November 30 – What We Hold Dear – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

What we hold dear can heal the world.

There is an ancient story of a group of pilgrims searching for the holy land. They wandered for days to the bank of a very wide river. It was too deep to cross, and there was nothing to build with. One of the pilgrims prayed for guidance, and a voice appeared urging each to give up something they held dear. From this they could build a raft. For only that which they held dear would be strong enough to hold them up as they crossed into the holy land.

There was immediate conflict and suspicion. The one who heard the voice was accused of trying to steal what mattered most to everyone. Finally, four of the stranded pilgrims agreed. Each offered what seemed useless to the others: a stone, a feather, a piece of driftwood, a page from a book no one understood. Mysteriously, as they slept, the dearness they had placed in these things flowed together and they woke to find a magnificent raft.

Once on the other side, the one who gave up the feather heard another voice. It said that the holy land was right where they had landed. The four pilgrims settled on the far bank within view of the others who would not cross. That night, they burned the raft to cook their food and the  voices told them that the holy land is wherever what you hold dear holds you up and then turns to food.

The wisdom carried in this ancient myth is that what we fear is most private mysteriously belongs to everyone; that is, once shared, the things we hold dear release a power that is healing. This is not to say that we should give up what is healing us in the midst of its becoming dear to us. Rather, the story urges us to relinquish personal icons so that they may continue to heal others.

It reminds me of a relic of a saint someone gave me when I was ill, a chip of bone from someone centuries ago who began a religion I was not a part of. But as I held this relic and prayed and worried and sweat through my terror, it became precious to me.

Once well, it became a sacred charm for me, until one day the person who gave it to me fell terribly ill and needed it back. I was afraid to give it up and felt naked without it, but giving it up made everything holy.

I have since, when the time proved right, given away other precious things I have lived with— crystals and books and personal treasures I have long enshrined. For only in use do they again become healing. It is the giving of what is dear that helps us cross the river.

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