Those of us who no longer live in oral cultures may have
lost respect for storytelling as a vehicle of moral authority. Just give us the
facts, ma'am. We're data people, and we like it in writing. For us the
parabolic arts may be fine entertainment, but they're an unnecessarily messy
way of getting at the truth.
In C. S. Lewis's Studies in Words, the best book of his that you've never heard of, he describes the original meaning of the Latin term natura as something like "sort, kind, quality, or character." "When you ask, in our modern idiom, what something 'is like,'" he says, "you are asking for its natura."
When I can’t pray I often turn to the end of Romans 8. Here Paul
pulls back the velvet curtain of revelation. What we see is amazing: a
never-ending festivity where there sounds a strained, melodious,
mysterious prayer that all the suffering in this present world cannot
drown out. At the heart of the festivity is the Triune God praying for
When Jesus tells a story, he compels us to look at holy things with new eyes, and he illustrates his stories with references to ordinary, homely things. If he were operating in the 21st century, I doubt that he would need a blackboard for complex mathematical formulas, or the arcane jargon of a modern expert—whether economist, computer maven, biochemist or theologian.
I was raised in a middle-class, suburban family for whom religion, like sex, was a taboo topic. My Uncle Paul, a monastic known as Brother Leo, would join us each year for Thanksgiving dinner, but we never offered grace for the meal. Uncle Paul was an oddity in his black suit and drab, community-owned sedan. But I sensed that spiritually he was on to something.