Two men looked out from prison bars.
One saw mud, the other stars.
Two people can witness the same scene in different ways. Sometime it can really be 'the way you look at it.' Two people can hear the same story and come away with different insights: sometimes an idea the teller never even thought of himself. It can, of course, be what one chooses to hear but a good story tells us what we need to hear.
The legend of the Fisher King is one of those stories. Google it and you'll find over 7,500 presentations or adaptations of this remarkable legend. Here's how I hear/tell it.
The Prince begins his journey in search of love and adventure. Shortly after he begins his journey he attacks a pagan knight, apparently without cause and in so doing, chooses the role of a warrior. That decision will make a difference in the way he charts the course of the rest of his life. He will approach life as a battle with measurable winners and losers. His focus shifts from the soul to the ego.
In time he becomes a king, a position that, at the least, requires skill and cunning. The story is not intended to deny the ego but to give it its proper place. As Paul Tournier, psychologist, reminds us, “The hurts of the world today are so deep, the anguish of our pain so intense that only the heart can save us. And we must put at its service all the faculties of the mind.”
The wound the prince receives in his unprovoked battle with the knight, the one that doesn't heal, is a reminder of the deeper emotional wounds we often receive when we neglect the soul.
There are few who would deny that, in matters of the mind, we have excelled today. Yet as valuable as our skills are in organizing, planning, and managing our material world, in our efforts to think our way to a better day, we often remain emotionally wounded. As with the Fisher King, the key to the healing of our deeper wounds lies in the realm of the spirit.
That the pagan knight has returned from the Holy Land also reminds us that brutality and fear often occur in what are intended to be the most loving and spiritual environments—the family and the church come to mind.
Still wounded, the prince now a king, finds temporary relief in fishing. Fishing, painting, hiking, gardening, playing golf, photographing, any activity that allows one to be creative or to turn inward can give us permission to be healed. But fishing in itself doesn't do the healing.
Many of our wounds are self-inflicted by greed, mean spirited refusals to practice hospitality, and/or a violation of our own moral values. But also, often we are let down by people or institutions we trusted or by circumstances over which we had no control as when a childhood hero turns out to be unable or unwilling to help when we need him or her the most or a company that has promised security to its employees, reneges.
Angry and hurt we decide that we will never put ourselves in a position to be hurt again. We harden our hearts and, as a result diminish our capacity to express our feelings, to be vulnerable and trusting. In other words, we lose our ability to love. To put it in religious terms, we lose our ability to maintain a state of grace with others. We have lost our ability to be intimate. The wound does not heal.
Percival, the young knight, does everything right. He is, after all, one of the Knights of the Round Table. He is a good, moral, and effective defender of the poor but remains dis-eased, unhappy, unfulfilled. It is when he encounters the Grail King for the second time and asks the right question that he and the King are healed.
He asks of himself as well as the King, “What is the purpose of life?” Both lives come into focus with the answer. ”The purpose of life is to serve the soul not the ego.”
I hear the story and I think, no more hardening of my heart, no more counting the worth of my life by how much I have or don't have, no more keeping score of the wrongs others have done to me, I am free to celebrate the beauty of creation, to act compassionately, to speak for justice, to nourish my soul.