Friday, August 13, 2010

A Parable

Here is a parable that I wrote many years ago. I wrote it in the context of trying to come to grips with my own feelings about the costs of trying to live the Kingdom of God in the here and now. I first shared this at a "New Monastic" gathering at the CCDA conference in Atlanta. It came up in a conversation that I had with Steve Pavey today and I thought I would share it here.


There was once an astronomer who lived out the vast majority of his days in the era directly preceding space flight and missions to the moon. He was, by all accounts, imminent among his peers, spending all his waking hours studying the heavens through his telescopes, identifying and naming the various planets and stars and working feverishly on developing the calculations that helped to describe the delicate relationships that existed between them. He gave his heart and soul to the pursuit of expanding this body of celestial knowledge, and the overwhelming beauty he perceived daily in the heavens never failed to make him quiver with delight.

Now, the one thing that was especially curious about this remarkably talented astronomer was his antagonistic attitude toward the work of his peers. For in addition to the research interests that animated his own life many of his esteemed colleagues also entertained dreams of one day traveling among the planets and stars. He found such dreams to be foolhardy, even cosmically offensive and refused to assist them in their efforts. The glory of the heavens is fit for God alone, he vociferously insisted, and to attempt to go among them is profane, the height of human arrogance. So, he continued to concentrate intently upon his own work and in the process managed to persuade some of the best and brightest students of his day to come over to his opinion. However, unbeknownst to these young aspirants, there was a deeper and more painful reason why their mentor scorned the efforts of his peers.

When he was a young student at university the astronomer had also entertained fervent dreams of traveling among the stars; and he worked incredibly hard at that dream, as hard as he had ever worked in fact. But after a tragic series of failed experiments his courage began to falter and his imagination was gradually conquered by overwhelming waves of fear and doubt. It was during this time that his perspective on things began to dramatically shift. "How," he pondered, "can I continue to invest in something that might very well never occur? I think I will concentrate my attention upon studying the wonder of the heavens and that way I don't have to worry about wasting my efforts," he decided. All of the other attendant excuses gradually developed as he continued to wrestle with his ambivalent decision. "Perhaps," he silently thought, "it will become easier with age?" But regrettably, suppressing the dreams of his youth never got any easier.

And so, it was with great sadness that he watched in his final days as the spectacular images from the voyageur probe began to stream into the university laboratory; and as the Lunar Lander touched down in the Sea of Tranquility, there was no tranquility to be found in his soul. No longer able to move and confined to a bed in a nursing home, he watched in agony as the dreams of his elderly colleagues became a reality. Many of them were also confined to their beds but he could only now see the freedom in which they had lived. For, even though their bodies were now wasted their spirits were soaring to the heights with the people now living out their dreams. But all our astronomer was left with was the bitterness and regret of a life lived in fear and the empty quest for personal comfort and safety.

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