One of the Regent College courses I took this past year was entitled “Tell It Slant: Parables as Spiritual Direction,” taught by the indisputably splendid Eugene Peterson. (Eugene is now a professor emeritus at Regent, but thanks to the wonders of distance education, you can still take courses with him.)
One of the assignments for the course was to write a personal parable, which turned out to be a lot harder than it sounds. A parable is not a metaphor, allegory or morality tale, and, maddeningly, no self-respecting parable-teller is allowed to explain what she means at the end. She has to fling her story out there (the word "parable" actually means “throw alongside”) like so much scattered seed, and then just wait and see what grows in the reader’s mind.
As a fun game (er, I mean, carefully crafted sociological experiment), I would love to discover what my little parable grows in your mind. So here’s what I propose: Read the story below. Then, in the comments section, share what it means to you. Try not to read other people’s interpretations until you give your own.
To make the fun even funner (not a word, I know, but I’m off school for the summer) …
I’ve Got Prizes!
I’m going to give away TWO PRIZE PACKS (each worth about 50 bucks ... but really, books and music are priceless, n'est-ce pas?). Each pack consists of:
1. A digital copy of my brand new ebook, THEOLOGY IN AISLE SEVEN
2. A CD copy of my latest recording, LOVE WAS HERE FIRST
3. A CD copy of the audio book version of Eugene Peterson’s Tell it Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers
One pack will go to the commenter who most closely guesses what I originally intended (if it’s a tie, whoever posts soonest will win.) The second pack will go to the commenter who has the most creative nothing-to-do-with-what-I-originally-intended-but-really-cool interpretation (a subjective category to be sure, and I’ve heard the Russian judge is really tough, but give it a shot!)
The comment deadline for prize consideration is: 11:59pm EST, JUNE 19, 2012
Update: Rose Capanna made this header. Rose Capanna is cool!
The Parable of the Tree in Winter
By Carolyn Arends
A man lived ensconced in a high-rise apartment of gleaming ceramic tile, granite and stainless steel. Six mornings a week he drove a sleek sedan to another high-rise, one of even greater heft and gleam, where he sat at a marble desk and traded commodities with an acumen that made earnings graphs climb. His sterile world was polished to a high gloss, and he liked it that way.
Gradually, however, the man found himself yearning for something different. He noticed that his environment was void of greenery, so he had some artificial plants installed in tastefully lit corners of his home and office. That pleased him for a time. But then he began to long for something a little more fragrant and alive.
The man made a radical decision. He purchased a bungalow just outside the city. He had the interior completely renovated, but in truth it was the exterior that had drawn him there. The house sat on a tidy patch of grass and featured a sturdy, flourishing maple tree in the back right corner of the yard.
It is hard to describe how much the man loved that tree. The first spring he often stood and rubbed his hand gently against its wonderfully gnarly bark, scratching an itch someplace deeper than his skin. In the summer he strung a hammock from its branches and telecommuted from beneath its extravagantly lush canopy of leaves. In the fall he watched it mellow and burnish into reds and oranges and golds; the colours made him warm and at home in a way he had never been before.
But nothing prepared the man for the winter. The tree, tragically, dropped all its leaves until it was bare and defenseless. With horror, he ascertained that the tree was dying before his eyes. He tried whatever he could think of—warm water to thaw the earth, fertilizer to encourage growth. He even trudged out under cover of night and wrapped the thick trunk in packing blankets. But the tree became implacably bowed and stood lifeless and forlorn.
The man was overcome with sorrow, and his sorrow soon turned to rage. He was a man of expediency, used to seeing what he willed come to fruition. He decided the tree had not been the splendid miracle he’d thought it was at all, but a defective organism that had profoundly failed him. He bought an axe and cut the tree down.
There was satisfaction in vengeful action, and it made the man feel better for a while. But spring came, and he began to miss all the quiet wonders the tree had provided. The longing intensified.
The man resolved to plant a new tree, but determined he would research nurseries until he found an infallible source. Eventually, he had a designer greenhouse ship him a resilient breed of maple by climate-controlled freight.
The new maple took brilliantly to his yard, and the man loved it even more than the old one. It was not quite big enough yet to handle his hammock, but he resolved to be patient. The tree thrived, green to gold. But winter was coming. The man waited anxiously, checking bark and root with increasing obsessiveness as the temperatures dropped.
The leaves fell, and soon there was no sign of life.
The man was livid. He threatened to sue the nursery and the freight company and the weatherman. His axe was not emphatic enough; he bought a chain saw. When the tree had been felled, he burned it in a backyard inferno. The next day he went to his fire pit and sat late into the evening in a gloomy, desolate kinship with the ashes.
He managed to resist planting another tree for a full year. But then yet another spring came and he knew he had to try again. He had a genetically engineered Cappadocian Maple shipped by freightliner from the UK. Soil was flown in from a special source in Japan. Three kinds of enriched fertilizer were combined in a lab in Kentucky. The man paid six of Canada’s top landscapers to supervise the planting and devise a plan for sustained growth. His tree would not fail.
It shimmered in spring, flourished in summer and glowed in the fall. But the man could not enjoy one day of his tree, so worried was he about the winter. At the first frost, the maple began to wither, and the man sank into a terrible despair.He hunkered down in his home of steel and marble and drew the blinds. His beard grew. His mail spilled over the box and into his driveway. He felt hollow and forsaken and as dead as the maple.
Then came a knock at the door, so persistent that the man finally lumbered to his front hall. Squinting through the peephole he saw his neighbour, standing on his porch with pruning shears in his hand. Furious at being taunted in this way, the man flung open his door.
“Hi,” said the neighbour. “I was doing some yardwork today and wondered if you wanted some help trimming that beauty maple of yours.”
“Funny,” said the man, bitterly.
“What?” said the neighbour, confused. “Listen, when spring comes and that baby isn’t dormant any longer, you’ll be glad you cleaned her up a little.”
The man stared. He cleared his throat. He blinked back tears.
“OK,” he said. “Thanks.”
“Come on,” said the neighbour, who lived in linoleum and Arborite and never, until this very minute, seemed to be anyone at all. “Let’s go. I can’t wait for those spring maple buds to blossom in a week or two. Always feels like a miracle after these long, dead winters. Kind of makes it all worth it, don’t you think?”
The man nodded, barely comprehending, but feeling a stirring of something like hope. The neighbour before him was no British arborist; he had zero experience with Japanese soil or laboratory fertilizer. But he seemed to know some important things about trees and seasons, so the man followed him out into the yard.
What does this story mean to you? Share your interpretation in the comment section below. (Remember, if you comment by June 19th you might even win prizes!)
Photo Credit: Zazzle.com
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will eventually receive a few pennies!. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I love and believe you might love too. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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