Text For The Month / Monatsspruch
Texts for the months of August and September 2016
Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other. Mark 9.50
What were you discussing on the way? (Mark 9.33). When Jesus asked his disciples this question, he was well aware, and surely with considerable pastoral concern, of their all too human shortcomings. And these men of little faith and understanding were chosen to go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16.15). In this context Jesus makes a reference to salt several times. But only once in the four gospels do we find a sentence structured as the one chosen as the text for the month. At first glance it seems easy enough to understand and one does not have to be a Christian to agree with the truth it relates to the fellowship of mankind. Nevertheless, interpreters of the gospel agree that it is difficult to comment on this particular proverb. And this is not least because salt is such an important element of life, subject to numerous references in history, folk tales, citations, customs and traditions in many cultures. As it is impossible to do the theme justice in a few lines, I opted to give some aphorisms on selected topics around salt:
An essence of life. Salt is not simply a granular seasoning in a salt shaker. All our body fluids contain salt. It is, in its right balance, essential for humans, animals, and many plants. But as so often, there is also an opposing side, here toxic. We only have to think of the Dead Sea, where only an element of life can be detected in those pockets where fresh water dilutes the sea sufficiently. “Man can not live without salt, but a dish of pure salt would be deadly for us” (Ricada Huch, German historian).
Folk tales. “A king once asked his daughter how dear he was to her. ‘As dear, as dear – as salt!’ she said. The king was very dissatisfied with his child’s answer, thinking she did not love him enough. Not long after this, the king held a great feast. His daughter saw to it that every dish was brought to the table unsalted, and thus nothing tasted good to the king, or to his guests. When he understood what had happened, he recognised the full importance of salt, and realised the truth of his daughter’s response. Thus he loved her again as dearly as before” (Ernst Meier, collected folk tales).
Elaborate variations of this story can be found in fairy tale collections of many countries (see below under Salt Fairy Tales for a selection of sources and titles).
Quotations and Proverbs. Numerous proverbs on salt can be found around the world. Here are some selected quotations: “There must be something strangely sacred in salt; it is found in our tears and in the sea” (Khalil Gibran, Lebanese Poet, 1883-1931). “Amongst all precious stones the earth presents to us, salt is the most valuable” (Justus von Liebig, Chemist, 1803-1873). “No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his well-being, to risk his body, to risk his life, in a great cause” (Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. President, 1858-1919). “Where there is no God, there is no salt and no hold” (Gottfried Keller, 1819-1890, Swiss Poet and Polititian). “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all” (Nelson Mandela, Revolutionary and Philanthropist, 1918-2013).
Salt, test of true friendship. “Before you make a friend, eat a bushel of salt with him.” This Romanian proverb is representative of many similar ones in other countries. They all say that you need to share with someone many meals before you get to know him or her. Quotes on this can be found by Aristotle, Luther, Goethe and others.
In our time we experience a phenomenal rate of change in human relations. I see for instance social media, online communities, etc. as at best very weak in the face of a salt test. It does not matter how many “likes” we count, they can not flavour our daily bread.
Salt in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”. Earlier in the year I watched the BBC’s new adaptation of this great novel. For me, one of the most poignant episodes was between Count Pierre Bezukhov and a simple peasant soldier, both prisoners of war. I quote direct from “War and Peace”, translated by Anthony Briggs:
“All the Russians detained with Pierre were the dregs of society … Without Pierre fully realising it, all his faith had been undermined, faith in the good order of the universe, in the souls of men, in his own soul, even in God … There was no way back to his old faith in life … Next to him sat a stooping little man who made his presence felt by the stench of sweat that came wafting from him every time he made a movement … ‘Ere you are, sir. You taste these,’ he said … unwrapping his little bundle and handing Pierre a few baked potatoes. ‘We had soup for dinner. But these potatoes is a real treat!’ Pierre had had nothing to eat all day, and the smell of the potatoes was out of this world. He thanked the soldier and set about them. ‘No, not like that, sir,’ said the soldier with a grin, and he took one of the potatoes from him. ‘Try ‘em like this.’ He got out his clasp-knife again, cut the potato in the palm of his hand into two equal halves, sprinkled them with a pinch of salt from the rag, and gave them back to Pierre. ‘Real treat they is. You try ‘em like that.’ Pierre would have sworn he had never eaten better in his life.”
Have salt in yourselves. If we equate, like in the fairy tales, salt with ‘love’, we have the prerequisite for peace. Do everything in love (1 Cor. 16.14). In ‘Illustrissimi, The Letters of Pope John Paul I’, I read his advice: “Love modestly. Often this is the only thing possible … Helping where we can, not getting worked up, being understanding, remaining calm and smiling at these times (as far as possible!) means loving our neighbour without big words, but in a practical way …”
Gott spricht: Ich habe dich je und je geliebt, darum habe ich dich zu mir gezogen aus lauter Güte. Jeremia 31,3
Je und je, das heißt von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit. Das Prophetenwort von Gottes Vaterliebe wird durch Jesus Christus ein für allemal erfüllt. Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (Johannes 3,16). “Lieber Gott”, wie oft geht dieser Ausruf gedankenlos über unsere Lippen. Aber erst, wenn wir den Ruf aufrichtig in “lieber Mitmensch” umsetzen, ist der Kreis geschlossen und die empfangene Güte wird zum Salz in uns, unentbehrlich für Frieden in der Welt.
“Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est” – wo Güte ist und Liebe, da ist Gott. Diesen alten Liedvers (um 800), kunstvoll gestaltet im Stil alter Buchmalerei von Sr. Eva Maria Steidel OSB, habe ich einfarbig nachgezeichnet und wiederholt benutzt. Er unterstreicht auch hier die Aussage des Monatsspruches.
Salt Fairy Tales
A selection of tales about salt that illustrate its bond to our cultural life:
Cap O’ Rushes – England. Source: Joseph Jacobs, English Fairy Tales
The Most Indispensible Thing – Germany. Source: Ludwig Bechstein, “Das Unentbehrlichste”, Neues Deutsches Märchenbuch
As Dear as Salt – Germany. Source: Ernst Meier, “So lieb wie das Salz”, Deutsche Volksmärchen aus Schwaben
The Dirty Shepherdess – France. Source: Andrew Lang, The Green Fairy Book
The Necessity of Salt – Austria. Source: Ignaz and Joseph Zingerle, “Notwendigkeit des Salzes”, Kinder- und Hausmärchen
The Value of Salt – Italy. Source: R.H. Bush, Folk-Lore of Rome
Like Good Salt – Italy. Source: “Venetian Popular Legends”, The Cornhill Magazine
The King and His Daughters – Pakistan. Source: Charles Swynnerton, Folk-Tales from the upper Indus
The Princess Who Loved Her Father Like Salt – India. Source: Maive Stokes, Indian Fairy Tales
Prinzessin Mäusehaut – Germany. Source: Brüder Grimm, Kinder-und Hausmärchen
The work of the Brothers Grimm had great influence of other fairy tales in Europe. The tales from the Indian subcontinent are seen as an important source of the international spread of this literary genre. This is not the first time that I have used a ‘Märchen’ to illustrate a point in religious contemplations. For me, the ‘Märchen’ are by no means restricted to the nursery.
Archive / Archiv
Feb - Mar 2017