Sir Perceval and Compassion
The legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are well known. You’ve probably already had flashes of stories and pictures run through your head. Hidden within the age-old stories of knights and damsels and jousts and magic have rested deep moral moments of timeless truth. One very poignant moment is in the story of Perceval and the Fisher King.
Perceval may not be a knight you remember. He grew up poor, but had a noble air and a heart set for justice. This led him to have a hot head and speak his mind on what he saw. Through a number of adventures he is invited to become a knight for King Arthur. While being trained in the manner of a knight, his advisor gave him some very specific courtly advice:
“The ruling Gournemant had taught,
That as a full-fledged knight he ought
To keep from speaking overmuch;
For ready questioning, as such,
Led swiftly in an ill direction.
So the youth asked no question.”
The trouble came when Perceval was a guest of a crippled king. The king had been wounded in a joust in both legs and could no longer walk; yet his servants loved him and tended to his every need, carrying him down to the river to fish everyday (the only sport he could still do while crippled). Perceval is invited to stay at this remote castle for the night. While staying he witnesses a parade of holy objects: a spear dripping blood, a silver plate, and a shining grail. And “the youth asked no questions.” After witnessing all this, he goes to bed and wakes the next morning to find the castle completely empty. He leaves and finds a maiden in the woods who is full of questions for him, the complete opposite of our stoic knight. She asks about everything he saw last night, and he tells her, and then the hammer falls.
”Your name is changed.” “How?” said he.
”Now Perceval the Wretched be!
Ah, Perceval, the unfortunate,
What grave mischance has marred your fate;
That all you saw you failed to question!
For if you had but sought direction,
You’d have healed the crippled king,
Renewed the use of both his limbs,
and he’d have trod his realm again.
There is much to be gained by patiently listening. The trouble is that listening mostly benefits you. It requires no effort at all. Listening and asking thoughtful questions adds depth and meaning to your conversation and lets the other person know you care about them. As we continue to walk through the “Beatitudes” this week, we examine Jesus’ claim that “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Mat 5:4)
You and I have a lot in common with Perceval. We’ve been raised to believe that showing emotion is a weakness. The successful and blessed in this world are those who rise above everything, wear glowing smiles with perfect white teeth, have thousands of followers on our social media and never, EVER take an ugly crying picture.
But that is a lie.
We don’t grow without hardship. We don’t gain without sacrifice. And we can never be truly known and loved unless we allow others to see and know our hurts, our fears, our worries, or frustrations. We need each other… because we need God. When we reach out to one another we are reminded that we need God. And when we stop to comfort one another, we are reminded of the God who loves and comforts us. And we all look forward to the day when all creation will be restored, together.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)