There was once a man who had grown very discontented with his life. It seemed to him that nothing was what he once hoped it would be. He loathed his tiny little village filled with rude and nosy neighbors where nothing ever happened. His children were loud and unruly, making his tiny shack of a house unbearable to live in. What’s more, his wife’s beauty had faded and she seemed to him less kind than when they first met.
“There must be something more than all of this,” he thought to himself. Then he remembered a place he had heard of as a child: the beautiful garden of Paradise. There, it was said, everything was perfect and everyone was happy all the days of their lives. The more the man thought about this strange and beautiful place, the more his heart longed to go there. So one morning he made a visit to the local Rabbi, knocking on his door.
“Rabbi,” he said, when the kindly man finally appeared in the door frame, “Can you tell me the way to Paradise?”
The Rabbi scratched his chin, “Normally, I would tell you that no one knows the way to Paradise and that would be true enough for Eden’s doors were closed to the world before maps were made and anyone who has managed to find there way there has stayed and not returned. But you look determined so I’ll tell you what I do know. It’s only hearsay and rumor, mind you…”
“Please!” said the man, “I must know. Anything you could tell me…”
“I have heard that it is a 7 day journey north. You must start on the first day of the week and you will arrive on the Sabbath. That’s all I know. Anyone I’ve sent that way has yet to come back…”
The man was overjoyed to have received such specific instructions. He thanked the Rabbi and began making his preparations to leave on the first day of the week. When the day came, he was off. He had a staff and enough food in his pack for seven days. He had no compass but once he had fixed himself going north, he simply walked in a straight line. Every night he would leave his shoes pointed in the direction he had been walking. Then, in the morning, he would put his shoes on and continue walking in that direction.
Midweek, when the man went to sleep, he pointed his shoes to the north as he had done the nights before. That night, a trickster happened by. He saw the man lying by the side of the road with his shoes pointed North and smiled a big mischievous smile. Chuckling to himself, he crept up to where the man was sleeping, and turned his shoes around so that they now pointed south. Then the trickster disappeared into the night like a wink from God.
When morning came, the man put on his shoes and continued on his journey. As he progressed, he began to notice that it all seemed familiar to him. Had he visited the place in a dream? Was he in touch with his ancestral memories? As the days progressed, he was filled more with a sense of awe and wonder. Finally, on the morning of the Sabbath, he reached the village where he had started. But as its gates glowed in the morning light, he saw it as if for the first time.
“This is it!” he thought, “The gates of Paradise! O it’s beautiful!”
The man walked in and the ground glittered in the sunrise as if the streets were made of gold and he was warmed to see all the heavenly buildings and all the beautiful fruit trees. He marveled at the City of God, alive and bustling with the activity of the saints. Then he came to a house that deep inside he somehow knew was meant for him. There were tears in his eyes as he walked through the door and saw little cherubs laughing and dancing and singing all through the home, and he broke down sobbing when he walked into the bedroom and there sat the most loving and most beautiful angel he had ever seen. The man saw that everything was perfect and he was happy all the days of his life.
I thought a trickster story would be appropriate for April Fool’s day and this Jewish folktale is absolutely my favorite trickster story. There is an old Zen Buddhist saying that one looking for enlightenment is “like a man riding around on an ox, looking for an ox to ride on.” In other words, what you need to achieve inner peace and tranquility, you already have somewhere inside of you. You need not go looking for it. As disciples, we are not called to see the Kingdom of God merely as some distant utopia that can never be reached this side of the veil, but to realize all the ways God’s Kingdom is already here in our midst. We find heaven when we search within and discover the grace it takes to see the world with God’s eyes: full of His glory and bursting with a billion shades of light. Once we learn to see God’s Kingdom around us and dedicate ourselves to making that vision a reality then, at long last, our shoes will be pointed in the right direction.
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…