Dear Church Family,
A couple of weeks ago, some of us were talking during fellowship time after worship, when the subject of face masks came up. There was some concern expressed about how/when/whether or not people are continuing to wear masks in public. “It seems such a simple thing to do,” one of you said, “a simple way to care for others.”
“Wasn’t there a story you used to tell like that?” another of you asked. “Something about the people with the long arms?” Maybe you could tell that again.
So, here goes:
There’s an old story, told so many times in so many ways that no one is really sure where it actually came from or who first told it. It may be Hindu or Buddhist; it might be Jewish or Christian, for the same tale is found in each faith tradition. The story goes that there is a man who asks God to help him understand the difference between heaven and hell. God agrees, and takes the man to a room. As God opens the door, the man can see that in the center of the room is a large table, laden with food. Breads and cheeses and meats, the finest fruits and vegetables. Desserts like he has never seen. And yet, the people gathered around the table are thin and frail, and they look ravenous. It is then that the man notices that the people have these amazingly long arms. It is easy enough for them to reach the food on the table. But, the arms are so long, the people cannot then reach back to themselves to get the food into their own mouths. So they sit amongst abundance, starving. Leaving this place, God then takes the man to another room with another door. And entering there, the man finds the same scene. The table filled with many good foods. The same long arms on each and every person. But unlike in the first room, those gathered here are happy and healthy. As he watches, a woman at the table scoops up a bite in her spoon, and holds it out to a person across the table to eat. “The first room was hell,” God tells the man. “The people sat in abundance and starved. The second,” God says, “is heaven.” For though the abundance and the challenges are the same, the people here do not starve. They feed each other.
As I said, I had intended to tell this story as a reminder to do our part to look out for our friends and neighbors. But now, I am reminded that such a message goes much further than the wearing of face masks. It goes all the way to the transformation God brings to our hearts when we decide that what happens to a sister or brother or sibling in our human family…also happens to us. When we look at the way others are treated and take that as seriously and as personally as if it had happened to us. When we felt the impact of the trials others face, the fears others conquer, the hope others hold. Then, every act of harm is personal…to each and every one of us. Then, we remember to look around and see where we might offer a spoonful of hope, where we might humbly accept a forkful of grace. When we feed and are fed, not just food for the body, but nourishment for the spirit, then we are truly God’s people together – one human family.
Let us go, and make it so.
Rev. Kirsten M. Linford
Westwood Hills Congregational UCC