Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hymn of the Pearl

Within the Acts of Thomas is a beautiful poem describing the exile and redemption of the soul. The text is known as the "Hymn of the Pearl".

When I was a little child,
and dwelling in my kingdom of my father's house,
and in the riches and luxuries of my teachers,
I was living at ease.

[Then] from our home in the East,
after they had made preparations,
my parents sent me forth.


Then they made with me an agreement,
and they inscribed it in my heart so that it would not be forgotten:
"If [you would go] down into Egypt
and bring the one pearl,
which is in the middle of the sea
surrounded by the hissing serpent,
then you will put on your glorious garment
and your toga which rests over it.
And with your brother, our second in command,
you will be heir in our kingdom."


The Hymn of the Pearl.

The Apostle Thomas sings the hymn while in prison.

The hymn tells the story of a boy, "the son of the king of kings", who is sent to Egypt by his family to retrieve a pearl from a serpent. He is promised rich rewards on his return. During the quest, he is seduced by Egyptians and forgets his origin. Later, a letter is sent from the king of kings to remind him of his past. The boy receives the letter, remembers his mission, retrieves the pearl and returns. The boy is everyman, as spoken by Thomas; the "king of kings" is Jesus.

What is our purpose in life and how is it that we stray from that path? When we are young, it only seems that life is much simpler. Our parents guide us and instruct us in the ways of the world. We need not make decisions for ourselves. But as we grow older, we journey on, meet new friends, and make our own decisions.

What choice we make are often wrong, for the path of life is fraught with indecision, betrayal, and confusion.We are tempted by wealth and power. Material comforts become an opiate that distracts us from the true purpose of life. The pearl we seek is not wealth, but wealth as symbolized by our real values, the lessons we were taught as children. And that lesson is to serve others.

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