Friday, February 19, 2016
The Bear and a Gift of Honey
The result of St. Cobinian's plan had been apparent after the Bear returned from a long walk ordered by St. Corbinian, "all the way to the Bald Knob." Not a soul was present. But the Bear's cave was, as if by magic, filled with Bear-sized furniture. On the table was something flimsy with black marks on it. No doubt the industrious monks, whom he had often observed from afar, had constructed the furniture on orders of their abbot. The Bear had wondered what St. Corbinian had told them. Maybe monks didn't ask many questions.
At first he felt silly, aping men, but by Lent, the Bear had learned to enjoy his chair and his comfortable bed, and tried his best with the table, although it was impractical for most of the Bear's dining.
This Lent, the Bear found himself sitting at his table, staring at the only object on it. A large jar of honey. It was a recent present from St. Corbinian. Oddly, the saint had given it to him after telling the Bear to give it up honey for Lent. The old man must have forgotten.
Now, as a matter of fact, the Bear had no honey to give up, but how could St. Corbinian know that?
"Another lesson," the Bear grumbled. St. Corbinian and his religion were relentless.
He stared at the jar of honey in silence. He suddenly seized it and was about to break open the jar on the table, but put it back gently. "Bear said he wouldn't eat honey," he muttered. "Plenty of fish, and game. What does Bear need honey for?" He could taste it in his imagination: the thick golden sweetness of it. Honey was the most perfect of all things.
Once again he seized the jar, but he got up and put in on a shelf in his cupboard. (St. Corbinian and his monks had been very thorough.) Then he went to bed and pulled the covers over his head. But he could not get the jar of honey out of his mind, nor go to sleep.
He got out of bed, took down the jar of honey, and left.
On the outskirts of the village lived a man and mate with many cubs. They were very poor. Under cover of darkness, the Bear crept silently toward their house. He imagined their surprise when they found the honey jar at their front door.
A sudden shift in the breeze brought the strong scent of man very close. The Bear froze. Presently, he saw a very small child in ragged clothing walking toward him. One cry and the whole village would be after him with dogs.
The Bear forced the corners of his mouth upwards, bent down, and extended the honey jar toward the child. "Take it," he whispered.
The child, completely fearless, took the jar, which was quite a burden for his skinny young frame. He turned around, and returned the way he had come. The Bear ran back to his home swift as the wind. During the journey he wondered if small children were not afraid of Bears, or if the lad had not quite seen a Bear.
"There was quite a stir in the village," St. Corbinian related a few days later, as they sat in their usual place on the sunset side of the abbey. "Reports of a talking Bear handing out honey."
The Bear said nothing. He felt he would get in trouble no matter what he said.
"The villagers decided it was a forest demon. They put the honey jar in a hole in the ground and smashed it. Then they buried it."
"That is stupid," the Bear replied. "All that honey wasted."
"I don't know," mused the saint. "Perhaps it wasn't wasted after all. By the way, how goes your giving up honey for Lent?"
"Bear thinks it better not to speak of such things."
For once, St. Corbinian did not have anything to say.
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