It is a story about liturgy, sacrament,
and repairing the world with justice and redemption. “The Shell Story” is
ancient yet ever new, universal yet singular to all human beings.
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Once upon a time there was an island that lived on
ancient ways. Its most prized possession was a conch shell that was sounded
ritually to still the winds, ease the storms, and placate the rain and thunder
beings. It was a way to sing to the gods. It was a great whorled shell the
colour of the moon, patterned and perfect, well worn. It was entrusted to one
family, whose youngest member, male or female, guarded it and knew the times to
sound the note. It was that one who went out to meet the sea and storms and
save the people and the island from destruction as the tempests approached.
it was in the care of one young man it was lost, carelessly. He was desperate
and fearful, and so he sought to cover his failure. He found another shell,
almost identical. After all, he thought, no one will notice, no one will know.
Eventually a storm approached and he went to the appointed place and sounded
the note, singing to the forces of the elements, standing high on a crag
overlooking the sea. He blew hard on the conch shell, but the rain and thunder
beings knew the difference and were not calmed.
shell was a sacramental storm wall, made by the elements, by the gods
themselves. It had power only as long as the covenant was honoured. Without due
veneration, respect, and care the covenant was shattered. The rites alone were
not enough—and the storm came in.
winds and torrents swept the young man off the cliff, dragging him down against
the rocks and spitting him into an underground cave. Gasping for air and in
pain from his wounds, he dragged himself onto a ledge. He was alive, but
barely. The cave started filling up with water and was alive with the crash of
waves and the moaning of the winds, ancient sounds singing and thundering around
him. Deep in the cavern the elements came together and spoke to him, revealing
that because of his deception and his fraudulent behaviour all the people would
perish and the island would be destroyed.
man begged for his people to be spared. It was his sin, not theirs. His
prayer was answered, but there was a penance, a price. His life was forfeit in
order to restore the balance. And he submitted.
waters continued rising in the cave, forcing him toward the ceiling. He knew
that he would die. But the forces promised him that there would be a new
covenant. Even as he died, he was not lost. The people had seen him swept from
the cliff into the sea. At that instant the storm had subsided. They realised
that he had given his life to save them. So he was not forgotten. He lives on
in the peoples’ memory.
Time passes and the man’s body is broken down to bones, sand, shards,
pieces. After a long, long time a young boy, out fishing in a boat, hauls in a
net of fish and brings up a bone, moon‑white, smooth as silk. He fingers it in
awe, lifts it to his lips, and blows into it. One note, pure and lasting, is
loosed into the air, and at that moment the man’s long‑imprisoned spirit is
freed. The rites of justice are complete (with thanks to Chris McCoy and Tony Cowan).