When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables in order that
'they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand....'" -- Mark 4:10-12
These words of Jesus are surprising to me because I think that the Kingdom of God should be easily accessible to everyone. So when Jesus explains that "everything comes in parables" in order that people may not perceive, that is hard to understand. But then again, this does accurately reflect life, then and now. Many people just do not perceive God's Kingdom. Many people cannot see God's presence all around them. They see only the surface, the natural, the literal, world.
Perhaps God speaks in parables, too. Just as Jesus did. Only the world is his parable.
One of the keys to faith is believing that life has meaning. Faith begins when we understand that there is more to life than simple existence and death. People who do not believe that there is any ultimate meaning in life, who see only facts, are less likely to believe in God.
But then again, even people of faith sometimes see things more literally than other people of faith. The people Jesus was speaking to often saw only the surface of things, and not the meaning. Even his disciples did not always understand his symbolism. An example of how we read the Bible may illustrate this point. The Bible can be read as an historical, though perhaps biased, account of the Israelite people and their relationship with God. It can also be read as literature, as entertaining stories and moving poetry. It can be read for judgment, law, and doctrine. And it can be read symbolically, for meaning and direction in one's life, as a revelation. Except for the literary method, all the others are ancient approaches to Scripture. I believe one method shows God's presence more than the others.
A week ago, I was reading about Aelred of Rievaulx, and I came across a good description of these differences, and how they make a difference. We had just visited Rievaulx Abbey, one of our favorite places in England, and I had picked up a short biography of their most famous Abbot ("Aelred of Rievaulx, by Paul Diemer OCSO). The author describes that a significant part of the monks daily routine consisted of reading and copying out Scripture and other inspiring books of faith. "Aelred taught that the monk was not simply reading about God's dealings in the past, and events in Christ's life that were over and done with. Rather, by prayerfully reflecting upon and 'ruminating' what he was reading, the monk was brought into contact with the same God, present now in his soul. ... [This] was the monastic way of reflecting on the message of revelation; the monastic way of doing theology. It differed from the more speculative and analytical methods of later 'schools' -- methods which could be independent of the moral and spiritual life of the student. ... [The monastic method] might be called a kind of 'living theology.' It was a theology often expressed in symbols, parables, and allegories, but its best exponents like Bernard [of Clairvaux] and Aelred never allowed it to remain in the realm of the symbol. It had to be linked to reality and applied to the individual." (pg. 17-18) Parables, symbols, allegories -- they are all such an essential part of our life of faith, and yet we often miss them.
For Aelred "all the monastic observances were geared to the following of Christ which was the only thing that mattered. It was a journey, like that of the Israelites through the desert; there were long periods of aridity and dryness, but there were oases, too. The desert was a place where the monk struggled with temptations, but it was also a place where he encountered the Holy Spirit. Drawn further and further away from Egypt and its security, he was taught to depend on God alone -- on the water which He provided in situations where it could be least expected -- on the strength which came from the manna given day by day and which could not be collected and stored." (pg 27) Thus, Paul Diemer, illustrates by example exactly how the monks learned from the Bible.
Aelred's understanding resonates with my own. And I greatly appreciated the insight hidden in the analogy above. For when we moved away from England, after living there for four years, I felt as if I was leaving my heart. And going back for our holiday just recently, I felt as if I was returning to my true home. For this was the place whose beauty and spirit had fed my soul. This was the place where I began my search for God, and I saw in the English landscape, in its ancient trees and peaceful rivers symbols of my search for God. I could only see in the deserts of Tucson symbols of the difficulties of my journey, its heat symbolic of the refining fires I have experienced, its prickly plant life and unfriendly wildlife symbolic of the challenges and fears I have faced. But I had not remembered that here, in this desert, was also where I began to see God's presence in my life on a daily basis. It was here that I began to write and read daily, in order to connect with God and listen to his guidance. And yes, it was here that I learned to depend on God.
Later, reading a little further in "Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion" by Abraham Joshua Heshel, I came upon the following words, "The ineffable is there before we form an idea of it. To the spirit of man his own spirit is a reliable witness that the mystery is not an absurdity, that, on the contrary, things known and perceptible are charged with its heart-stripping galvanizing meaning. ...There are no naked, neutral facts. Being as such is inconceivable; it is always endowed with meaning. ... The world's mystery is either chaos without value of any kind, or is replete with an infinite significance beyond the reach of finite minds; in other words, it is either absolutely meaningless or absolutely meaningful." (pgs 31-32) I believe it is the latter. I believe that God communicates to us through words and symbols and that life is full of meaning.
Dear God, thank you for all you give me. I feel so deeply blessed to have a life enriched with meaning. May more and more people learn to see your workings in the world and be blessed by them. Love always, Pam