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The Parable of the Singer

The master walked with his disciples from Wales to Glastonbury, England.  He sent his disciples to the nearby villages to invite them to gather together in the countryside.  They did, but not many came.  Then the teacher began to teach.  He said, ‘There was once a singer who could sing so beautifully that she sang entire cathedrals into existence in these lands and far beyond.  Her voice rang from these fair shores like bells from the church tower, and she taught many, many people to sing her lovely songs.  People flocked to hear her, walking miles and miles through the rain of winter or the hot sun of summer just to hear her sing.  As they listened and began to sing, they felt themselves cleansed, as though her words were themselves a baptism forgiving their sins. Hope and joy filled their souls.  The land flowed with love and goodness and kindness, and the people discovered true faith in their hearts.  Her voice chased away corruption and injustice, inspired honesty in all things, and people fell on their knees before God in reverence.

‘Then the singer stopped singing.  At first, she sang verses that contradicted each other.  Then she started to correct herself even in mid-song, and she would try to sing things several different ways while her audience waited patiently.  She introduced the words of others, and she confused her melodies with other popular songs from the local pubs.  Finally, she lost confidence in her own voice and simply told the people to sing whatever song came into their own minds.  Slowly at first, then more and more, the crowds stopped coming.  People began to live their lives for themselves, and as they worked, there was no longer a song on their lips or in their hearts.’

The people who had gathered to hear the teacher teach wept.  Some remembered the days of long ago.  Others cried for what they never knew.  The disciples sat in stunned silence.  The teacher waited, and waited, and waited.  He looked about.  Then, suddenly, from the very back of the little gathering, a child’s voice started to sing—falteringly at first, then stronger and stronger—a beautiful and pure sound:

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green and pleasant Land.[1]

The master looked at the small gathering.  ‘It matters not that you are so very few,’ he said.  ‘What matters is that your song is pure and true.'

Then, standing up, he said, 'Let us go and begin again to sing.’

[1] William Blake, ‘And did those feet in ancient time,’ in Milton a Poem.  The words were set to music by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916 with the title, ‘Jerusalem.’