to build for. He had wandered off into the Far Valley with its great forests and endless steppes, looking for a place to build a house he could live in, a house built in the beauty and grandness of all things. A house the Master Builder would build. The people never saw him again, and he was soon but a memory in the town that knew about itself and was very satisfied.
Years later, a traveler passing through the town told a remarkable story. He had been caught in a storm on one of the small paths that wandered through far and distant places. Becoming desperate as darkness fell, he stumbled upon a track that led up a small hill to the edge of the Great Forest. Following the path, he came to a house the like of which he had never seen before.
Built of hewn timber and stones from the river, the house looked as though it grew from the land itself. The roof seemed to wander up and down like wind on the steppes, a great window in the loft room opened to a view of the Far Mountain, and the forest’s low branches swept over the sheltered terrace from which, at night, you could listen to the Silence, and hear the earth circling the blue flame of the Pole Star. Wild flowers grew at every path and the steppe grasses growing around the house, swayed and gently flowed on and on, traveling with the breeze to the Everywhere as far as the eye could see. This was memory’s house, a house that knew, a house that served its master.
The people marveled at the traveler’s story, and longed to see for themselves, wander from room to room, maybe even stay a moment two and glimpse the Far Mountain and watch the grasses reaching to the Everywhere. But they were uneasy, this house was not just a house, it was different. They knew that they could never live in a place like that without feeling alone or confined. It was only correct that the new replaced the old, that life became more stately and proud. And after all, they knew all about stately and proud, and were very satisfied.
But still they thought to themselves- this must have been built by the Master Builder.
David Russell OFS, Fyn