Tell it Slant

This Sunday millions of Christians will hear the beloved and well known Parable of the Prodigal Son. Or is it the Parable of the Waiting Father? Or perhaps the Parable of the Lost Elder Brother? Or maybe simply the Parable of the Two Brothers?

Parables weren’t actually named in the Bible, you see, and how we name it says a lot about how we read it. What is the main subject of this particular parable, for instance? The younger brother’s return, the father’s forgiveness, the older brother’s hardness of heart?

We can’t tell for sure. And I think that’s no accident. Parables reveal truth, but always sideways, and only to those who are willing to wrestle with them for a time. The truths they contain are some of the deepest of our lives, but for that very reason the are presented at oblique angels, neither predictable nor straight.

Why? Because the most important truth are like that, convictions that you can’t finally pin down and prove, let alone own, but can only dance with, embrace, confess, and share as much through deed as word.

When I think of parables – and this is perhaps my favorite — I think of Emily Dickenson’s short but powerful injuction to “tell all the truth but tell it slant.” She says what I just tried to express about parable and truth, but with an elegance and economy of words that elude me. So instead of interpreting her poem, I’ll just invite you to read it, maybe more than once and aloud. ☺

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;

As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.

Emily Dickenson, 1830-1886