Pearls, Parables and Prayer

There is a Moment in each Day that Satan cannot find

Nor can his Watch Fiends find it, but the Industrious

find This Moment & it multiply, & when it once is found

It Renovates every Moment of the Day if rightly placed

Milton 35:42-45 by William Blake

Lately, one or two parables have been sparking afresh for me, particularly the one about the pearl merchant who finds a pearl of great price and sells all his other pearls to buy it. Although I have known this story all my life I had filed it as meaning pretty well the same thing as the parable about the treasure buried in the field. I thought I had understood it. End of story. One of the things that can too easily happen when we become over-familiar with parts of the bible is that we think we have learnt the lesson. We cease to listen, to apply what we are hearing to ourselves. We go to sleep. But parables have huge power to speak to us where we are at any time. Ones that we have known all our lives suddenly spark new understanding in us. We find ourselves in the story again but in a new place and with a new revelation.

As I say, I had been thinking a lot about The Pearl of Great Price and the fact that the merchant already possessed many beautiful “pearls” – perhaps profound and lovely things that most of us would consider ultimately satisfying – and then along comes this one pearl, so outclassing all others that the merchant knows he must give all the rest for that one. But what does it cost the merchant to let go of all these other beautiful things? They have not ceased to be beautiful, to hold memories, to be precious. But he cannot buy (afford?) this new, stunning pearl unless he sells all the rest. Does he struggle to sell / let go of the other pearls in his life? What does it cost him?

I had been mulling these ideas over in my head for many days, a bit like a cow chews the cud, when I came on the wonderful lines of poetry at the top of this page, which were new to me. Here was a pearl of great price, not the pearl, but a pearl that gave me access to perhaps sometimes, very briefly, recognising that there is “a pearl of great price.” This ’minor’ pearl is contemplative prayer, which “when once….found, It renovates every Moment of the Day if rightly placed.” Contemplative prayer practiced over time has this extraordinary power to transform our responses to the world. This was what I understood, rightly or wrongly, to be Blake’s “Moment.”

The pearl merchant practiced his trade, collected precious objects and got more and more experienced in recognising what was truly exquisite until one day he came across that which was priceless. Perhaps those of us who are seeking the Pearl of Great Price and have not yet realised fully for ourselves what it looks like, are invited to keep working diligently with the pearls we have received, like that pearl called prayer, so that we will recognise the Pearl when we see it.