A Russian saying goes: "There is no proverb without a grain of truth." In Sierra Leone, proverbs are described as "daughters of experience." For years, Brother David Steindl-Rast has been gathering favorite ones from around the world. This senior member of a Benedictine monastery in the Finger Lakes area of New York observes: "Like slick fish, proverbs have managed to slide through the nets of scholars who set out to catch them in a definition. One thing is certain, however: A proverb is a common saying that makes eminent sense to those who use it. The natural habitat of proverbs is in the waters of common sense. They swim with equal ease in different strata of a given society: 'Whoever has a proverb is worthy of attention,' the Chinese say, 'be it a mandarin or a coolie.' " These memorable sayings carry the wisdom of the past into the messes and miseries of humankind in the present. They offer hope, enlightenment and insight.
Steindl-Rast is convinced that the common sense in proverbs offers us "a way of living, a way of acting, a way of doing what makes sense of doing it spontaneously, unselfconsciously, effortlessly." It is only natural that the author locates some of the same common sense in the parables of Jesus. "Like grains of gold in sand, these parables were deposited in the earliest layers of Christian tradition. Better than most other gospel passages, they preserve the live words of the Teacher. That Jesus taught in parables is one of the few historical facts about him that we know for certain." Steindl-Rast outlines the three main elements in the man from Nazareth's parables and then goes on to delineate five thematic groupings of them. Jesus usually shocked his listeners with the unexpected and was always pointing to a new order based on love. Steindl-Rast concludes that the good news of the parables is "to build a common-sense society that is in tune with the great cosmic wedding feast."
One of the things that makes proverbs and parables so important today is that they offer an antidote to authoritarian thinking. And certainly this kind of thinking is rampant in religion, politics, and other sectors of society. Steindl-Rast salutes proverbs as providing practical guidance for living. And instead of accentuating differences, they reveal unity across cultures. Check out the same insight in these two proverbs, the first from New York and the second from the West Indies: "Every family has a skeleton in the closet." "Every cabin have him dirty corner." We agree with Thomas Moore who in the foreword salutes Brother David Steindl-Rast for finding "a way to think and feel with our fellow beings and discover solutions to our problems that are deeply in tune with our humanity."