An uneducated shepherd learns that his simple prayers honor God as much as any scholar's.
An irrepressible acrobat whose antics displease the monks in the monastery receives a blessing from the Virgin Mary when he offers her his gift.
These tales and more are included in The Angel and Other Stories. This collection of ten folktales with spiritual themes offers memorable examples of the wonder of faith, the power of kindness, and the breadth of God's grace. The stories have been thoughtfully gathered and retold by Sue Stauffacher from such classic sources as Count Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, Hans Christian Anderson, Henri Pourrat, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. With luminous illustrations by Leonid Gore, The Angel and Other Stories would be a beautiful addition to any child's library.
|Publisher:||Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company|
|Product dimensions:||8.30(w) x 11.20(h) x 0.56(d)|
|Age Range:||8 - 11 Years|
Read an Excerpt
The Angel and Other Stories
By Sue Stauffacher
Eerdmans Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2002 Sue Stauffacher
All right reserved.
The Shepherd's Prayer
On the edge of a vast desert in a hollow that protected him from the bitter wind, a young shepherd boy brushed clear a space beside his fire, tucked two new lambs against his bony breast, and settled down to sleep. Leaning back on the earthen pillow he had fashioned, the child gazed up at the vast expanse of glittering heavens and sighed.
"Oh God," he said with great feeling. "If you were a lamb, I would warm you beneath my cloak. And if you were caught tight in the thorny bush, I would leave my flock to aid you. For that's how much I love you.
"I tell you, God, if you had a sore foot I would carry you upon my shoulders and if your muzzle was full of cactus needles, I would remove them slowly so that you would not feel the pain too dearly."
The child continued on in this manner for some time.
"If you were a fallen bird, dear God, I would weave you a nest of ocotillo branches and feed you nectar from the saguaro blossom, for that's how much I love you."
Reaching out to his meager stack of firewood, the shepherd tossed another stick onto the dying fire. He added a handful of dried sage to sweeten the smoke.
Then a terrible thought occurred to him. What if God were a hungry coyote?
As if sensing this turn of mind, the young lambsstirred and began to bleat. The shepherd boy let them suckle his fingers. When they had quieted, he said, "If you were a hungry coyote, God ..."
He broke off, listening to the wind that swept over the little hillock where he lay. "If you were a hungry coyote, dear God, I would give one of my lambs to feed you. For that's how much I love you."
Now, it so happened that a wandering scholar was crossing the same desert where the shepherd boy offered his prayers to God. Surprised to hear the sound of a human voice so far from any village, the scholar paused to listen to the child's speech.
But when he heard this final prayer, the scholar rushed over to the boy and said, "My dear child, this is no way to pray. God, a hungry wolf? You will offend the All Mighty with such a comparison."
The boy wrapped the lambs in his cloak and invited the scholar to come sit beside his fire. He gave the old man a drink from his goatskin pouch and shared what was left of his simple meal.
Then he sat back and waited patiently for the scholar to finish, for he, too, was hungry, hungry for instruction in the ways of the world. Growing up by himself in the desert, the child had never been taught the correct way to worship God. Simple prayers were all he had to offer, fashioned as they were from the fullness of his heart.
The child bent close to the fire and examined the scholar's belongings as the old man spoke at some length about lighting candles and preparing the ground for worship. He showed the child scrolls full of strange marks like animal tracks that the boy did not understand. He stood and kneeled and clasped his hands in what seemed a confusion of movement.
When he finished, the old man drank again from the shepherd's precious supply of water.
"This is how to honor God," he told the child sternly. "Praying is a discipline for which you must devote a good part of each day in practice."
From that day forward, the little shepherd prayed no more. He was ashamed of the prayers he had said before he met the scholar. In his desire to share the fullness of his heart with God, he said only what came to his mind. Why would God All Mighty wish to know the thoughts of a simple shepherd boy who could not even read or write?
The scholar continued on his way. By day he shared the word of God, and in the evening he slept the deep sleep of the righteous. But one evening he had a most disturbing dream. In the dream, his candles were melted, his prayer scrolls torn and scattered to the winds, his hands unable to clasp themselves in prayer. A whirlwind arose, stinging his face with sand and clouding his vision.
And from the maelstrom came a voice, a deep resonant voice, a voice that did not need to raise itself to be heard, for it was the voice of the All Mighty himself.
"You would deprive me of the innocent prayers of a child?" the voice asked the scholar.
"Never," responded the scholar.
There followed a silence as deep and black as a starless night.
Plucking up his courage, the scholar continued. "I teach the word of God so that man and child alike will sing his praises."
"And yet," responded the voice, "my little shepherd prays no more. Of all the prayers from all the corners of the earth I have loved the little shepherd's prayers the most, for though he had no knowledge of the world and had committed no great deeds, he thought to do good with all his heart.
"Teach him not the error of your ways," the voice commanded, "but rejoice in the goodness of his."
The next morning, the scholar gathered together his candles and his scrolls and set out to retrace his path. When at last he found the young shepherd, he spoke warmly to the child and asked if he might spend the night in his company.
The young shepherd now welcomed the stranger as a friend. Again they shared a simple meal together, and when it came time for them to go to sleep, the child spread his cloak on the ground for the old scholar.
"Shall we pray?" asked the scholar.
The child did not answer, but looked past the scholar into the dancing flames.
"Perhaps you would like me to pray for both of us," the scholar said, "since I am so wise."
Nodding his head, the child replied, "That would be best."
So the scholar lay down on the child's cloak. He gazed up at the brilliant stars and sighed.
"Oh God, if I were a shepherd, I would speak to you from the fullness of my heart," he said. "And I would let no one, not a coyote of a lamb of even a foolish old man, come before my love for you."
The child stared at the scholar who did not light any candles. Nor did he read from any scrolls.
"I would tell of newborn lambs and of the tender grasses that grow by mountain streams," the scholar continued. "If you were cold in the night, I would wrap my cloak around you, dear God. And in the day, I would shelter you from the burning sun. These things and more I would do for you, God, for that's how much I love you."
"And if you want to be silent, God," began the young shepherd, "I will sit beside you in silence. And if you are sad, I will play you a tune on my flute ..."
"Yes, yes, dear child. This is how you must pray forever," said the old scholar. "For though I have traveled many miles upon this earth and studied with the great masters, it took a young shepherd boy to remind me that the Merciful One always seeks the heart."
~ from Micha Joseph Bin Gorion
There was once a poor performer named Péquelé who lived off the small fairs that traveled from village to village, springing about like a squirrel on the little mat he placed in the market square. Heaven knows what acrobatics he launched into, leaping about like a monkey, somersaulting, walking on his hands, tying himself into knots like a snake and then untying himself again.
I say he lived, but he didn't live well. People always look down on those who wander about the countryside. For them, work is growing wheat with the strength of their arms. Each day they struggle with brambles and thistles. They can hardly give much thought to traveling entertainers. Poor Péquelé did not see many coins fall upon his carpet.
He now knew only by rumor what a roast of beef might be or even a nice steaming bowl of thick soup. As pale as a church candle he was, and as thin as the draft in a keyhole. But he roamed on, leaping and dancing, hair in his eyes, like a wet cat.
His spirits were high, but after a time his body was no longer willing to accompany them. One December evening at nightfall, Péquelé stumbled in some brambles and collapsed a few paces farther on at the base of a roadside cross. There he fainted.
Happily, two begging friars on the way home to their cloister found him just as it was beginning to snow and loaded him on their donkey. At the monastery he got some wine to drink and some hot soup. The next day he tried walking again, but his legs were all rubbery and wouldn't hold him. The abbot said he could stay a week to get his strength back.
The week went by and the snow melted. The south wind cleared the roads.
"My good friend Péquelé," said the abbot. "All friends must part. We're going to fill your pack so you can set out on the road again."
"If you please, Father Abbot," returned Péquelé, "I'd rather stay here."
"Ah, but our rule won't let us keep a passing traveler more than three days," said the abbot. "You'll come again next year, and we'll give you three days on retreat."
But poor Péquelé remembered the good round bread on the table, the bowls filled with lentils, and the chunks of cheese washed down with a little wine. The peace of the abbey reminded him of a room with a fire in which you sit, watching the snow outside.
How miserable it is - compared to this - to live on the open road! The wind whistles, the rain beats in your face, and the dogs people loose at the sight of you bark savagely and snap at your heels.
But there was still more in the monastery to capture the heart of poor Péquelé. Ever since he was a tiny boy doing somersaults in the grass, he'd loved Our Lady and had given her his heart. There, before her image in the cloister's beautiful chapel with its red and blue stained glass windows, he felt closer to her than anywhere else in the world.
"Oh please, Father Abbot, won't you keep me so I can be a friar with the others?"
"Do you think Our Lady needs an acrobat in this monastery?" asked the abbot sternly. "It's true you're good at somersaults, but that's all."
Péquelé hung his head. One tear after another fell down his cheeks.
"All right," said the abbot after a moment. "But you must promise me you'll be a good monk, and worthy of the name."
"Oh yes, yes, Father! I so love the Holy Virgin!"
"You may stay as novice. In three months time, we shall look into the matter further."
Péquelé shone with happiness. Carried away by joy he flipped upside down, walked on his hands, then turned cartwheels round and round the chapel. Nothing like that had ever been seen in the room before.
"Enough, enough, Péquelé! We'll overlook your frolicking this once. But now you're a novice, and this must never happen again. Do you understand, Péquelé?"
"I understand, Father."
"No more leaps and somersaults!"
"Absolutely not. No, no."
"You're going to put on the habit and stop acting like a carnival buffoon! Are we agreed?"
"Yes, Father Abbot, agreed!"
Péquelé had promised with all his heart, like a child. And with all his heart he kept the rule three days, three weeks, and three months. But winter was past now and spring was coming. Soon the snowflakes sailing by on the wind would be changed to petal blossoms of hawthorn and plum. Already he could hear the blackbird, the first to sing at the spring thaw. Far off, in the heart of the woods, the cuckoos called forth yellow flowers to bloom in the grass.
Something got into Péquelé's legs - something like the mad melody of a flute played by an energetic child.
The abbot, who saw everything, knew that Péquelé had springtime in his veins.
"Listen, my son," said he, "your work for today is to prune the orchard. Get up there in the tops of the apple trees and take out all the dead or weak branches."
So Péquelé got up in the trees, his pruning hook in hand. Here and there he hopped, like a tightrope dancer. And all at once, in the spring wind, he discovered he was lighter than down. He ended up leaping from apple tree to apple tree like a squirrel.
When he got to the end of the orchard, of course he had to come down and put back on the habit he'd taken off for climbing. But first, on the grass in his shirt and breeches, all alone, free and full of fun, he just couldn't resist. Off he went, standing on his head, walking on his hands, doing leaps and twists and flip-flops of all sorts, filling the orchard with acrobatics as a goldfinch fills its cage with song.
The abbot came to check on Péquelé's progress and saw everything.
Péquelé promised very humbly never to do such a thing again. No more somersaults, oh no! In fact, he apologized so sincerely that the abbot couldn't help relenting. He sighed a big sigh and drew his hands back into his sleeves.
"Very well," he said. "I'll keep you on probation awhile longer. But if you don't keep your promise, out you go!"
The abbot thought the problem was springtime in his veins, did he? No, it wasn't so much that as a heartfelt joy. Some evenings, Péquelé's heart was just bursting with joy.
The weather was fine, cool, and bright with a nice breeze. The setting sun, as red as a red-hot iron, was turning the air in the distance all pink. You could see a few circling birds, the blue countryside settling into evening calm, and all space opening to the peace of God.
Poor Péquelé thought he didn't know how to offer up dignified prayers like the other monks. But somehow he had to thank the Lord who made all things so beautiful. And it seemed to him that he could do this by doing the one thing that he was good at in all the world - the tricks of a showman and a carefree child.
The abbot called the other monks together. The matter seemed settled even before the conversation began. The monks simply could not shelter in their monastery a monk who leaped about like a goat.
"Surely, he's no great sinner," said one kind monk, speaking up in Péquelé's defense.
"Ah," replied another. "But recall the somersaults, the cartwheels, the handstands. It's what he was born to do. It's what he's known all his life. He can't help it."
"It's true that we haven't been able to mend his ways," said the abbot sadly. "I'm afraid he's still a madcap. And no madcap will ever be a monk."
Péquelé confessed his fault and wept. He could not defend himself. After all, it was too true. But the thought of leaving his pretty white room and Our Lady's beautiful chapel made the tears stream forth, just like the spring at the back of the orchard.
The abbot, his eyes on Péquelé, felt a quiver in his stomach. More than one friar was close to tears and so was he. But this rash action, this catapulting from tree to tree seemed just too outrageous to let pass. Péquelé hadn't managed to progress on the wise and sober path of a monk, so he would have to tread his old path, that of an acrobat, once again.
They stripped off his habit and gave him back his mat and his pack.
The abbot excused himself immediately and went to pray in the chapel.
Excerpted from The Angel and Other Stories by Sue Stauffacher Copyright © 2002 by Sue Stauffacher
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
|The Shepherd's Prayer||1|
|Where Love Is, God Is Also||19|
|The Star Child||27|
|One Hair from a True Sinner||37|
|The Girl Who Caused the Stars to Weep||45|
|What Men and Women Live By||51|
|The Princess Who Never Smiled||61|
|The Finch's Flight||67|