Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Bishop Speaks of Finding Hope

Parsifal is the legendary knight who sought the Holy Grail. The Grail was the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper, and for Parsifal it symbolized a contact with the holy, with spiritual reality. His quest for the Grail was a quest for the truth about life and immortality.

Now, the secret of the Grail was held by an old king, but this king was suffering from a mysterious illness, and his whole kingdom was cast under this same spell. The palace and its gardens were in decay, the springs of the kingdom were drying up, trees would not bear fruit, and even the animals were no longer bearing young.

Knights from all over the realm arrived every day seeking news of the king's health. Then one day Parsifal arrived – poor and unknown. He paid no attention to courtly custom and politeness, but made straight for the king's chamber, and without greeting or inquiry about the king's health, said: “Where is the Grail?” As if to say, “Where do I find the Holy? . . . Where is the truth about the meaning of life?”

The king said: “It is here.”

In that instant, everything was transformed. The king rose from his bed and was well. Springs brought forth water, vegetation began to grow, animals were with young, and the castle was restored. Parsifal's question regenerated the whole land.

It seems to me that this parable applys today to many institutions. They are perishing because there are few seekers of truth, few adventurers. It is enough, you see, simply to raise the central questions, to pose the problems, to become a seeker, for life to return.

For a congregation (or diocese) to begin to ask questions inevitably leads to seeking answers, which leads to thinking, which leads to vision.

I have long thought that too many church leaders (mostly clergy including bishops) operate with answers, which are theirs, which makes for starting at the wrong place. They do not operate with the knowledge that they are the newcomers. They must listen to the people most of whom have not been invited to speak.

Parsifal is a model which dares us to take the chance of offering hope to the people by listening to them.

Hope is not something we capture. It must always be sought. It will hide or be hidden again and again.

Where is hope? It is there to be discovered. The rest is up to us.


  1. To quote Bob: Parsifal is a model which dares us to take the chance of offering hope to the people by listening to them.

    For decades, the Episcopal Church has offered program(s)and persists to do so unceasingly. My love of stewardship was always based on the reality that authentic stewardship leaders always challenged people to discover abundance leading to gratitude and generosity. I never saw anyone get really turned on by a program except the "answer man" himself who pulled out and presented his latest snake oil for making all the numbers get bigger.

  2. This Blog was much discussed over the weekend during a gathering of Churchpersons, both clergy and laity. The conversation moved from, “Can a mythical person be a patron saint?” To “Which mythical character are you most like?” This lead to visiting about the disconnect between how people view themselves and how others see them. For example, the group agreed that Bishop Bob was in harmony with Sir Parsifal; both are/were seekers of truth and meaning.

    The deliberations expanded to venturing theories about which mythical character our current and past leaders would choose to describe themselves. A variety of answers came forth: Apollo – god of music, arts, and knowledge; Dionysus – god of wine, parties and festivals; Hermes – god of boundaries, travel, and communication; plus, of course, Zeus – king of the gods and ruler of Mount Olympus.

    The exchange became more serious when the group acknowledged seeing a fair measure of Narcissus in many of our clergy and lay-popes. For example some of our leaders expect constant reinforcement that they are superior, intelligent and all powerful. Others in the group pointed to leaders who are arrogant, belittle others and lacking in empathy. These are the folks that project and protect themselves at the expense of others. Ugh.

    Hopefully the future Episcopal Church will have more Parsifal and less Narcissus.

  3. A well crafted question and listen ears (with a good dose of humility and patience) can serve the congregational leader better than any other tool in the "leadership tool box" (or golf club in the golf bag, depending on the metaphor you prefer). Couldn't agree more with theme of this blog. Thanks for sharing this!

  4. I recall studying the works of Carl Jung, during which time I discovered that searching for life's meaning contains the questions for spiritual growth. Parsifal indeed asks the question and then everything seems to bloom. I spent 40 years in active ministry, much of the time providing answers because I thought that that was what I was supposed to do. Only in mid-life did I discover the joy of listening. Fortunately, the last few years of my ministry held the rewards of being an active listener as well as speaking my mind. All clergy leaders need to listen and we need leaders who are not narcissistic. Good work Bob