Today I read a fable called Finding Father Benjamin. For me it is an extraordinary depiction of the way in which God is always with us, and the way in which those parted from us, whether in distance on earth and in the heavens, still live with us, within us, around us, in our hearts and in certain moments felt in the air, a new kind of presence until united in the same world again.
Thankyou Max for sharing this fable with me, as I now share it with others.
Unfavorable winds blow the ship off course, and when they do, the sailors spot uncharted islands. They see half a dozen mounds rising out of the blue South Seas waters.
The captain orders the men to drop anchor and goes ashore. He is a robust man with a barrel chest, full beard, and curious soul.
On the first island he sees nothing but sadness. Underfed children. Tribes in conflict. No fanning or food development, no treatment for the sick, and no schools. Just simple, needy people.
The second and following islands reveal more of the same. The captain sighs at what he sees. “This is no life for these people.” But what can he do?
Then he steps onto the last and largest island. The people are healthy and well fed. Irrigation systems nourish their fields, and roads connect the villages. The children have bright eyes and strong bodies. The captain asks the chief for an explanation. How has this island moved so far ahead of the others?
The chief, who is smaller than the captain but every bit his equal in confidence, gives a quick response: “Father Benjamin. He educated us in everything from agriculture to health. He built schools and clinics and dug wells.”
The captain asks, “Can you take me to see him?”
The chief nods and signals for two tribesmen to join him. They guide the captain over a jungle ridge to a simple, expansive medical clinic. It is equipped with clean beds and staffed with trained caretakers. They show the captain the shelves of medicine and introduce him to the staff. The captain, though impressed, sees nothing of Father Benjamin. He repeats his request. “I would like to see Father Benjamin. Can you take me to where he lives?”
The three natives look puzzled. They confer among themselves. After several minutes the chief invites, “Follow us to the other side of the island.” They walk along the shoreline until they reach a series of fishponds. Canals connect the ponds to the ocean. As the tide rises, fish pass from the ocean into the ponds. The islanders then lower canal gates and trap the fish for harvest.
Again the captain is amazed. He meets fishermen and workers, gatekeepers and net casters. But he sees nothing of Father Benjamin. He wonders if he is making himself clear.
“I don’t see Father Benjamin. Please take me to where he lives.”
The trio talks alone again. After some discussion the chief offers, “Let’s go up the mountain.” They lead the captain up a steep, narrow path. After many twists and turns the path deposits them in front of a grass-roofed chapel. The voice of the chief is soft and earnest. “He has taught us about God.”
He escorts the captain inside and shows him the altar, a large wooden cross, several rows of benches, and a Bible.
“Is this where Father Benjamin lives?” the captain asks.
The men nod and smile.
“May I talk to him?”
Their faces grow suddenly serious. “Oh, that would be impossible.”
“He died many years ago.”
The bewildered captain stares at the men. “I asked to see him, and you showed me a clinic, some fish farms, and this chapel. You said nothing of his death.”
“You didn’t ask about his death,” the chief explains. “You asked to see where he lives. We showed you.”