Have you ever used a metaphor that didn’t land? And then you had to do the uncomfortable work of explaining it? It really kills the moment doesn’t it? Metaphorical language is a way to surpass the mundane, or maybe a way to transform the mundane into something transcendental. When you expand a metaphor and give it a story line, you have a parable. Parables operate the same as metaphors; when you explain them logically, something intangible in the parable dies along with that explanation.
I was raised in the belief that the parables in the Bible have rather precise meanings and tangible theological implications. Many of the church sermons I’ve sat through have centered on explaining these stories. A big drive of the church is to explain to its parishioners the parts of the bible that are difficult to understand. Striving to explain a parable essentially undoes all the work that the story was created to do in the first place.
These drawn out metaphorical stories are a way to get to the heart of a matter in ways that just can’t be accomplished with common or intellectual language. They draw you into an experience and require your personal participation. So why would you work to explain a parable if someone isn’t first able to connect with the experience that it’s trying to evoke?
I do understand why…. These parables are part of the religious text of the Christian tradition and as such, followers want to understand ALL of it. But the problem is, when you attempt to explain these stories, they are robbed of a great deal of meaning.
When you think you understand something it makes it much harder to accept an invitation into an e
xperience of it. It makes it easy to adopt a ‘been there – done that” mentality. This has definitely happened to me through the churches I was raised in. And it complicates the matter that these parables were also written in and for the ancient world.
Recently I’ve interacted with parables that I don’t have baggage with or expect a certain result from. It’s a refreshing experience. Just to take a story at face value and internalize it if it resonates but leave it if it doesn’t.
One parable I’ve found a lot of meaning in recently is a short story written by Andy Weir, called “The Egg.” This story calls to something deep in me that I can’t quiet explain. It’s thought provoking and invites me into an experience. This isn’t a story to read if you highly value orthodox theology. But if you can be open to the stories meaning rather than it’s mechanisms and face value conclusions it’s a very interesting read.
Richard Rohr teaches the idea that spiritual work and spiritual growth are not matters of “teaching you what to see, but rather teaching you how to see”. Parables function in very much the same way.