We Are Three, You Are Three ...
by Anthony de Mello
When the bishop's ship stopped at a remote island for a day, he determined to use the time as profitably as possible. He strolled along the seashore and came across three fishermen mending their nets. In pidgin English they explained to him that centuries before they had been Christianized by missionaries. "We, Christians!" they said, pointing proudly to one another.
The bishop was impressed. Did they know the Lord's Prayer? They had never heard of it. The bishop was shocked.
"What do you say, then, when you pray?"
"We lift eyes in heaven. We pray, 'We are three, you are Three, have mercy on us.'"
The bishop was appalled at the primitive, the downright heretical nature of their prayer. So he spent the whole day teaching them the Lord's Prayer. The fishermen were poor learners, but they gave it all they had and before the bishop sailed away next day he had the satisfaction of hearing them go through the whole formula without a fault.
Months later the bishop's ship happened to pass by those islands again. The bishop, as he paced the deck saying his evening prayers, recalled with pleasure the three men on that distant island who were now able to pray, thanks to his patient efforts.
While he was lost in thought he happened to look up and noticed a spot of light in the east. The light kept approaching the ship and, as the bishop gazed in wonder, he saw three figures walking on the water. The captain stopped the boat and everyone leaned over the rails to see this sight.
When they were within speaking distance, the bishop recognized his three friends, the fishermen. "Bishop!" they exclaimed. "We hear your boat go past island and come hurry, hurry meet you."
"What is it you want?" asked the awe-stricken bishop.
"Bishop," they said, "we so, so sorry. We forget lovely prayer. We say, 'Our Father in heaven, holy be your name, your kingdom come ...' then we forget. Please tell us prayer again."
The bishop felt humbled. "Go back to your homes, my friends," he said. "and each time you pray, say, 'We are three, you are Three, have mercy on us!'"
Taken from The Song of the Bird by Anthony de Mello (New York: Image, a division of Bantam, Doubleday Dell, 1984).