The Treasure of a Mustard Seed

by

A Timely Tale of Beginning the Journey Through Grief

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The story is told of a woman whose child had died. Her grief was strong and would not let up. It felt unbearable.

She went to the wise old man in the village and asked, “How can I come to bear this? How can I be healed?”

“It’s really rather simple,” the old man replied. “All you have to do is find a mustard seed and bring it back to me.”

“One tiny mustard seed?” she asked. “Something with no real value? That’s all I need?”

He said, “Yes, that’s all. Now here’s what you do: go to your neighbor’s house, explain your situation, and tell them I’ve sent you to collect a mustard seed from them if they have never known grief. If you cannot get the mustard seed there, then move on to the next place until you come to the first house where someone can put in your hand what you seek.

Today there is a sense in which we are like the woman seeking that mustard seed. The tragedy of what happened that Friday morning in Newtown, Connecticut leaves us grieving. It is a grief that does not go easily away.

For some the grief seems unendurable—those parents and siblings, those spouses and children, those grandparents and other relatives of the ones who died. Grief strikes many others too—the neighbors, the close friends, indeed, everyone in the community. In varying degrees the grief spreads across that whole state, the entire nation, and into other spots around the world.

“How can we bear this?” we ask. “How can we begin to heal?”

The grieving woman went from house to house to house and each time she came away empty-handed. Each time she found that others either were in grief or had known grief. And most times something else happened: after the woman received the response to her question, she became the recipient of their questions, their interest, their concern. “What happened? What’s happening now? What’s going on inside?” Sometimes these others shared a bit of their own experience in return, their own perspective.

Eventually the grieving woman returned to the wise man and said, “I don’t have that mustard seed.”

He said, “I know.” And he said it with an understanding smile as he looked into her eyes, for standing before him was a woman who had begun her journey toward being able to endure what had seemed unendurable. She had started on her way toward healing.

Today all of us are a part of this story. Some of us identify closely with the bereft woman. Grief settles over us, whether it relates to death in Newtown or in our own town, to death that happened days ago or death that occurred years ago.

Others of us are like the people in the houses the grieving woman visited. We’ve known death but our grief isn’t quite as fresh nor nearly as heavy.

All of us are connected. All of us are, in some way, at some time, shaken by loss and touched by grief. And right now what happened in an idyllic town in Connecticut touches us all.

How can we bear this? How can we be healed?

We cannot ignore the tragedy and the urgency of this critical event. We must look honestly at who we are as an American culture today—at what we accept and what we expect, at what we stand for and what we hope for. We must look carefully at how we deal with mental illness, at the popularity of violence-prone entertainment, and at the increasing proliferation of guns, including assault weapons.

These are huge tasks. They will take years to be addressed. Yet without letting up on our commitment to make far-reaching changes, we must also ask, “What can we do immediately in the face of our grief?”

I believe there are many things we can do. We can visit in the homes of our neighbors, our friends, our families and we can talk to one another. We can speak with each other in those places where we work, where we play, where we worship. We can ask our questions and listen carefully to one another’s answers in beauty salons and barber shops, in coffeehouses and restaurants, on street corners and sidewalks everywhere.

I believe we can seek out the wise people who are among us and listen carefully to what they say. We can voice any questions we may have, including the very difficult ones, even if we’re somehow aware that our questions may be without answers. We can tell our story every chance we get, if that’s what feels right. We can take to heart what others around us have learned and will freely share. We can let ourselves be cared for, if caring is what we need. We can let ourselves simply be, wherever we are, trusting that the time will come when we’re to move on.

For those who have the energy and the compassion to put grief in perspective, I believe we can reach out, gently and yet firmly. We can stay with others in the pain of their grief and not hide from it. We can listen, time and again, with our eyes as well as our ears, with our souls as well as our hearts. We can do whatever we can to place ourselves in the other’s shoes—indeed, in theirs hearts and souls—so we can know their reality as surely as we can. We can stand in the truth and the genuineness of our own lives too, for that is what provides a sense of security when times seem insecure. We can continue to believe, not blithely but maturely.

I believe that together we can experience that healing is possible. It begins within us, and continues between us, and includes a source beyond us. And then our grief will not limit us but help transform us—as individuals, as families, as communities, and as a world.


You’re invited to view a short Willowgreen video related to this understanding of grief by clicking on the image above.


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One Response to “The Treasure of a Mustard Seed”

  1. Polly Fuentes Says:

    There is an old Chinese tale about a woman whose only son died. In her grief, she went to the holy man and said, “What prayers, what magical incantations do you have to bring my son back to life?” Instead of sending her away or reasoning with her, he said to her, “Fetch me a mustard seed from a home that has never known sorrow. We will use it to drive the sorrow out of your life.” The woman went off at once in search of that magical mustard seed. She came first to a splendid mansion, knocked at the door, and said, “I am looking for a home that has never known sorrow. Is this a place? It is very important to me.” They told her, “You’ve certainly come to the wrong place,” and began to describe all the tragic things that recently had befallen them. The woman said to herself, “Who is better able to help these poor, unfortunate people that I, who have had misfortune of my own?” She stayed to comfort them, and then went on in search of a home that had never known sorrow. But wherever she turned, in hovels and in other places, she found one tale after another of sadness and misfortune. She became so involved in ministering to other people’s grief that ultimately she forgot about her quest for the magical mustard seed, never realizing that it had, in fact, driven the sorrow out of her life.

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