In ancient Iran there lived a prophet called Mani, who grew tired of the city in which he lived. He saw much pain around him and found it difficult to understand, but he knew that understanding takes time, and so decided to spend some years in thought. The seasons passed, and each year seemed the same as the last. But before too long there came a dark winter and, cold in the cave, he found in himself an idea. He went quickly out to the people of the city, and started to tell them about a new way of seeing the world.
He said “Friends, there is an eternal battle between the realm of light, and the kingdom of darkness”. But this was no simple battle, with each army grouped on opposing hilltops. He told his friends that there is dark and light inside each of us, and inside each thing of nature and of humanity. In a thunderstorm, the darkness battled against the light, but light and darkness were throughout – how else could we see?
And soon his story spread far and wide, giving the people a way to understand their suffering and persecution. They saw that the combat between light and darkness produced the world around them. They knew that they could join the fight against darkness, but it would never leave the world. They felt the darkness within, and this allowed them to accept and reign it in.
But Mani grew sadder as the pain and suffering continued. And finally one day, he gave in to something inside, and went out to the people again. He said “Friends, light is leaving the world” and he broke down in tears and hatred. But in the crowd there was a young woman, who stepped to him and quietly dried his eyes.
And she said “Mani, you have given in to the darkness” and he saw that it was true. And he breathed deeply. And he spent the rest of his life telling his story, and helping the people, before he died one day a thousand years ago.
And as the years passed, more and more people came to tell Mani’s story, until one day it reached the ears of the Emperor. And he didn’t like it at all. He said “Servants, I am the light, and there is no darkness in my land”. He told of the secret armies trying to undermine him, of how they were darkness, and darkness alone. He said “When I order you to defeat my enemies I do not grieve, for there is no light to be found in them”. And finally, he said “Mani is one of my enemies. You must tear up his stories, and kill those who follow his word.”
And so it was that another wave of pain and persecution was unleashed upon the realm. And the Mani-cheans (for this is what they were now called) found this no surprise, as I am sure you can tell. They quietly carried on their fight against the darkness within themselves, and within their families, and within their friends. But it became harder and harder, as they were slowly driven from this world by the Emperor’s knife and sword.
Then one day, the Emperor heard another story. He heard of the time when Mani had gone out to the people and said “Friends, light is leaving the world”, and broken down in tears and hatred. And the Emperor knew then that he had won, and from then on he began to call his enemies Manichean, so he could give Mani a grave of lies. And after a while people began to forget what Mani had said.
But of course, we know the end of the story. We know that in the crowd there was a young woman, who stepped up to him and quietly dried his eyes. And she said “Mani, you have given in to the darkness” and he saw that it was true.
Many years later, the years in which we live, people are called Manichean when they behave like the Emperor, and see the world as a battle between my light over here, and their terrible darkness over there. And they sometimes believe it, when they lose and break down in tears and hatred like Mani once did. But we know that wisest was the young woman who offered comfort to Mani. She saw the darkness at work even in him. And she helped him to fight it even in the darkest times, to stand back up, and continue the struggle.
For where the growing darkness is, there the light is, also.