I don’t remember how we came to be in that place, gathered beneath that magnificent tree, its long branches touching the sky. All of us were huddled together, though I don’t know how. Nothing makes sense when I think about it. But I do know we were dry, safe, and secure, wherever we were – and we were also thirsty.
Most of us did not recognize the desire as thirst. It was just a vague burning that kept getting worse. Some tried everything to distract themselves from it. We yearned and writhed, but no solace came. We spoke to each other about it, but did not properly understood what it was. We only knew that something was not as it should be, somehow. Peace eluded us.
Outside the tree it was raining. Everyone could see that, could hear it. What the rain meant, we did not know. Since very few had ever ventured out from under the tree, we took it to be another of the unaccountable details of life. Stories even built up about the rain and what it might be. It was said to strip the flesh from a man’s back, or to induce insanity. Some who went into it never came back. Since we knew that the tree offered safety and security, most of us remained there. We kept to telling each other stories.
At some point a questionable character went off into the rain. He came back claiming it was refreshing, and had relieved the parching thirst of his tongue. He couldn’t drink much, but he was obviously tantalized. He tried to encourage some of us to follow him out, but we couldn’t imagine leaving the tree. I don’t even remember what we did there, though I recall not wanting to leave.
The adventurer did not give up, however. He went out again, for a long while. When he came back, he held something that looked like a gourd. We could also tell, from his eyes, that his thirst was gone. He had found something we needed! Whatever could alleviate our terrible hunger was worth considering. And thus, he told us a strange tale.
The rain, he claimed, was the very thing we needed. It surrounded us always, pouring bounty from the clouds. However, as prodigious as it was, catching it was not easy. Holding one’s mouth to the sky gave a little comfort, but not much. Then he told about the science of the cup, and how it allowed one – given patience – to slowly gather the waters into one place, from which they could be drunk. Even more, it permitted the waters to be carried out of the rain: for example, under the tree. This was how I first tasted what I had been longing for.
He held out the cup for each of us, but we only took a sip. There was not enough for all, and certainly not enough to calm our thirst. If anything, it made us feel worse, the burning more intense. He ran out and back again several times, but the thirst was great and his vessel small in comparison.
He told us we would each have to fashion a cup, and holding them to the sky, walk out from under the tree. We would have to stand in the rain a while, letting the waters fill our cup, and then we could drink, and continue repeating until satisfied. If our thirst returned, we could do the same thing to satisfy it again. The man had offered us a way out of misery.
There were still many under the tree who refused to try, however, not believing the water meant anything – or calling it poison. We tried to tell them, but they questioned the necessity of the cup. So crude and awkward, after all, and the water so formless and transparent. It didn’t make sense how important they were, or the connection between the two.
So, these days I venture out from the tree of knowledge by myself, or with a few others, and hold the cup of my religious discipline to the sky, awaiting the bounty of heaven’s grace to fill my cup. When I drink, thirst is allayed and I see the reason for the thirst, the water, and the cup to hold it. They all exist to bring us together, so that my soul comes out from the tree, and looks up to contemplate the heavens always above me. What strange creatures there; what amazing patterns in the clouds…
This, I think, is the connection between the varying forms of religion, and the ineffable, formless Mystery it conceals.