WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

The Size and Shape of Parables

WelCom July 2019:

“Parables of sight, parables of hearing, they can nourish us in so many ways.”

Joy Cowley. Photo: Weston Cowley

As we get older, we tend to lose sharpness of sight and hearing, but those same inner senses can become more acute. It’s as though life experience teaches us to see and hear new truth beyond the surface of familiar things.

Weak eyesight finds compensation in keen inner vision, and past those tiresome hearing aids is an inner listening that knows what Jesus meant when he said, ‘He that has ears, let him hear.’

It has taken me a long time to develop this inner listening.

On Easter Sunday I listened to the Bach B Minor Mass, which has been a part of my adult life for more years than I can remember.

There was something I heard for the first time. The Mass begins with a strong cohesive statement from the orchestra and then the instruments separate in a graphic way. The deeper bass voices of strings and woodwinds slowly descend an octave, note by note, while the higher voices have a lateral movement.

Both movements, vertical and lateral, are deliberate and strong like a pulsing heartbeat.

Bach gave his B Minor Mass the shape of the CROSS. The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ had been painted in music.

As you read this, you are probably thinking, well, of course. Everyone knows Bach did that. I didn’t know, and I was full of gratitude for the late discovery.

“When we have time to pause, awareness goes deeper, and sensate experience can present
itself as parables.”

That brought to mind the way age slows us so that we become more open to spiritual truth in the familiar things of this earth. When we have time to pause, awareness goes deeper, and sensate experience can present itself as parables.

The seasons offer an Easter parable for our lives: Winter may appear to be a time of dying and loss, but it is actually preparation for Spring the time of greatest growth.

A river speaks to us about living a life of faith. It has a small beginning, drops of water forming trickles, which become streams, which combine to form the river. A river is always moving. If it finds a blockage that ceases movement, it will form an ox-bow lake that gets stagnant. Movement and growth are essential to bring the river to the sea. Where does the river end? Where does the sea begin?

A parable with a similar message grows in the garden. The new, little tree needs nourishment and support. But if we fail to remove the stake and ties as the tree grows, they can inflict damage. As I take away the stake and cloth ties from a burgeoning fig tree in our garden, I wonder if I still hold early teachings that were right at the time but now inhibit my growth.

Trees in a forest, grains of sand on a beach, speak to me of being a part of church.

A night sky full of stars reminds me that we each have more cells in our body than there are stars and planets in the universe. Can we get our heads around these statistics?

For every human being, God creates a universe as a house for a soul!

Photo: Annette Scullion

We know that Jesus drew many of his parables from nature. A couple of the gospels point out that he said all things in parables. The writer of the Matthew gospel goes further, underlining with an old Aramaic expression of emphasis. ‘Jesus spoke all things in parables. Without a parable was not anything he said.’

The strength of a parable is that it is not didactic ‘head’ instruction. It is soul food. It meets our inner need, and that need will change with age and stage of journey.

For example, when I was young I identified with the loyal son in the parable of the Prodigal Son. My faith was about doing the right thing. Later, there was an understanding of God in the loving father, a God who is always waiting with open arms. Today I know why the father let his son go into the big wide world. When the Prodigal Son returned, his experience would have given him wisdom.

As for the parables that are all around us, we have only to be aware of them to enjoy them as soul food. Parables of sight, parables of hearing, they can nourish us in so many ways. They may bring light, love, laughter, inner warmth. They may be manna in our desert. Occasionally they will be special enough to be called ‘eucharist’, the Word made flesh within us. Always they will move us to a larger place.

All that is asked of us, is that we receive.

We discover that we can never put limits on the ways God reveals love for us.