Monday, May 4, 2009
The Death & Resurrection of Faith #1
The Parable of the Shavings – Pt. 1
Some stories of my childhood defy my ability to tell a story, and this story about the mysticism of faith, is one of them. The story has meaning impoverished by only words. But still, with no other way to tell it, I hope I can find enough inspiration in a long-ago memory to make the meaning of the story transcend the insufficiency of the words.
The story is about Bible Camp – that ritualistic 4 or 8 or 10-step program dedicated to making kids the best they can be. But unlike other self-help programs, I didn’t have to first recognize I had a problem. I didn’t even have to have a problem. My Mother just assumed if I didn’t go, she would have a problem, so every year, I and my siblings, went to Bible Camp.
So now, let us first examine the camp-grounds. The original camp I went to had two granaries connected together that served as a kitchen and dining area. Another granary with too few windows sufficed as the girls’ sleeping dorm. The boys slept in a big tent and church took place in a much larger tent – orange-colored like a circus tent.
The once-circus-tent, now-camp-tent, was referred to as the Tabernacle, and inside were rows of crude wooden benches and at the front a wooden platform. The floor was sod of some sort, heavily layered with fresh, pale-colored, sweet-smelling wood shavings. And it is the wood-shavings I want to talk about, because that is where the story begins.
But first I must tell you that when nothing was going on in the Tabernacle, adults or children were still free to go there. And because, for the time being, the tent served as a church, we were expected while there to be quietly tranquil and reverent as is expected in any church. And so, one day, in the quiet tranquillity of the Tabernacle, I sat alone on a bench waiting for some friends, and quietly scuffling, with my feet, the shavings on the floor.
I had already been at Camp a few days, and of course with all the sermons, songs, and prayers, I was at a new high in my faith. Soul and mind overflowing with self-righteousness and resolve to be more kind, loving, reverent, faithful, and mindful of my spiritual wellness.
But as I examine the shavings on the floor, an obtuse thought came to mind. I find it rather amazing that although the remnants at my feet are the same fiber, the same color, and material, as a solid wooden floor – this is not anything like a solid wooden floor. It is only fragments of the original. Posing in a shameful way as a wooden floor, but not really a wooden floor.
And then that obtuse thought became even more obtuse. I began to wonder if the shavings were translating a message to me? The Bible relates stories of messages from God being relayed through simple things like the sun, a burning bush, tablets of rock, grass-dew and rain. Wood-shavings seem to fit that category, so is there a message for me in those shavings?
But at that moment a crowd arrived and seated themselves for the afternoon service. And, as generally was the case, the service commenced with singing and a few announcements. The singing was nice, but in a weak way. Relative, it seemed, to the shavings on the floor.
Now came the sermon. The minister gave dramatic inflection to every word. His body was animated. His eyes wept tears – of happiness one moment, concerned sadness for souls the next. Somehow, though, I wasn’t getting it. I was still too preoccupied with the shavings on the floor. And despite the Minister’s heroic efforts to make a solid impact on everyone in that place, I was more intent on understanding the translation within the context of the shavings on the floor.
And then came a dark realization. Perhaps the shavings signify a warning from God about my spiritual wellness and the authenticity of Bible Camp instruction. Maybe the counterfeit relationship between shavings and a wood floor is being paralleled here in the form of false spiritual instruction mimicking, in a similar way, something solid, true, and good.
Maybe this sermon, despite the dramatics of the Minister, is nothing more than a counterfeit and blended mix of shards of human-based and Bible-driven thinking, that can never provide solid transport for my soul from present life to an eternal place of refuge.
But how, pray tell, did I end up involved in such obviously complex and convoluted thinking? Truthfully, I cannot believe for one minute that it originated in my nine-year-old brain without heavenly assistance.
And so, that is how the Parable of Shavings formed in my mind, albeit in a more rudimentary way, and as it clarified, my heart and soul felt truly vexed. Hollow and empty of the usual warming convictions that had always come to me in the Tabernacle. And then as the sermon drew to an end, I felt an uneasy chill as a sudden final backwash left my inner spirit devoid of any previous convictions. And with that, a searing sense of abandonment that I expect only an orphan could understand.
I determined to look away from the floor, but by then not even the happy shouts of “Glory! Hallelujah!” or the magical gold wash of color that bathed all of us within those orange canvas walls could shake the impending agnosticism that now heavily bordered on something even more extreme. The “ath----” thing. I’m reluctant to say it, but I’m sure you know what I mean.
NEXT POST is about a broken 'chord' and faith restored.