Doing Good

Reading: Luke 6:27-38

The following tale is an excerpt from the story “Metempsychosis.”  This tale can be found in the book, The Wonderful Pocket and Other Stories which was written in 1869 by Chauncey Giles.  Now out of print, the book can be read freely online.  It is an interesting story that encourages young boys and girls to do good to others.


“O Father!” said little John Clive, “what is the meaning of this long, hard word?”

“What word?” asked his father.

“I cannot pronounce it. It is too long and hard for me,” said John… John brought the book to his father.

“That is metempsychosis.”

“Me-temp-sy-cho-sis,” said John, pronouncing it very slowly. “What a long, hard word! It must have a big meaning, I am sure. But I don’t see what they make such long, hard words for.”

“They make them to express ideas,” said his father.

“Well,” replied John,” metempsychosis must express a bigger idea than I ever had.”

“Very probable,” said his father; “but it contains a very interesting one, nevertheless; and when I have explained it to you, I will tell you a very strange dream I had about it last night.”

“A dream, a dream!” cried Susie, who had not seemed to pay much attention before. I do so like to hear about dreams!”

The children were all attention now to hear the meaning of the word, and especially the dream.

“The hard word, metempsychosis,” said their father, “is made up of two words: one of which means ‘soul;’ and the other ‘through or beyond;’ and, together, the whole word means the change, or passage, of the soul from one form to another.

“There was once a class of men, who believed that the souls of men, when they died, passed into the forms of animals, to punish them for being bad: so that, after death, one person became a cat; and another, a dog; another, a toad or a mouse; another, a tiger or lion or bird. And, when the animal died, the soul was changed into another animal …. And this change from one form to another they called metempsychosis.”

“Oh, what a funny idea!” said John. “Ah, Susie! I think you were a cat once, and haven’t lost all your claws yet; for you scratched me yesterday!”

Yes; but I didn’t mean it, as you well know. But if I was a cat, wasn’t you a big, saucy dog, that kept barking at me and worrying me?”

“And Willie was a fox!” they both cried together. “See how sly he looks now! Aha! Mr. Reynard; none of your tricks. And James is a bear: see how rude and savage he looks!”

And so the children were running on, when their father stopped them by saying: “Take care, and not call each other names, or I shall not tell you the dream.”

“Oh! the dream, the dream!” they all cried; “please tell us the dream!” and they were sober and silent in a moment.

So their father began, and related the following


“I thought I was in the Sunday-school, with the room full of children before me. I had just risen to say something to them, and was waiting for them to get still and give me their attention. I felt sad to see how idle, inattentive, and even mischievous, some of them were; and happy, too, to see so many bright and pleasant faces; and I was wondering what their real characters were….when a sudden and strange change seemed to come over the school.

“At first, a curtain was let down, so that I could not see a single child. But soon it began to rise, and rise; and we were no longer in a room, but out in the open fields. And I saw that the children were all beginning to change into something else. There was one little boy, whom I had often noticed, who seemed to take delight in teasing and annoying those who were next to him. He would crowd them or pinch them, or stick them with a pin, or tickle them with a straw, or do something else to trouble them. Now roots seemed to be growing out of his feet, and running into the ground. His body dwindled to a little shrub not larger than his arm, and out of it grew a great many little branches. His hair changed into leaves; and out of all the branches shot out little sharp thorns—so sharp, that no one could touch him without being pricked by them. And, what was wonderful, he seemed to know that he was a thorn-bush, and to think his thorns the handsomest things about him; and, when any one came near him, he would swing his branches to and fro, and he was greatly delighted when he could hit any animal or person, and make him jump with pain. ‘Poor boy!’ I thought; ‘so you were nothing but a thorn, after all.’ Some others, very much like him, changed into thistles and nettles, and seemed as delighted as he did when they could prick and sting any one.

“Then I turned to another part of the field to see what had become of the little girls; for I thought I should find something beautiful and good among them. The first one I saw was a little girl who was almost always fretful and cross, and spoke very peevishly to her companions. She began to grow very small around the waist; and her dress grew tight, and was soon covered with bright spots. Her arms changed into wings; and she began to fly about in the faces of the little girls, who ran and screamed, ‘A wasp, a wasp!’ And, sure enough, she had become a wasp; because her disposition was more like that of a wasp than anything else. She, too, seemed delighted at the fright she created; and, when she could sting any of the little girls, she fairly clapped her wings for joy. She was very proud, too, of her small waist and shiny wings; and she thought the colours of her dress the most beautiful in the world. ‘Poor, silly girl!’ I thought; ‘ you like to be nothing but a wasp, which everybody fears and hates.’

“Not far from her was a little sweet-tempered, modest, blue-eyed girl, who seemed to sink into the ground out of sight. But soon I saw several green leaves spring up from the place where she had disappeared; and there soon followed, on slender stalks, some delicate and beautiful violets. As soon as the girls saw them, they clapped their hands, and cried, ‘Oh, see those beautiful violets.—how sweet they are!’ At this the violets held down their heads, but seemed to shine, as from a light within, and to send forth a fragrance which filled the air, as though it made them happy to think that they had made others happy….

“In one of the classes was a quick, smart, active, but sly boy, who generally had his lessons, but was cunning, and ready to make fun of his companions, or play tricks upon them, or cheat them in any way he could. I was curious to know what he would become. Almost in an instant the boy was gone, and I saw a fox frisking about; peeping here and there, and looking with wistful eyes at some chickens not far off, which he longed to pick and eat, but dared not until night. I saw some resemblance in his face to the little cunning boy’s; and then I knew where the fox came from. But as soon as he saw I was looking at him, he dodged out of sight, and I saw him no more.

“In another part of the field I found quite a different change going on. There was one great, strong, rough boy, who delighted in his strength. He was not afraid of wind or cold or rain. ‘Nothing,’ I thought, ‘ can change him.’ But I soon found that each of his toes was becoming a huge root, and running down deep into the ground. His body was growing still larger, and his clothes soon changed into a rough bark. He grew very tall, and a thousand limbs shot out from him in every direction; and, instead of a head, he had a broad and beautiful crown of leaves. His branches, like grand arms, swung and tossed about, and seemed delighted to play with the wind and wrestle with the storm; and many birds came and sang in his branches, and built their nests. He had become an oak, because that corresponded to his rude strength.

“‘Now,’ I thought, ‘I shall lose all my children. They will all change into something; for if this great, strong fellow could not help being changed into an oak, surely no one else can retain the human form.’ And, sure enough, now they all began to change more rapidly. One boy became a beautiful horse, and ran snorting and prancing around the field. Horns came out of the head of another, and he soon became an ox. Another boy’s head grew large, and his ears long; and every one could see that he was a mule. Another one’s neck grew long, and his head small; his nose changed into a bill, and his arms into wings, and his clothes into feathers; his legs became short and red, and his feet thin and webbed; and it could not be denied that he was a goose.

“In one part of the field I heard a terrible snarling and yelping; and, when I looked, I saw two dogs fiercely fighting with each other; and I perceived that, a little while before, they were two boys who were always quarrelling. Hearing a scream in the air, I looked up, and there was an eagle just flying out of the top of the oak, and soaring away, on swift and strong wings, toward the sun. He had been one of the most intelligent boys in the school. He had a sharp eye, and seemed to look right through everything at once; but he was not always kind and good.

“There was one scholar that I had always known to be truthful and good. He was what was called in the Bible upright. He would not do anything in a sly and mischievous manner. He was never guilty of anything low and mean. I looked to that part of the field where I supposed I should find him, but he was not there. In his place, however, there shot up a tall, straight, and beautiful palm-tree, with its head far above all the other trees; crowned with a green tuft of leaves, within which were large clusters of flowers and fruit.

“‘ Truly,’ I thought,’ no one can mistake that tree for anything else than what it is.’

“In the same class with the boy who had changed into the oak, and next to him, stood a slender, graceful, bright, and happy little fellow. His eyes were always sparkling with joy. He always had his lessons, and was pleasant and playful. He had not much strength; and, what seemed strange, he always liked to be with the big, rough, strong boy. The last time I saw him he was standing by the trunk of the oak, apparently surprised at the change in his companion; but his eyes were still twinkling with good humour, as though he intended soon to perform some feat that would surprise every one, and fill them with delight.

“In a moment he became very slender; his legs shot into the ground; his body began to stretch out like a thread; and his head went up, and round and round the oak, until he had reached the topmost bough. And, all the way up, out of his arms and body sprung branches; and out of them still smaller branches; and out of these, leaves and little tendrils, which twined around the twigs and limbs of the oak, and pulled themselves up, until the whole oak was covered. Then little stems shot out from the twigs; and soon the whole oak seemed to be loaded with large, beautiful, purple clusters of fruit. What fruit was it? ‘Grapes, grapes!’ cried the children. Yes, the little boy had become a vine; and his strong friend bore him up from the ground into the air and sunshine, giving him his strength, and receiving in turn the beautiful ornament of his leaves and purple clusters of fruit.

“In the meantime, many of the little girls had changed into the same kind of animals and trees as the boys, and had gone off with them.

“There was one little girl, who was, indeed, quite pretty, but who evidently thought much of her dress. If she had on any garment she thought handsome, she would look at it, and feel it, and look at others, as if she expected them to admire it, and think much more of her for having it. She changed into a tulip; a very pretty and showy flower, but short-lived, and not very useful.

“In the same class with her was one of the sweetest and most innocent little girls I ever saw.  ‘Surely,’ I thought,’ she will become a lily.’ And so she did. Her dress changed into the long, sword-shaped leaves; her lips seemed to part, like the petals of a flower; and soon her whole head became a beautiful, fragrant, white lily, which every one loved. Another member of the same class, very much like her, changed into a lamb, and skipped and gambolled about in many innocent ways…

“One of the companions of this girl… became an apple-tree; and, when I first saw it, the tree was all covered with beautiful white and pink blossoms, which in a short time changed into large, golden apples; and the tree was so full of them, that the branches bent almost down to the ground. And when any person or animal came up, looking as if they wanted an apple, a large, nice one would drop down upon the ground, as though the limbs threw it down to them, and were pleased to do it.

“Another proud and selfish little girl was changed into a peacock. She went strutting around, displaying her fine feathers, and thinking every one must admire her. But in that she was greatly mistaken; for every one laughed at her, and called her a very silly bird.

“I now looked around over the whole field, and there was not a single scholar to be seen. They had all been changed into other forms. It made me very sad to think that so many beautiful children must be changed into animals and trees; and I thought I must find some way to change them back again. I tried to shout to them, to see if I could not call them back, to become children again; but they did not seem to hear me or care for me.”

“And did they know that they had been changed?” asked Susie.

“Yes,” replied her father; “they seemed to know it.”

“It must have made them very unhappy. Oh, dear! how dreadful,” cried Susie, ” to become …a thistle, or a hateful wasp, or any animal or plant! I am sure it would make me wretched….”

“If you do not wish to [be called] an animal,” said her father, “you must never act like one…. [W]hat difference does it make whether you are outwardly in the form or not, if you are like them in disposition? …Be kind, truthful, temperate, innocent, and good, and you will be continually changing [your disposition] into something more and more beautiful—into the forms of the angels, who are above you, rather than to the animals, which are below you. This will be a noble metempsychosis.”

For Further Study:

  • Is it sometimes hard to forget when someone has done you wrong? This is called “holding a grudge.”  It can very quickly turn into bitterness against someone, which means that you store up anger against them for a long time.  Read Romans 12:17-21.  What do these verses say about forgiveness?  Also read Ephesians 4:25-32.  What are the things we are told to “put away” from us? Look these words up in a dictionary if you don’t know what they mean.  After putting those things away, what does verse 32 say we should do in place of them?
  • In Isaiah 53:7, Jesus is described as a “sheep that is silent before its shearers.”  Even under the torture of His enemies, Jesus was meek and forgiving (Luke 23:34).  He tried to comfort those around Him (Luke 23:43; John 19:26-27), and He did not forget that He had a special job to do for His Father (John 19:28).  This was noticed by the thief who repented, the centurion, and Jesus’ friends (Luke 23:40-49).  When we put God and others first, even in the face of our enemies, it teaches others a valuable lesson about faith.  Pray to God to help you keep learning how to be faithful and brave.
  • Is there someone you’re having trouble loving?  What can you pray for them and you?  Is there someone having trouble loving you?  What would you want them to pray for you?  What can you change so that the two of you will get along better?

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