I wrote this about nine or ten months ago – it’s been on Facebook since then. I’m reposting it here for the heck of it. I’ve made some modifications to the original – hopefully with the end result that Unitarians will not be able to nod their heads and give a thumbs up this time.
Note that this is allegory: please don’t carry what you read here to any hard-and-fast theological conclusions. It isn’t scripture, just a poorly done short-story that wants too much to look like Pilgrim’s Progress for its own good.
That all said, please feel free to post in the comments and guess what is behind different elements of the story. Some should be obvious right-off, but there are quite a few more subtle things going on in the background that have their own meaning. Bonus points if you can come up with the scripture reference I’m nodding to in any given place.
Maybe before long I’ll post an “answers key”. Then again, maybe I won’t. Until then, feel free to ask about any part and I’ll be happy to share.
I was strolling through the garden one day, as is my custom to do. You see, God Himself meets me there, and when I want to speak with Him, I walk.
This particular day was in most ways no different than any other before it. Blue sky, soft grass, and my choice of all the trees in the world to shade myself under. I had my favorites, and the well-beaten path I walked marked them, because my course was always the same. I was content.
But this time, as I walked my worn down way, I came to an impasse. My favorite source of shade, a rugged old tree, had collapsed on top of my path, dead. Its only purpose now was as a stumbling block to me.
My attempts to climb over it proved futile, though I tried as hard as I could. Each time I met only failure. Each time I fell. The last time hurt the worst.
So I turned aside from my usual course, to find a new way instead. At first it seemed easy, an adventure of sorts, but I quickly found that the ground was uneven, and thorns arose to tear at me; I had never noticed those before. It soon became apparent that I was inadequate – I could not make my way through this treacherous garden and back to the path I knew. But I, stubborn I, refused to be cowed, and pressed onward all the same.
As darkness approached, I was worn to exhaustion. I tried to turn around, but every attempt to find my way to the trail I had left earlier failed. After hours I made my way, breathless, into a clearing, where a calm brook flowed through, reflecting the full moon onto the trees all around, and me with them. It was a beautiful yet fearful place, but I was too exhausted to leave.
Approaching the water I bent down, seeking something to cool the cuts on my face, a burning reminder of how I had spent the day. But even my face could not compare to my feet, which had been bloodied by stones and thistles and thorns. Twisted and swollen they berated my choice to abandon my path. But was it my choice? I concluded no; the foolish tree had forced my hand. I leaned over the water.
What I saw made me jump with shock and surprise as much as with dismay and realization. I saw myself, but not myself as I had anticipated I would be. I was naked.
And I was dying.
The old splintered handle of a shovel, probably something a careless gardener had left behind, stuck out of my torso just under my rib cage on the right side. It must have happened from the fall the final time I tried climbing over the tree. I was sure it hadn’t been there before then, or I would have noticed it.
Then again, if it happened from that fall and it had taken me all day to become aware of it – and only after a look in the mirror – how could I be sure it hadn’t come from an earlier, worse fall?
Not that it mattered now. My earlier trivial requests to put to God when I found Him became irrelevant as I watched myself bleed from the wound to my side. But as strange as it sounds, I didn’t want to find Him anymore. Or rather, I realized, I didn’t want HIM to find ME.
I was afraid – not just of dying, though I was that too. I was afraid of letting Him see me like this, naked and exposed. But if I wanted to be healed, I knew I would have to let him find me.
So I set about with a plan. I would take leaves from the trees around me to cover my nakedness, my shame. I reached for the nearest tree, a pine, but quickly reconsidered.
Instead I chose an oak. Here, I reasoned, the stoutest tree in the garden will provide for my needs. What could be more appropriate? However, it soon became clear that oak leaves were not flexible enough to provide for the contours of my rugged male physique. I would have to try another.
A maple tree! Fantastic! Its leaves were flexible enough to get the job done! But no, they had too little surface. It wouldn’t work.
Tree by tree, I searched the clearing for one that would cover me from the eyes of my Creator. One by one, I rejected them, until, finally, I found the answer!
A fig tree, hidden behind a larger beech! Its leaves were large enough I wouldn’t need too many, flexible enough to provide for those needs, and sturdy enough to be sewn together!
As I sat to work to make a covering for myself, I considered how fortunate I was to have found the fig tree. I thought of how God Himself had once, millennia ago, showed my ancestors how to cultivate a garden. He had shown them how to plant, and the fig tree was what He planted. He gave it to them and they had used it to make coverings for themselves as I was doing now. As I sewed, I felt a tremendous kinship with those who had gone before me. I felt connected. I felt strong. And when I was done, I no longer felt naked. Now I could make my request to Him without fear.
I waited there long hours after that. My feet were blistered and broken, my side had finally begun to cause me pain, and for once I knew that I could not seek God. He had to seek me.
Finally as dawn approached I felt His presence draw near. I stood up proudly in my fig leaf garment and waited as He came. He entered the clearing with a gust of wind.
Immediately my satisfaction at His arrival was lost, for the fig leaf garment I had so meticulously sewn was blown, leaf by leaf, from my person. As they flew away they appeared more like rags than leaves, and not particularly clean ones at that. I was naked again.
Panic kicked in and I tried to flee, but my swollen feet prevented me from running. Hiding wasn’t an option – I had picked the leaves off of every tree in the clearing trying to cover myself in the first place. The self-assurance I had known split seconds before God entered the clearing was gone, replaced by self loathing for thinking I could ever hide my true state from my all-seeing God. I did the only thing left.
I fell prostrate in front of Him.
He drew near, and I tried to open my mouth to defend myself and explain my naked state. I couldn’t do it, though. How could I? What would my defense have been? What explanation could I possibly give? The words of self-vindication did not come. They did not exist. Instead only these words could my shaking, crying frame whisper:
“Lord, have mercy.”
He touched me then, on the crown of my head, as a father touches his son. The contact gave me enough courage to raise my eyes, if only a little, and allow me to witness something I will never forget, even should I live a thousand lives.
As I watched from the ground I noticed a lamb in the clearing – something I had not been aware of before. Somehow in that moment I knew for certain that it had been there with God all along, though I’d overlooked it entirely. In fact, I almost wondered… no… but… in the times before when I had met with God, had it really been this lamb who had come to me? But the truth is, it all amounted to the same thing anyway, for I saw that the two were almost indistinguishable. To see the one was to see the other.
And there was also this: I understood then that this lamb was God’s most precious thing – I could tell by the look in His eyes as He gazed at it, and the softness of His touch as He stroked its spotless fleece.
This touching scene of the two together did not last, though I would have happily spent eternity as a witness. What began peacefully and quietly ended with violence as God set His hands on the lamb’s body and broke its neck, a crack as loud as thunder.
I tried to shield my eyes then, to go back to weeping in the dirt. And though my weeping continued, no, intensified, I could not look away. I could do no other than watch as God took a knife, which He plunged into the Lamb’s lifeless body in its side. He skinned the lamb, taking the flesh from the body with meticulous care.
I watched as He made a robe from the skin, as lovely as any I’d seen. It seemed like centuries, millennia even, as He crafted this perfect garment with His own hands. For all I know, it might really have taken that long.
When He had finished He bid me stand, and He hoisted me to my feet. The robe of the lamb He placed around my shoulders – it warmed me and gave me comfort. I checked my side, somehow knowing, and my intuition was confirmed. There was only one of us in the clearing with a wound in his side, and that was the lamb.
I won’t tell you what happened after that. Or, better said, I can’t. After all, some things are too Holy to be described by our pittance of a language, and my best attempts could never be good enough.
One thing I will say, though, and that is this:
I know this, without a doubt: that lamb was dead when the robe was placed on my shoulders.
And I tell you the truth…
He isn’t dead now.