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“Good King Wenceslas”

This contribution is a little different than usual. It is not an article, but a sharing of guidance I received on behalf of the Circle, a little over a year ago, in October of 2003. You may know that we at the Circle seek guidance together about all kinds of decisions and situations facing us, big and small. This is an extremely helpful process and often yields wonderful insight and wisdom that we wouldn’t have reached if left to our own devices. This particular piece of guidance came to me when we sat as a group to ask about the Circle’s financial situation. We seemed to be facing a very difficult situation in that regard. I know that I was feeling very tense and worried. The guidance which came, though, left me feeling extremely uplifted. I hope you enjoy reading it, and maybe even find something in it for you, too.

The guidance

The first image came during our opening prayer. It was an image of a few black sticks resting on deep snow. This image made no sense to me. Then I had a very strong sense of it being Christmas time, and this was almost immediately followed by an image from the famous Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas.” The image was of the king and the page walking through the snow together, with the page keeping as close to the king as he could, for protection from the weather.

Then some words from that carol came to me: “In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted; heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.” This was followed by a strong feeling of love and devotion, and I sensed the joy of being a channel of blessing for others. Words which came to me were “Let your hearts be filled with blessings for your brothers. Be a light in darkness.” Then more words from the Christmas carol came to me: “Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.” I felt almost overwhelmed by feelings of love and devotion as these words came into my mind.

The story of the Christmas carol

In case you don’t know it, I’ll relate here the story told in the carol “Good King Wenceslas.” One Christmas time, King Wenceslas looks out on a snowy night to see a poor man gathering scraps of wood for a fire. He asks his servant if he knows who the poor man is, and where he lives. The page replies that he knows where he lives, which is quite a long way away. The king then orders the servant to gather food, wine and logs, and says that they will take them out to where the poor man lives, that very night.

So the king and servant set off into the night. The snow is deep, and it is freezing cold with a biting wind. Before too long, the page is complaining at the bitter cold, saying that he cannot continue. The king’s reply is to tell the page to step carefully into his footprints, and to step out boldly. Doing these two things, he will be less affected by the winter’s cold. So the page does this, and finds that where the king has trodden, the ground is still warm from his footprints. The carol ends with a moral, which amounts to “You who bless the poor shall yourselves be blessed.”

The meaning of the guidance

Following the words and images I had, I sat with them for quite a while, trying to assimilate their meaning. The initial image I saw of the sticks on the snow was obviously a depiction of the scraps of firewood the poor man was gathering. However, the main thrust of the meaning seemed to be in the three characters: the king, the page, and the poor man. I realized that my guidance was applying the story of the Christmas carol in a profound way to the Circle’s situation, and indeed to anyone who is serving others in a spiritual capacity.

The king is Jesus—he’s the one with the riches. He’s goodhearted and generous; he sees a need and goes ridiculously out of his way to meet it, without having been directly asked. He simply sees the welfare of his subjects as his job. He also gives way more than he would ever have been expected to give.

The poor man signifies the spiritually impoverished people of the world. They are keenly aware of a sense of lack, and they search about in hard conditions for the fulfillment that they seek. Even so, they are only expecting to find scraps.

Those of us who are doing some form of spiritual service generally feel quite poor. We are always scraping by; there never seems to be enough to make ends meet. Given this, we identify with the poor man in the picture and may naturally assume that he symbolizes us. My guidance, however, was really emphatic in saying that we are mistakenly confusing ourselves with the poor. The real poverty is spiritual impoverishment, and we’re forgetting that. We have to stop equating financial poverty with real poverty.

That is just one part of the inner transformation we need to make, though. This brings us to the final character: the page. We are the page. Like him, we may find ourselves moaning about the hardships we are suffering. Here we’ve been dragged along by the king, out into a cold winter night. This whole thing wasn’t our idea, and so we may understandably lack the motivation to put up with the hardships inherent in the situation.

However, our real role, as the page, is to help pass along the king’s immense blessings. Yes, we are out in the same harsh conditions as the poor man; but we are not here to focus on our own needs, we are here to give.

Thinking that we are the poor places us in an ironic, almost comical situation. We have been sent off into the night carrying a treasure chest that we are meant to take to the poor. And then halfway along it’s as if we contract a case of amnesia. We forget that we have a safe, warm place to live. We forget our purpose, what we are out here for; we forget who we are. So instead of helping the king distribute his riches, we keep wandering off the path to scavenge some sticks for firewood! The clear message I felt was that we cannot play both the page and the poor man at the same time.

Instead, we need to very carefully mark Jesus’ footsteps and follow in them. When the page complains to the king about the bitter cold and wind, and that he cannot continue, the king responds: “Mark my footsteps good, my page, tread thou in them boldly. Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.” Treading in his footsteps means going forward, not failing the task, and it means doing the task in the spirit of Jesus—giving without counting the cost or expecting a return. And if we do, we will feel the warmth and sense of protection that radiates from his footsteps. That was the first line of the three things that I heard: “In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted; heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.”

And while we follow in his footsteps, rather than focusing on the hardship, we need to feel the joy of being a channel of blessings for others. We are here to pass on to the truly poor all those things that Jesus has for them, all the riches we have acquired from our experience with the Course. We have to think of ourselves as carrying a wondrous bounty to give to those who do not have. There was a really strong feeling of Christmas that pervaded the experience and that was part of the message. We have to constantly be in the Christmas mode, with our hearts literally overflowing with the joy of giving. Christmas is light in the darkest time of the year, and just as the king bestows light and warmth and plenty in the midst of darkness, cold, and lack, so must we. This was echoed by the second thing I heard: “Let your hearts be filled with blessings for your brothers. Be a light in darkness.”

To go out and give from the mindset of thinking that we are poor, and that our giving is a strategy for scraping together some more money, is the absolute antithesis of this guidance. All that we do should be done from the mindset of how rich we are, and that we are burning to give these blessings and share these blessings. Instead of counting the personal cost to us, we should simply be focusing on reaching the poor with what Jesus wants to give them: spiritual comfort and sustenance, light and blessings, warmth and love. The more we can do this, the more we can really be the people he would have us be, and the more we will feel protected by him. And by giving blessings we will be blessed. That was the final thing I heard: “Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.” How could we be lacking while we are with the king? This implies that there will be enough to make ends meet, but of course the real blessings lie in the love and the closeness to God we experience through doing this.