Once when I was young, perhaps three or four years old, my uncle was visiting our family. He had a quirky sense of humor that tended toward practical jokes. I was playing outside on a sunny spring morning, when he joined me in the backyard with a saltshaker, and a mischievous look on his face. As happens during spring in Minnesota, our yard was filled with robins hopping around looking for worms.
My uncle asked, in a conspiratorial manner, “Do you want to catch a robin?” Of course I did: What fun! He said, “Take this saltshaker, sneak up, and put some salt on a bird’s tail. Then when it turns around to taste the salt, you can catch it.”
I spent quite some time trying this scheme, only to fail time and again. Finally, in frustration, I sat down in the grass. My mother, who had been watching this little drama and knowing that I had fallen victim to my uncle’s tricky ways, came out, picked me up, and gave me a big hug. Then we went into the house together to have some hot cocoa.
Another time, many decades later, I was more successful in trying to catch something. This time we were at Ananda’s community near Assisi, Italy, enjoying a relaxed dinner with some friends. Suddenly, one of the women screamed, “There’s a mouse! There’s a mouse!” Her scream, of course, frightened the poor little creature, and it scurried away. This was a situation that begged for a solution, and I had one.
I asked for a shoebox, which I propped up with a fork, and put some cheese inside. I tied a string to the fork and enjoyed the rest of the meal and a long, lovely conversation with our friends. But out of the corner of my eye, I was watching the box. Eventually, the little mouse came out and went for the cheese. I jerked the string, the box fell over him, and he was caught. A little later we took him out and let him go in the woods.
Of these two stories, I think that, oddly, the first is the better way to catch God. The second story left me feeling a certain sense of accomplishment in my trapping prowess, which drove out the realization that I never caught the mouse: It caught me. After all, with a little reflection we begin to realize that it was Divine Mother playing all the parts: the mouse; the box, string, and cheese; and all the friends sitting at the table. She was entertaining us for the evening. My little sense of pride made Her hide, just as surely as the scream of my friend had the mouse.
But both stories illustrate a valid part of our quest to catch God. Sometimes we need calm, sustained determination, remaining alert for God’s whispers. Ultimately, however, any energy we put out is only part of the picture. Yogananda said that our efforts amount to twenty-five percent, while the grace of God and Guru makes up the other seventy-five percent.
If we think we can catch God with “tricky ways,” we are sadly mistaken. The first story shows us that there are things, both in this world and in our spiritual quest, that are beyond our willful control. When we try to put salt on the tail of God, He always seems to flit away. Finally, in surrender, we need to sit quietly in a pleasant, sunny place. When we do this in meditation, Divine Mother comes, wraps us in Her arms, and takes us home.
P.S. Paramhansa Yogananda spoke often, and with great fervor, about the importance of spiritual cooperative communities. The development of these communities has been a special focus of Ananda and of its founder, Swami Kriyananda. In the last few years, Ananda has built a remarkable online community for those many sincere devotees who aren’t in a position to move to one of Ananda’s physical communities such as Ananda Village. If you’d like to learn more about this community, and perhaps become part of it yourself, I heartily encourage you to attend an online talk Devi and I will be giving this Saturday, Feb. 20, at 6:30 p.m., called “The Role of (Online) Spiritual Community in Supporting Spiritual Growth.” The program is at no charge, as part of a 14-day free trial membership in the community. To participate, sign up for the trial near the bottom of the page here (under either “monthly” or “yearly”). You’ll receive in short order (before Saturday evening) a link to the event. We hope you can join us.
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