A Parable, A Ballad, and some Metta

Yesterday was an embarrassment of riches.  At noon I attended our Weekly Manna gathering where two students were the presenters.  That was followed by a talk on G.K. Chesterton sponsored by the law school’s St. Thomas More Society. Later in the afternoon I had a productive meeting with some members of the Project of Mindfulness and Contemplation, on whose advisory board I sit and which sponsors the lovingkindness (metta) meditation I lead biweekly on the St. Paul campus.

At Weekly Manna, the students opened their talk with the Parable of the Flood, with which many people are doubtless familiar.  (It it reproduced at the end of this post.)  They sued the parable as a jumping off point for talking about the surprising ways we encounter God – and how important is it not to have preconceived notions of how God may appear to us.  In fact, God is often present to us in the form of other people – as we are the face of God to others.

The parable is also an important reminder that faith in God does not mean sitting back and allowing God to do all of the heavy lifting.  Rather, God expects us to participate in his work as well – to grab the ropes and climb the ladders he gives us.

Our Chesterton speaker spoke about many of the themes of Chesterton’s writings, particularly using his Ballad of the White Horse as a way to explore those themes. I found much in the talk worthwhile, including the speaker’s discussion of what it means to talk about cultivating a culture of life.  But what I most was drawn to was his discussion of the eyes with which Chesterson saw the world.  Like anyone to whom we give the label mystic, Chesterton had an acute awareness of God and of God’s gifts.

In an essay on Chesterton, Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, wrote

Chesterton tells us the things we already know, only we did not know that we knew them. The difference between him and us is that he is trying to give us the same vision he has, what Father Wild calls his “contagious happiness and inner peace…he was imbued with a kind of unpretentious beatitude that tended to convey itself to those around him.” He is trying to share his sense of wonder, his thankfulness, his joy. And the source of all these things is God.

I think our speaker did a wonderful job of conveying what it means to see as Chesterton did, using the example of the wonder with which the speaker’s six-month old views everything he sees.

All in all, a lot to reflect on – including my gratitude at working in a place where we have such varied opportunities for reflection.

***

Here is the Parable of the Flood:

A man was trapped in his house during a flood. He began praying to God to rescue him. He had a vision in his head of God’s hand reaching down from heaven and lifting him to safety. The water started to rise in his house. His neighbour urged him to leave and offered him a ride to safety. The man yelled back, “I am waiting for God to save me.” The neighbour drove off in his pick-up truck.

The man continued to pray and hold on to his vision. As the water began rising in his house, he had to climb up to the roof. A boat came by with some people heading for safe ground. They yelled at the man to grab a rope they were ready to throw and take him to safety. He told them that he was waiting for God to save him. They shook their heads and moved on.

The man continued to pray, believing with all his heart that he would be saved by God. The flood waters continued to rise. A helicopter flew by and a voice came over a loudspeaker offering to lower a ladder and take him off the roof. The man waved the helicopter away, shouting back that he was waiting for God to save him. The helicopter left. The flooding water came over the roof and caught him up and swept him away. He drowned.

When he reached heaven and asked, “God, why did you not save me? I believed in you with all my heart. Why did you let me drown?” God replied, “I sent you a pick-up truck, a boat and a helicopter and you refused all of them. What else could I possibly do for you?”

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