Why we could all use a warm cup of stone soup
The story of the stone soup
In his song “Stone Soup,” singer-songwriter Tom Chapin puts an old folktale to music. It is about a stranger who comes to a new town and makes a stone soup. As he makes the soup, eliciting help from all of the townspeople, he teaches them a lesson about sharing and cooperation. In Tom’s version, the stranger is a soldier coming back from war. He is tired from his struggles and wants to be nourished. Despite the war, the soldier is playful, like the Fool in tarot cards—optimistic and carefree.
No one gives him food or shelter. They all claim they have nothing to share. Instead of leaving in search of a new village, he drums his drum and declares that he is going to make a soup from a stone.
The village children become intrigued and hurry over to see what he is doing. They are curious about and less fearful of the stranger. He asks the children to add a stone, and then assures them, “This is gonna be good.” The excited children want to try the soup, but the soldier tells them it is not ready. He asks each of the children to contribute one vegetable from each of their homes. With each new vegetable added, the scent grows more appetizing and eventually the adults start to come. In the end, everyone shares a beautiful “stone soup.”
The meaning behind the characters of the story
I love telling this story to my children because it speaks to the human capacity to overcome fear and to cooperate. In the story, the soldier—the misfit in town—is not manipulating the children but uses the skillful means of a master who knows how to work with fear and mistrust. He wants everybody to be included so he builds trust slowly, working first with only those who are willing. The soldier sees his need and the need of the whole village to be nourished.
He understands that only through collaboration will all of them attain that goal. This is a powerful tale because it represents, archetypally, three aspects of the human psyche:
The soldier is the world soul. Behind him are the battles of past (past lives, or collective intergenerational pain). He can only be nourished with people and by people, in community. He uses a drum—his rhythmic beat attracts those who can still hear the call to participate in life, beyond fear. The call of the drum begs others to participate in unique ways, and also to meet in the center of the village. It is a call to believe in the unbelievable using creativity, play, and the power of collaboration.
The children represent the innocence of the psyche: Open mindedness, willingness, naivety, and the part of us that says yes to the soul’s request to come together. In the song, the children do not have food with them to share. They have to go back home to get food to contribute. The homes have food, but the adults are unwilling to share. So, the children become the bridge. They are the trusting part of us that brings what is nourishing to the psyche (represented in the story as food). The children are the part of us that wants more connection. Not just in our traditional home, but in the collective space of the village. The children are willing to take that risk, to believe.
The adults are the part of the psyche that rejects or is afraid of the journey of the soul. The collective space is broken by the wars of past and the ego is tired of trying to connect. Each adult (or each tradition) does not want to share and is fearful of the unknown and mysterious.
The soldier is making soup out of a stone!
The adults do not believe that this is possible.
The children believe it is.
The stone he chooses has no value but to inspire people to come together and share. It is like the philosopher’s stone: It can transform hatred into love, fear into trust, spiritual hunger into nourishment.
So, it is also with the CODE. By itself, it has no value. But, used by the spiritual misfits of the world, it can bring people to collaborate in the center of a divisive and fragmented village.
The beat of the drum is real.
It echoes throughout history and in all cultures.
It calls us to be nourished through sharing with others.
The impulse behind the call has been interpreted through countless symbols, philosophies, and spiritual traditions. When we fail to listen to the beat of the drum, we become stagnant. So, regardless of what you believe or don’t believe, and regardless of how you show your love and devotion to family, friends, community, nation, planet, and all that is, your participation in the village matters. Each and every one of us has a role in making the soup delicious. The call to transmute our fear begs us to participate in our own unique ways, not just as individuals (the adults in the story) but as representatives of God as an evolving and complex whole (the village). Each and every one of us counts in this journey—every cell, bacteria, plant, animal, and human.
Each of us harbors a perspective that is an essential building block in the unfolding story of God.
From the best selling book on Amazon, Spiritual Misfits: Collaboration and Belonging in a divisive world