I used to blame weird dreams on eating pizza too late in to the evening. I’m a Paleo girl now, so I have no source of blame for my strange dream. I’m posting it none the less. I’m a big fan of C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald, my hero allegorists. Perhaps I should blame them for the story that follows.
The Problem and The Maid of the Mushrooms
A maid and a prince lived in their sweet cottage in the forest. The mushrooms were gathered and brought to their cottage to be fried, baked, sauteed, creamed, braised, or just eaten fresh. They were happy, or so the Maid thought.
She worked in her garden and tended her flowers during the day. Her evenings were spent preparing their stew. She longed for an unending supply of mushrooms because they were so sweet, tasty, and precious to her.
The Prince went out every day to gather mushrooms. But, one day, he came home at night without the mushrooms.
“What? No mushrooms, my Prince?” the Maid asked.
“What are you implying? That I haven’t worked long and hard today? You sound irrational. You are unappreciative. You are being just plain hateful,’ the Prince said.
She was so sad. What made her even sadder was the discovery of leaves and seeds on the sleeves of his jacket.
“And, what is this?” she asked, pointing to the pumpkin vine fragments.
“Nothing! Nothing at all, dear Maid. I’m going to bed.”
“Without your supper?” she asked.
The Maid felt sorry for the Prince going to bed without his supper, even if their stew had no mushrooms.
The days went on and the Prince continued to come home without the mushrooms. His sleeves were covered with more vine, seeds, and the smell of pumpkin.
“May I see you sleeve, dear Prince?” the Maid said.
“Go ahead! Look if you must.” The prince defiantly stuck out both arms for examination.
She picked off a seed and examined it closely. “This is a pumpkin seed, Prince. I thought you were in search of mushrooms.”
“You are so unappreciative!” Up to bed he went, again without his supper.
On the next day, while working in her garden patch, she was visited by a special Tall Rabbit. He was dressed in a crisp shirt, a long waistcoat, and a top hat with slits for his ears to protrude straight up; she noticed a vent in the back of his coat to allow for the protrusion of a large soft fluffy white tail.
The Maid offered herbage from her garden to the special rabbit, but he declined.
“My work is food for me,” he said.
The Maid laughed. “What work could a rabbit have to do?”
“To talk with Maidens,” he said.
On the next day she discovered, while working in her garden, it was much more difficult for her to bend over.
“Oh, the pain,” she said as she tried to straighten up.
She tried to walk back to the cottage and realized that she hobbled and limped.
“When I get back to the cottage, I will find the shepherd’s hook. It will help me get around. I must be working too hard. I’m sure this will pass. Besides, I must begin to prepare our supper. Perhaps, tonight we will have mushrooms!”
When the Prince returned that night, he brought nothing. And, the Maid saw that his skin is beginning to turn…orange.
“Prince! Are you feeling well? Your color is…poor.” The Maid steadied herself on the staff.
“You are being irrational again, Maid. I wish I could come home to a happy Maid in good humor. You complain about the lack of mushrooms, the vines on my sleeves, the seeds on my clothes, and say I have turned orange,’ he said.
“I am so sorry, Prince. I will try to do better. I’m beginning to like stew without mushrooms, and you are quite handsome in your new orange skin. There, Prince. Will you be going to bed again without supper?” she said.
“I doubt you would find a Prince who brings home as much as I do. You are such a complainer. I’m going to bed!” the Prince said.
“But Prince,” she pleaded, “You have no mushrooms again. And those seeds! The only place they can be found is at the Pumpkin Patch. Surely you, dear Prince, have not ventured into the company of Pumpkin People? You have always been such a fine Prince!”
“Pumpkin people? You are delusional. Frankly, Maid, I am worried about you. Look at you. Your back is crooked and you walk like a penguin. And, that shepherd’s hook. You look like an Old Maid. I am going to bed!”
“Without,” she paused to stifle a tear, “your supper again?”
The Prince waved his hand toward her and marched upstairs, dropping pumpkin seeds along the way.
“I am so sad to see him like this, full of pumpkin refuse.” The Maid dabbed her eyes with the corner of her clean apron. “Perhaps, tomorrow we will have mushrooms and all will be well.
The next morning, the Prince stopped to talk to the Maid before he went gathering.
“I will send some Pumpkin children to the garden today to help you. I am glad there are no children here. If we need some children, I will get them from the Pumpkin people.”
The Maid nodded. She was pleased. “See? The Prince is feeling better. He will send me some help today.”
Before long, she heard children’s voices outside her window. She looked out and saw the children digging holes in her flower beds. Her roses were pulled up with their roots stuck up in the air like dead possums. Beans and cucumbers were strewn all about her yard.
“OH, NO!” cried the Maid. “Our supper is ruined. All my effort has been in vain!”
She sobbed, grabbed her hook, and hobbled out the door to the porch of the cottage. Her face was grimaced in pain from her limp, and from the scene before her.
“Away! Away you Pumpkin children. Go back to your Patch and don’t come back!” She sobbed violently and shook her hook at the children. “Away!”
She sunk to her knees on the cottage porch and held her face in her hands. She heard a rustle, and looked up.
There stood the special Tall Rabbit.
“My, oh my,” he said, “when will people learn they can’t depend on Pumpkin People to help them? Why didn’t you call for me and my friends to help you?”
“Oh, Rabbit! This is such a mess. The Prince will blame me for running the children off, and we still won’t have mushrooms for supper. I didn’t call you because you said your work is to talk with Maidens. I needed help with my garden.”
The Rabbit straighten his top hat and wriggled his pink nose.
“I see it is time to take you on a trip,” said the Rabbit. “We will go to the Pepper House.”
“I can’t, Rabbit. See how I limp and need this hook to walk? I’ll never make it” the Maid said.
“You will if you follow me, Maid. Go get your cloak and bonnet. Then we will go.”
The Maid used her hook to help herself get up off her knees. She hobbled back into her cottage for her garments. She passed by the mirror and let out a loud cry when she saw herself. Her hair was disheveled and dull, her skin was patchy and red, her shoulders hunched over, her back was crooked, and there was no smile on her lips or sparkle in her eyes.
“Who is that?” the Maid asked, as she leaned in close to the mirror. “Could that be me?”
The Solution of the Pepper Princess
The trip to the Pepper House was not as bad as the Maid expected. The Tall Rabbit was confident in his steps as he led her to a beautiful woodland cottage inhabited by the nicest, happiest, dearest people.
“These are my Pepper People, Maid. They are my friends, and they can be your friends, too,” the Rabbit said.
The Maid looked around to see the people cooking all varieties of peppers. They were making pepper jewelry, long necklaces of tiny red pepper strung together. They made pepper earrings, rings, pocket books, furniture, blankets, and jam, from every color of pepper she could have imagined.
“See how well they get along? See how loving these children are? See all the fruit of their labor?” The Rabbit asked all these questions of the Maid. His ears stood very proud.
“But what about the Prince,” the Maid asked.
“The Prince is always welcome here, too, my Maid. He has gone over to the Pumpkin patch. He’s covered in seeds. He has made his choice. You may have to let him go. Your garden is here, with me; with us.”
The Maid listened.
“Do not fret about the Pumpkin People. The more you fret, the more you will toil. Choose to befriend the Pepper People who will help you. Call for me. I, The Rabbit, will always be out here in your garden.”
The Maid thought over what The Rabbit said.
“You can choose to be a maid of the mushrooms, waiting and disappointed. Or, you can be a Pepper Princess, and be restored to the beauty within.”
The Rabbit took out a small book from his waistcoat pocket.
“Here. This is for you. I want you to read it from cover to cover. Go ahead. Open it now and read the first page.” He handed the little book to the Maid.
She opened the book, and as instructed, read the first page aloud.
“Pumpkin is ugly. Pepper is beautiful!” She smiled.
The Rabbit encouraged them to return to her cottage. “Remember. Pumpkin People rub their seeds on you. The seeds might stick to you. Be careful. Wouldn’t you rather have a lovely pepper necklace around your neck than to have pumpkin seeds sprouting out of your ears?” The Rabbit continued.
“And here’s what I want you to do. You must go home and sweep your cottage diligently. Gather up what you find in a brown bag. Go out in your yard and bury the bag under the compost pile, where you throw out your trash. Stomp on the bag after you cover it with dirt. Take out the book and read a few sentences over the buried trash.”
The Maid listened carefully, fingering the book he had given her.
“You must do this everyday as long as the Prince comes home without the mushrooms. The seeds and vines he brings in will infect your home.”
They reached her cottage, he tipped his hat to her, and he hopped away.
Each day thereafter, the Maid did as the Rabbit instructed. She swept, she buried, and she read. One day, she was surprised to see some Pepper Friends in her garden, sweeping, cleaning, and replanting. The Rabbit waved to her.
The Maid came out to see her new friends. She was happy to see them, and listened to them tell her their stories.
“I sweep everyday, too.”
“I have such a big bag to bury.”
“I read from the little book everyday.”
The Maid performed the Rabbit’s instructions for a a short while and they became a pleasant routine for her. She was pleased to hear other Pepper People say they found the Rabbit’s words true in their lives, too.
“It’s the only way to keep your cottage clean,” one old Pepper Woman said.
That evening, the Prince came home again without any mushrooms. The Maid hardly noticed. She paused at her mirror and admired her new look. Her back was straight and no longer did she need the hook to walk. Her eyes sparkled. She recited to the mirror: “Pumpkin is ugly. Pepper is beautiful!” The pepper necklace that the Rabbit had given her looked pretty with her new smile.
“My poor Prince,” the Maid said, “you have vines sprouting from your ears. Your pockets are full of seeds.” She peered closely up his nose. “Is that a pumpkin seed I see sprouting inside your nostril?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Maid. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. Your eyes deceive you. I’m going to bed!” He spun away and clomped up the cottage stairs.
The Maid stifled a laugh as she observed a long vine hanging out of the back of his waistband, dragging a tiny gourd behind him.
A slight knock was heard at her window. She turned to see the Rabbit on the cottage porch.
“Oh, Rabbit. He is infused with Pumpkin. I am so sorry for him. But, I will keep up the routine of yours and continue to read the little book. And look, out by the compost pile! “
The Rabbit and the Maid rushed to the burial site of the seed that had been swept from the cottage.
“Pepper plants! Oh, Rabbit, how wonderful. Now I will have peppers for my stew!
The Maid and the Rabbit danced in a circle around the seedlings.
“Yes, dear Maid. You are no longer a Maid of the Mushrooms; you are now a Pepper Princess!” the Rabbit said. He looked up at the cottage window and saw an orange face scowling down at them. The Rabbit waved and shouted: “Come join us! You could be a Pepper Prince!”
The orange face disappeared from the window and the curtain was drawn tight.
“Keep doing everything I told you to do, Maid. I won’t see you for a while but the Pepper People are just a short walk through the woods. They will help you. And, anytime you need me, just open the little book and read. You will find me”
He adjusted his coat, turned and hopped, and wiggled his tail.
The Maid watched him as he went off in to the woods.
He waved as he hopped away.“Watch over those seedlings. Believe in the peppers to come!”
This was the last thing the Maid heard the Rabbit say before she returned to her cottage. She admired her necklace one more time and stirred her stew.
“No more waiting on for mushrooms for me,” she said, “I am now a Pepper Princess!”
I’m not sure if it was the avocado or macadamia nuts. But I know the seeds of sin that others bring into our lives surely do infect our health, our minds, and our surroundings. When they persist in their sinful behavior, even under the best conditions of love and ministry, sometimes we do have to let them go. We choose to give up disappointment and embrace the seedlings of faith and fellowship which blossom into a new identity where the trash of our former lives is buried. We press forward forgetting the things behind us, sure of the things yet unseen. Get out there and do a clean sweep. And, don’t forget to read His little book. Everyday.