Tony de Mello was only 55 when he died in 1988 though his influence is still felt in the stories he told and the spiritual direction he gave. It's possible to hear him for yourself on Youtube. He was from Bombay and integrated Indian thought, both Hindu and Buddhist, into traditional Christian meditation and practices. He was an example of someone who had passed over into another faith and returned to his own with new insights and strategies for prayer. He understood the power of conditioning whether that be from family, culture or religion. He was known to say ‘one of the biggest obstacles to truth is religion.’ Perhaps it's no wonder that Rome found his writings suspect for what can be a greater challenge to an institution such as the Catholic Church than someone encouraging Catholics to think for themselves. Fortunately this didn't happen until ten years after his death so didn't stop the flow of his teaching.
Tony de Mello wanted people to see the world with new eyes, to refrain from the labels and judgements that distort our vision of reality. He wanted people to be their own person, to live from their own convictions, to experience the reality of the Divine for themselves, to see reality as it is and not as we imagine it to be. And he did this by teaching meditation and telling stories. For him 'the shortest distance between a human being and the truth is a story'.
It's the stories I remember and I now regret getting rid of some of his collections of stories in an impulse of simplifying my life and emptying my bookshelves. Tony, I'm sure, sure would agree with this as he felt we should live life unburdened by baggage.
One of my favourite stories is of a rat coming across an elephant bathing in a pond. After much persuasion the elephant trundles out of the pond so that the rat can check if he ie the elephant has stolen the rat's bathing trunks. A ridiculous image of course. But Tony's comment that it is easier for an elephant to get into the bathing trunks of a rat than it is for God to get into our images of him makes the point and reveals a truth which all religions might acknowledge but often seem to forget in their public teaching and prayers. Religion doesn't seem to let God be God and I am sure that many atheists react against what appears to be a rather trivial and tame God without understanding what is at the heart of the Reality. In this they have a lesson for believers.
Another story is of the explorer who returning from his expeditions, gives lectures, writes books, draws maps and generally enthuses people about the places he has been. People then begin to study these, even becoming experts in them, writing commentaries on them without ever having traveled to the far off place and experienced the reality for themselves. How easy it is to miss the mark of what religion is really all about.