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The Pious Parable of Manuel, the Mystical Mexican Monk of Old San Miguel – Br. Mark Brown

Feast Day of Julian of Norwich

Now is the beginning of always.
Here is the beginning of everywhere.
Love is the beginning of always and everywhere.
He was in the beginning and is all beginning.
And so we begin again.

In the 1970’s the Paulist Press launched what soon became a very successful series: “The Classics of Western Spirituality”.  The first volume: Julian of Norwich and her “Revelations of Divine Love”.  A savvy publishing move for a new series.  They recognized Julian as a voice for the times—and for all time.

A woman’s voice for the vigorous feminism of the 1970’s.  An articulate and compelling representative of the mystical tradition. And a “homely” (in the Julian sense of the word) figure that many would find accessible—somewhere I’ve heard that she loved cats.

A voice and personality for the times.  We might find her visions of a bloody Christ on the cross not quite our cup of tea.  We might find her frequent curtseys to the hierarchy of “Holy Church” a little suspect (she did remember who was in charge!)  But her vision of the all-encompassing love of God in Christ resonates just as powerfully today as ever. “Love was his meaning.”

The universe like a hazelnut in the palm of God’s hand.  The bold assertion that “as verily God is our Father, as verily God is our Mother”.  Jesus as our “Mother of mercy”. “God is nearer to us than our own soul, for he is [the] ground in whom our souls stand.”  The assurance that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be very well indeed”.  Words and images that resonate powerfully nearly 700 years later.

The best way to appreciate Julian, is to read her.  But instead of doing that, I will offer homage.  Composers sometimes write a kind of musical homage to another composer, usually from an earlier period.  Debussy’s “Homage to Rameau” comes to mind.  It incorporates something of the style of the earlier composer, but it is really much more Debussy than Rameau.

So I offer homage to Julian in the form of a parable.  You will not mistake this for Julian’s writing.  Julian’s bloody visions came to her as she lay close to death, contemplating a crucifix.  The idea for this parable came to me over an espresso and pastry in the courtyard of an old hacienda in Mexico.  Which probably illustrates the main difference between me and Dame Julian.  But, homage is due.

So, here is “The Pious Parable of Manuel, the Mystical Mexican Monk of Old San Miguel”.  (You will see that this is based on an image from the story of the Woman at the Well in John’s Gospel, of which we just heard a snippet.)  “The Pious Parable of Manuel, the Mystical Mexican Monk of Old San Miguel”.

Once there was a mystical monk in Old San Miguel in the mountains of Mexico. His name was Manuel. One night he had a dream.  In his dream he was able to fly right out of his cell in the monastery into the central courtyard.  There was a fountain there. It was a beautiful marble fountain in the Spanish style with a column in the middle and a large basin at the bottom—water splashed down from the top of the fountain, past several levels like big dishes and into the pool beneath.  Flowers floated in the water.  The water was cool and fresh and gurgled cheerfully.  It was a beautiful sight.

After enjoying the monastery fountain for a while, Manuel the mystical Mexican monk remembered he could fly.  So he decided to fly around Old San Miguel to see what he could see.  He flew to a nearby house: a typical house of Old Mexico with a plain front wall facing the cobblestone street and a door that opened into a central courtyard.  He didn’t have to use the door, so he flew in right over the walls.  A beautiful courtyard, but different from the monastery: different plants, a different shape and size, different stones on the ground.  And a fountain.

He looked at the fountain.  And he looked again at the fountain.  It was the same fountain—the very same fountain as in his own monastery.  Somehow he knew that it wasn’t just like the fountain in his monastery courtyard: it was the same fountain.  The very same fountain with a lovely carved marble column in the middle, and water gurgling down past several levels into the large basin at the bottom.  The very same fountain; the very same cool, fresh, cheerfully gurgling water.  Manuel the mystical Mexican monk was amazed.

So in his dream he decided to keep flying around Old San Miguel to see more houses, more courtyards, more fountains.  He went next door to another house.  Another size, another shape, another color, another courtyard, other plants.  But, lo and behold!  A fountain—the same fountain.  Somehow in his dream he knew that it wasn’t just like the one in his monastery: it was the one. The same one.  Exactly the same fountain again.

He decided to keep on flying around.  He went to all the houses in Old San Miguel.  And, you guessed it, the same fountain–everywhere.  Not just like the one in his monastery, but, somehow, the very same fountain.  He decided to see if it was the same in other towns.  So he flew to Guanajuato and Leon and Monterey and Vera Cruz and Puebla and Cuernavaca and Mexico City and all the towns of Old Mexico.

And then he flew all over: the new world, the old world. Spain, Portugal, Italy, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East–everywhere: north, south, east and west.  And in every house—large or small, rich or poor– there was a fountain.  The very same fountain.  Cool, fresh water, cheerfully gurgling.  Lovely carved marble.  Flowers floating.  Then Manuel the mystical Mexican monk , finally tired, decided to fly home. In the blink of an eye he was in the courtyard of his monastery.

Cool, fresh, cheerfully gurgling water.  The fountain seemed to be smiling gently at him. (Fountains can seem like they’re smiling in dreams.) He thought: I’ll jump into the fountain, it’s late and no-one will see me!  So he walked up to the fountain, climbed up onto the edge of the basin. And as his foot touched the water, he woke up.   When he woke up, he knew that if he could step into that fountain, he could be everywhere at the same time.

And that is the Pious Parable of Manuel the Mystical Mexican Monk.  Manuel, the flying mystical Mexican Monk of Old San Miguel.

Now is the beginning of always.
Here is the beginning of everywhere.
Love is the beginning of always and everywhere.
He was in the beginning and is all beginning.

And so we begin again
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5 Comments

  1. Joseph Mazza on May 9, 2013 at 11:25

    The invitation is there, come to the fountain (as John the seer says it:)

    The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
    And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
    And let everyone who is thirsty come.
    Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

  2. Rashmi on May 8, 2013 at 15:49

    Thank you, Mark! I have been hoping that God is so big that he is at the center of everything and that he holds everything at the center of himself. Your parable illustrates this possibility very well.
    Also, earlier today, I was very doubtfully considering two things: (1) Julian’s revelation that “all manner of thing shall be very well indeed” (2) the dual nature of God as our Mother as well as our Father. What a surprise it was to read your sermon and to find out that it is the Feast Day of Julian of Norwich.

  3. Willa Grant on May 8, 2013 at 11:44

    Lovely story, it made me smile.

  4. Polly Chatfield on May 8, 2013 at 09:32

    Dear Mark,

    Julian of Norwich is my most favorite saint precisely because she saw the oneness of all things, how God is both the center and the circumference, and how because of that “all will be well.” Thank you for your homage, for letting us drink from the fountain of your love and wisdom.

  5. Bob on May 8, 2013 at 06:34

    The water would be every where the same
    the monk is only the observer. Remember Merton’s
    people in the street!

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