The Legend of Glas Gabhna
by John O'Donohue
I was taken by this powerful legend from Celtic lore and share it with you here that
it may inspire you to contemplate the true meaning of abundance.
It is incredible how blindness and habit have dulled our minds. We live in the midst of abundance and feel like paupers. Our lonely emptiness seems to be the result of our desire to turn everything into product. Only if it becomes a product does a thing become real. Like the surrealistic sculptures of Jean Tinguely, we reduce beauty to contorted shapes that bring us neither shelter nor invitation.
Yet the world we have inherited is teeming with possibilities. If we could but see it, each moment offers us a richness which invites our care and graciousness. There is an old story from County Clare about the Glas Gabhna. In the mountains near Carron, there lived a smith who had a magical cow. When she was milked, she could fill any vessel. The smith knew how valuable she was. He had seven sons and one of them always 'stood to her', or in other words watched over her. Over a long period of time, she gave an endless supply of milk. Even today one can see in that landscape certain bare patches where nothing grows. These were the places the cow was said to have lain down. Her fame and magic spread everywhere. One day while on his watch, one of the sons fatally fell asleep. An old woman came by and saw the magical cow unguarded. She had a sieve with her and began to milk the cow into the sieve. She milked and milked. The milk flowed endlessly onto the earth until the cow fell down. When the son awoke, he saw the ground white with milk beneath the fallen cow. He went to call help. When the father and sons returned, the cow had gone away. She was never heard from again. Then some time after she had departed, seven streams broke forth from the spot where she had been milked. These are to be seen there today, the Seven Streams of Taosca.
This legend perfectly highlights what can happen when we abuse the sacrament of abundance, we drive away graciousness. The generosity of the cow was unfailing, she would fill any vessel. In terms of abundance, we can read the vessel as the form which receives the gift. Once the form becomes false and manipulative, the gift is destroyed. It would be lovely were we more awake to our gifts: we could engage with a form proportionate to their generosity. Sadly, much of our inner riches are wasted and lost; perhaps we remain scattered and empty because we tend to use the 'sieve' rather than the 'vessel'. Greed damages what it desires and the gift of abundance always tests us. It invites us to a sense of proportion in how we see, feel and act. Without proportion, there is no balance, and the force of imbalance ultimately brings destruction. Since classical times, it has always been recognized that beauty demands proportion and balance. When they are neglected, beauty and graciousness recede and the flow of gifts dries up. When we dwell in graciousness, we are never without the gifts we need; there is plentitude and abundance. Graciousness dignifies human presence and when it is present, it brings out the best in people. It opens a perspective which enables us to see the gifts that we have. It creates an atmosphere which awakens nobility of mind and heart. A gracious mind has compassion and sensitive understanding. It is without greed; rather than concentrating on what is absent or missing, it is able to celebrate and give thanks for what is present.