DEVOTIONAL GUIDE: Parables invite us into knowledge of God
Author Anthony Bloom draws a parallel between a Buddhist tale and Jesus' parables.
There are different processes of teaching. Jesus taught in parables.
I am in a conundrum, because parables are not didactic, but often sermons are. Parables are experienced. This means I can’t really teach you what it means; I can only invite you into an experience of what it is.
Take the parable of the growing seed and the mustard seed in Mark 4. Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.
“The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Many years ago, I read Anthony Bloom’s book “Living Prayer,” and with this Buddhist story he does what I’m trying to do.
A doll of salt, Bloom writes, after a long pilgrimage on dry land, came to the sea and asked it, “What are you?” and it said, “I am the sea.” She asked, “What is the sea?” and it answered, “It is me.” She said, “I cannot understand; how can I?” The sea answered, “Touch me.”
So the doll shyly put forward a foot and touched the water, and she felt it beginning to be knowable. She withdrew her leg and saw that her toes had gone. She was afraid and said, “Where is my toe? What have you done to me?”
The sea said, “You have given something in order to understand.” Gradually, the water took away small bits of the doll’s salt, and she went farther and farther into the sea, every moment understanding more and more, yet not able to say what the sea was. She melted more and more, repeating, “But what is the sea?” At last a wave dissolved the rest of her and the doll said, “It is I!” She had discovered what the sea was, but not yet what the water was.
Saint Maxim uses the example of a sword that becomes red hot. The sword does not know where the fire ends, and the fire does not know where the sword begins, so that one can, as he says, cut with fire and burn with iron.
Bloom says the doll knew what the sea was when she had become, minute as she was, the vastness of the sea. So also, when we enter into the knowledge of God, we do not contain God but are contained in him. We become secure in His vastness.
We grow into the knowledge of God gradually until the end of our life, and will continue to do so through all eternity, without ever being able to say that now we know all that is knowable of God.
This gradual discovery of God, Bloom writes, leads us at every moment to stand with our past experience behind us and the mystery of God, knowable and still unknown, before us.
The little we know of God makes it difficult for us to learn more, he writes, because the more cannot simply be added to the little. Every encounter brings such a change of perspective that what was known before becomes almost untrue in the light of what is learned.
So what does it mean to know God? A sower went out to sow. The Kingdom is like a grain of mustard. To know God is to know Jesus. To know God is relationship. Like a sword forged in fire, where the sword ends and the fire begins is a mystery.
For me, inviting Jesus into my heart is another way God has chosen to dissolve my life into His. We know what God is, even if we don’t understand all there is to know. Our relationship is forged in mystery.