Monday, March 05, 2012

Telling It Slant

Last week, as often happens using a Mason way of teaching, the stars aligned and we "happened" to read Emily Dickinson's poem "Hope" at the very moment Pandora opened the beautiful box tied with an intricate knot made of a golden cold. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's telling of this myth, trouble came in the form of a black cloud blotting out the sun, a sudden swarm of black winged creatures resembling bats. Pandora shut the lid so quickly that she trapped Hope in the box. We finally reached the appearance of Hope as a sunny and smiling fairy who makes sunshine dance into dark corners. We are going to read the poem again today.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all
People with autism tend to take things literally and have difficulty seeing gray. Interpreting poetry can be anathema to them. But, I have hope for Pamela. She has already noticed that Pandora and Epimetheus seem so much like Eve and Adam and that their box let loose trouble in their world much like the apple did for our world. I would love to tell you that a miracle happened today, and Pamela made all sorts of lovely connections between Pandora and the poem, but she did not. And, that is okay. If she did everything perfectly the first time, then we would have no longing for Hope. I draw hope from what Hope said about her rainbow-colored wings, "They are like the rainbow because, glad as my nature is, I am partly made of tears as well as smiles." That is the journey of autism, tears and smiles.

Autistic people often wonder why not tell it straight. Why not just come out and say the black-and-white of the thing so that others know exactly what you mean? Struggling through the interpretation of poetry in high school, I often asked the same question! Thirty years later, a wonderful article at DoggieHeadTilt about Dickinson's "Tell All the Truth But Tell It Slant" answered my question:
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—
Last month, I sang at the funeral of a dear friend last, and I could not look directly at his widow because the truth of her loss would have undone me in the middle of the song. I could not find the right words to tell her face-to-face. Everything that came to mind was too harsh, too painful, too searing until I came across Emily's "The Lost Jewel." The only thing I could do was tell it slant in a card with one of Pamela's watercolors and these sweet words about a sweet man:
I held a jewel in my fingers
And went to sleep.
The day was warm, and winds were prosy;
I said: "'T'will keep."

I woke and chid my honest fingers,
The gem was gone;
And now an amethyst remembrance
Is all I own.
Why didn't C.S. Lewis tell Narnia straight?

In his youth, Lewis had turned his back on God for many reasons. God used imagination, not reason, to win him back. Lewis said of George MacDonald's Phantastes, "What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptise... my imagination. It did nothing to my intellect nor (at that time) to my conscience... the quality which had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live."

Poetry gave Lewis the desire to know a dying god in Norse mythology. "The third glimpse [of Joy] came through poetry.... I idly turned the pages of the book and found the unrhymed translation of Tegner's Drapa and read, 'I heard a voice that cried, Balder the beautiful is dead, is dead—' I knew nothing about Balder, but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described." And, when Lewis finally met the dying God, desire overcame reason and he accepted Christ.

Christ himself told it slant! How many times did people wonder who He was and He never gave them a straight answer? Even when He described himself in slant ways (the Bread of life, the Living Water, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Way, Truth, and Life, the Light), some accused Him of blasphemy and tried to kill Him. What would they have done had Jesus said, "I am God in the flesh"? The Truth was so dazzling they were blind to it, even when Jesus veiled it in slant references.

Jesus often explained big ideas about God to the people in slant ways. The psalmist wrote, "O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old" (Psalm 78). Jesus did more than fulfill prophecy by speaking in parables. In Matthew 13, Jesus explained how He gave those who were ready for meat firsthand knowledge for they were able to digest it. To others, He gave milk because they could hear but not understand for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps, their hearts were hard. Or, they covered their ears because they feared the truth. Maybe, they blocked the light coming into their eyes the way we pull down the visor when driving into direct sun. Jesus fed those closed to the Truth by telling it slant. Isn't it easier to tolerate the sun at its rising and setting when the rays slant the most? And, when the disciples themselves could not handle it straight such as at the beginning of Luke 18, he fell back on telling it slant through parables like that of the persistent widow.

The Truth in these parables is not as obvious as it may appear. Two years ago, my church's Wednesday Bible study group read Tim Keller's The Prodigal God, which revolutionized how we read parables and how we understand events in the Bible. Since you may not be familiar with this take on a well-known parable, I don't won't spoil the joy you will find in uncovering the surprising truths embedded in the parable typically called "The Prodigal Son"—I wince at even typing that title because it is only one-third of the message. When I read Cain and Abel, I think of the two brothers in Jesus' parable. At the reunion of two other estranged brothers Jacob and Esau, I wonder if Jacob's comment is a foreshadowing of the True Elder Brother to come, " For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me." (Genesis 33:10).

A few weeks ago, the sermon made me gasp when it hit me that Jesus was living out the role of the True Elder Brother when the woman was caught in adultery. When the duty-driven Pharisees questioned Jesus, he wrote on the ground. He could have hit them with the direct, unadulterated truth that their sins were just as grievous hers from the perspective of our holy and righteous God. Instead, He bent down to write on the ground until they were ready to hear it slant. He simply said, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." They figured it out and left. Then, he dealt with the woman who knew she deserved what was coming. But, he did not condemn her. He accepted her and told her to leave her life of sin.


Bonnie said...

I love the depth of SLANT ~~ in every case that you cited. Lewis wanted to be a poet and did write poetry but he was a prophet in our times even in Narnia. Thanks for the link to that blog! Will have to spend some time reading and thinking. Thanks! Praying for you tomorrow night as you talk to the Minn. group!

The Glasers said...

Thanks, pray especially for energy. Our CM study group meeting is followed by Bible study at church which is followed by a short break and then the talk with Nancy's group. Oh, and of course, that's all after a day of homeschooling my dear one!

Bonnie said...

That is how my day was last month when I did it. I was tired but so much fun to see Nancy and Kent ~~ back from #2 son's wedding in Hickory on Saturday. Now onto #3 son's wedding up in Banner Elk the weekend after the conference!

Will pray for you tomorrow!

The Glasers said...

Congratulations! And before long, the grands will be on the way. :-)

Annie Eskeldson said...

Love this post as always, Tammy!! So insightful and so beautiful. I just can't be slant - I LOVE IT!!!

rachaelnz said...

What a beautiful post, Tammy. I appreciate your reminding us that Jesus used parables for teaching. It is a reminder of how powerful "slant" is, although I've never heard it put that way.

Naomi said...

I love your comments on hope. There is so much here. Reminds me of CM quoting scripture: "It is a case of,––'In the morning sow thy seed and in the evening withhold not thine hand for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that.'"

The Glasers said...

Thanks for the lovely quote, Naomi!

Stephanie said...

I am amazed by the way you think and the myriad connections you make. I always feel enriched and challenged when I come to your blog. I like the quote about "inspiring or baptizing the imagination" -- there's so much food for thought there!