Three Rusian monks lived on a faraway island. Nobody ever went there, but one day their bishop decided to make a pastoral visit. When he arrived he discovered that the monks didn't even know the Lord's Prayer. So he spent all of his time and energy teaching them the "Our Father" and then left, satisfied with his pastoral work. But when the ship had left the island and was back in the open sea, he suddenly noticed the three hermits walking on the water - in fact they were running after the ship! When they reached it they cried, "Dear Father, we have forgotten the prayer you taught us." The bishop, overwhelmed by what he was seeing and hearing, said, "But, dear brothers, how then do you pray?" They answered, "Well, we just say, 'Dear God, there are three of us and there are three of you, have mercy on us!'" The bishop awestruck by their sanctity and simplicity, said, "Go back to your island and be at peace."Nouwen then comments in regard to three handicapped alter servants at the L'Arche community where he was staying,
When Louis saw the three handicapped altar servers, this story came immediately to his mind. Like the three monks of Tolstoy, these men may not be able to remember much, but they can be holy enough to walk on water. And that says much about L'Arche.You see, we are confused by this. Faith is so linked with knowledge and intellect by Christian society, that we cannot imagine a person of great faith not knowing the Lord's prayer by heart. How can someone be a growing, believing, faith filled Christian if they lack basic intellect? But that is the lesson of the story, isn't it? Nouwen saw the connection. We don't. The men in the story were in a place where nobody ever went. When the bishop finally did go there, he saw their limitations in regards to how he understood church should be. With his limited yet prideful understanding of "church" he attempted to change the three monks. They, in their humility took what he had to offer hoping it would help them to grow toward their Lord. But in reality, it was they who should have been the teachers. When they ran to the ship, it was to regain the knowledge they had never quite gotten, not to teach the bishop how to walk on water.
I am beginning to understand the truth of this story. The simple faith of my cognitively disabled friends outpaces my own faith in so many ways. Rather than putting them into the prideful straight jacket I call Christian faith, a straight jacket they will never be able to wear due their limitations, I should learn from them, remove my straight jacket and allow them to soften me.
He has shown thee, O man
What is good and what the Lord requires of thee
But to do justly
And to love mercy
And to walk humbly with your God.