In The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay tells the story of a little boy who is filled with anxiety. When Peekay is bullied at his boarding school in South Africa, because he wets the bed. His nanny calls for the great healer, Inkosi Inkosikazi to Peekay and cure him of the problem with the night water.
Inkosi Inkosikazi tells Peekay to close his eyes. The healer says, “It is night. The moon of Africa is bright and beautiful. You are standing on a ledge. Beneath you there are three waterfalls. The first one plunges into a pool; the second plunges into a pool, and the third plunges into a lake. On the lake, there are ten rocks leading to a beach of sand. Do you see it?”
The boy nods that he does see it. Inkosi Inkosikazi says, “Then hear it!” And the sound of water rushes through the boy.
Through the thunder and crash of the water, comes the voice of Inkosi Inkosikazi. It says, “You are a young warrior. You stand on the ledge above the waterfalls of the night. You have just killed your first lion. You wear a skirt of lion-tails. You are worthy to be in the honor guard of the king. Now here’s what you must do, my little warrior. You must dive. When you hit the first pool you will go to the bottom and you will count ‘3-2-1’ on the way up. You will be swept over the next waterfall. You will go into the second pool. You will go to the bottom. You will count ‘3-2-1’ on the way up. You’ll be swept over the third waterfall. into the lake. You will jump on the first rock and then the next. You will count each one, then you will be on the beach of sand. Do you understand?”
The boy nods. The healer says, “Then, my little warrior, dive.”
And in the imagination of his heart, the boy leaves the ledge. He hits the first pool. 3-2-1. Is swept over into the second pool. 3-2-1. Swept over into the lake. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Until he lays exhausted on the beach of sand.
The voice of the healer returns. It says, “You have crossed the night water. There is nothing more to be feared. If ever you need me, come to the ledge above the waterfalls of the night, and I will be there.”
The little boy was still bullied when he went back to school. But he never again wet his bed. When he was provoked, he would take three deep breaths, and be on the ledge above the waterfalls of the night, with the voice of Inkosi Inkosikazi in his ears.
Jesus was a greater healer. From the edge of a mountain, he saw the crowds who were following him. He saw people who had troubles, who were in trouble. He knew that they didn’t know there was a space on the ledge above the darkness where they would not be alone.
Jesus saw people who were worn with worry. They were worried about things that did not have eternal value. They were storing up things that can go rancid, rust or spoil – not just things barley, linen and wheat, but ideologies, prejudices and judgments about other people. He knew they would experience their blessing if they lived in the richness of spirit known as the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus saw people who were worried about wealth. They loved the accumulation of things in their houses, closets, and bank accounts. They loved having things in their garages, toy chests, and trophy shelves. They ended up taking care of all of it – serving all of it. He knew that they could live a more beautiful life if they served – not dead things – but a living God.
Jesus saw people who were worried about what they would wear, about what they would eat and what tomorrow would bring. They felt powerless. Jesus understood why they were worried. It wasn’t like everyone in that crowd had easy lives. The past had been hard on them. People – governments, social structures, bullies – had hurt them. Every day was uncertain. Jesus knew they could live with power if they could see that every day they were walking out into the kingdom of God.
Jesus saw the people. Jesus sees us. Jesus sees the crowds, all of us. He doesn’t miss our wounds. He doesn’t ignore our past. He understands our worries. He meets us on a ledge above the darkness. His tears have joined with the tears of all the sad and worried and wounded people. He has gone through the rushing, thundering waters before us, so we can walk – blessed, beautiful and powerful. Jesus shows us that our outer being may be pushed and provoked, but within is our truest self. There we are alive in the kingdom of God.
Knowing that Jesus sees us, knows and is with us, changes people. The gospel writer Matthew tells us that soon after Jesus comes down off the mountain, he meets two men who are so crazed they are called demoniacs. Jesus sees them, knows their wounds, and knows their wounds do not define them. He shows them they are worthy of the kingdom and they have power to be part of their community.
The Syrophoenician woman, who was banned from ordinary tables and begged for crumbs, she learns to see herself as Jesus sees her. Jesus sees how she has been pushed and provoked. He shows her real self. Through the healing of Jesus, she becomes powerful and brings healing to others.
Perhaps we can do the same. Perhaps, when we are filled with worries, anxieties, and wounds, we will hear the voice, Jesus, speaking to us. He says “If ever you need me, I will be there. I see you. I know you. There is nothing more to fear.”
You are only one, but you are powerful. You stand on the ledge above the waterfalls of the darkness. You have just been blessed by Jesus. You wear the beauty of your own unique self. You are worthy to be in the kingdom of God. Now here’s what you must do. You must dive into the waters of the world, into the thunder of its beauty and tears. When you hit the first worry, you will go to the bottom and you say to yourself, “Store up for yourself treasures in heaven”. You will be swept through and you will come to another worry. You will say to yourself, “My God in heaven knows my needs.” You’ll be swept over into a wide, open place of great purpose. You will cross from over saying to yourself, “strive first for the kingdom of God and all righteousness” and you will arrive where you need to be.
You are one blessed and beautiful being. You have the power of the One who is with us.
- The Power of One, by Bryce Courtney, was published in 1989 and may into a (not very good) movie in 1992. It is, also, available in a Young Readers’ Condensed Edition, published in 2011; this tells only about half of Peekay’s story.
- I’m indebted to a piece John Shea did for the Chicago Sunday Evening Club, in which he linked Peekay and Inkosi Inkosikaz’s story to the beatitudes, found in Matthew 6.