Thursday, February 12, 2009

A parable on a passing parent

There was once a caring father who raised 4 wonderful children. Three were boys and one was a girl. The youngest boy clung closest to his parents of all, having been born as one out of season. In their wisdom from having failed in many ways to be a shining example to the first three, the little lad was favored by his parents' tempered experience with the adult children, who had all moved out of the house. The father made it a point to write dutifully to each of his children. They received personalized letters on birthdays and other special occasions. These were no Hallmark contrivances that could be exchanged between millions of fathers of myriads of children with no difference in the end. Instead, every line, every dot, was traced with the intention of a man who knew of the unique fibre that differentiated each special gift from God given to him.

The letters that he wrote were not merely personalized, they contained strokes of the finest genius. The advice was to the individual, and yet the children felt that they could share these handwritten words to their siblings, or to their friends, or even to some stranger who looked like they might need inspiration. The words were truly inspired, to the point that each brother and sister would call the other who had been fortunate enough to receive the latest work of art from their dearest dad, just to hear what he had to say.

They would read it all, and as the letter would come to a close, his trademark signature would say, "And always remember, dear one, that what I write to you here needs to be kept close to your heart. Keep it just as close to your heart as the words that I once whispered in your ear when you still dwelt under my roof, for you are never far from me. Love, DAD"

It was amidst these times of serenity and love that one night, the father died softly in his sleep. The four children could scarcely fathom a world without dad. His words of advice were like a matrix of being, a grid through which all things made sense. From the scrapes and cuts that made riding a bike seem like torture, to the broken hearts from a folly-filled crush, he had set them straight time and time again. And now he was not there to brush them off and remind them of their life's meaning that was often shouted down from the varying voices of a confused society. Never again would he stoop down and pick them up when they had no will to stand again.

And in this deep sadness, the letters that had swirled and been passed from brother to sister flew in a flurry, like some unbridled storm that would destroy homes and leave order in utter chaos.

One son told his sister that their father cared most about poetry. The second brother had said that his father wouldn't care so much about prose and rhyme as compared to diligence and honesty. The sister thought it was a waste of time to debate the two but to keep both poetry and fruitfulness in mind at the same time.

But our youngest friend, the kid brother, did not have those stories and tales on his mind. The memory of his dad's strong arms holding him close, kissing him with words of reassurance, kept his mind full of hope. His tears of mourning were intermingled with tears of joy and thanksgiving, just to have spent some moments with this marvelous man who brought them into this world and sustained them as they went from childhood to adulthood. This was such a strong experience that while he too kept the different letters of his father that he'd received throughout the years, the words themselves were drowned out by tangible memories that were unattached to paper and pen. And these remembrances were not merely things that brought about emotional flashbacks of the happy times when his dad was around-no, they were also words of advice as practical as that unread manual to whatever the electronic device du jour happens to be.

And so it was, that as the four friends and siblings sat at the funeral of their father, when the youngest child told his brothers and sister about some of his father's last words to him, and how that should shape their understanding of how to live out the rest of their lives in his absence, his stories were not met with empathy and interest. Instead, they held up the letters that they loved to read, and found many things in his stories that could not be reproduced in those amazing letters.

"But why didn't he write those words to me? Why would he say those things to you but never commit them to the written word?", or some permutation of that plaintive cry, came from each of the three older siblings. In their own unique ways, they each saw this little brother as a usurper who wanted to steal the spotlight of the truth imparted by their loving father.

"Please, dearest ones, remember what he would write to us all...he would say, 'Always remember, dear one, that what I write to you here needs to be kept close to your heart. Keep it just as close to your heart as the words that I once whispered in your ear when you still dwelt under my roof, for you are never far from me.'"

"NONSENSE! If we can't find the very thoughts of our Dad in one of his beautiful letters to at least one of us, we can't believe that what you have to say is from him. It's a figment of your imagination. We're sad that he's gone too, but that doesn't give you the right to just pretend like he would say something to you that he didn't put into writing! Dad was an organized guy, how would he leave out these ideas from his letters??"

And so it was that the youngest boy lived his life out in the hope that what his father had told him was real, and the three elder siblings shut him out, fearing his words that their father had said more than what they could hold. This phantasmal promise seemed impossible to them, and they shut their hearts to his words. They would all die with a piece of their father's legacy ungrasped-the paradox of them loving his words but shunning his parting words that ended each of his letters would not go unnoticed, by some at least.

Always remember, dear one, that what I write to you here needs to be kept close to your heart. Keep it just as close to your heart as the words that I once whispered in your ear when you still dwelt under my roof, for you are never far from me.

It reminds this very weak and amazingly meagre narrator of another writer's words to his "children". That man, Saul of Tarsus, is not known to have had four children, physically at least. But he did write in a parallel fashion when he said to a church in Asia Minor that inhabited a small city called Thessalonica:
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

Whether spoken word or through Scriptures, the Scriptures call us to hear the words of the Apostles. If we claim that Sola Scriptura is a good principle to live by, are we going to our graves with our ears partially closed to those words of the very pages that we claim to honor? As paradoxical as it may sound, it would seem that those words themselves point to something MORE, in calling us to follow tradition. If we really want to honor the One who inspired those words, we must find the way to follow what is said, even if it takes us beyond those words.

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