emarkthomas

Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.

A story.

"The Secret Garden" by David Howells

There once was a great King who ruled over a vast land. In the center of his capital city sat his great palace which housed the many offices of his government, his treasury, and his most precious possession: his family. The king had a very large family, with sons and daughters filling his halls with life and laughter. The King was very particular about the way he wanted his children to be raised, and to that end they were given the Book of Guidance. The Book of Guidance was compiled by the king’s servants and ministers, and contained a vast amount of facts, stories, and rules that the King’s servants had determined were values held dear by the King. Much of its material was made up of actual quotes from the King himself, or stories in which he featured heavily.

The children each received a copy of the Book of Guidance in order to help them learn more about their father’s heart and his hopes for their lives. This was their only formal schooling; they had no classrooms, no teachers, and no homework. The only additional part of their education was individual meetings with their father. In each child’s bedchambers there was a silver rope near the door. Whenever one of the princes or princesses desired to meet with the king, it was necessary only to pull the silver rope and then walk to the royal gardens. The King would be waiting for his child just inside the gate, and together they would walk and talk for a time.

Some of the royal children took advantage of this, and spent their walks engaging with their father about the things they had read in the Book of Guidance. Others took greater liberty, and began to speak with their father about things that had nothing to do with the Book of Guidance. One or two of the wisest princes and princesses thought to ask their father directly about what he valued and what he wished for them to do with their lives.

As the children grew, and as more and more royal children were born, the palace officials began to grow concerned. As far as they understood, the purpose of the Book of Guidance was to help the royal children learn to become more like the King. Surely then as time went on the children would begin to resemble the King better? And since all of the children were on the same quest, surely they should begin to look more uniform? Surely, they thought, it should resemble the something akin to the Palace Guards? A soldier chosen for the Palace Guard at first didn’t fit in; didn’t look the same. But as he went through the rigid training programs and received his uniform, he ceased to be the individual soldier and became an interchangeable member of the guard; exactly as protocol dictated.

The officials began to meet with some of the elder princes and princesses. They chose the ones that showed the most promise in meeting their ultimate goal: a Royal House of the King’s children that uniformly resembled their sovereign’s heart. The elder royals began to call their other brothers and sisters together and share with them the new vision of their royal education. To ensure a proper understanding of our royal father’s heart, they explained, everyone needed to work together in the new system to find out how best to know it.

Most of the royal children found this new approach vastly easier than before. Only the wisest children, the ones who had asked their father directly about their education, chose to remain with their previous form of study. The officials and elder royals founded a school for the royal children to attend. In the school they would learn from the officials and their older brothers and sisters. There they would hear from the very men and women who had the great privilege to have seen their father govern and interact with his subjects. All that the children had seen of their father was the man in the garden, walking and talking with them in the cool of the evening. Many of them had never even experienced that. Here was a chance for them to finally learn who their father really was! And, just as the officials hoped, the children began to act more and more like a uniform group. The only problem was that the more the children excelled in the system, the less the silver ropes were rung. The officials decided that since the king had said nothing about the declining walks then it must not be an urgent concern, and so the school’s curriculum continued unchanged.

One day a young prince was scampering along the palace halls on his way to the school. He passed one of his older sisters in the hallway, and she was headed towards the gardens. He called to her, reminding her that school began in just a few moments. The older princess smiled at him and knelt down to speak to him, straightening his collar as she did so.

“My dear brother,” she said. “I am on my way to the garden to learn from our beloved Father himself. If you wish, you may come with me and take my spot for today. I happen to know that Father would like that very much.”

The boy looked eagerly back towards the hallway that would take him to school, and then back at his sister.

“How could you know that Father would like this?” he asked her. “There is nothing about that in the Book of Guidance.”

A tear slid down the princess’s cheek as she absorbed her brother’s comment. Finally she answered him, “My brother, I know this because our Father told me so himself. He is always with us, you see. He will always meet us in the gardens, and speak to us about what he values and how he desires us to live our lives.”

She stood up and walked over to a bench and sat down, patting the seat next to her. The young prince joined her.

“Royal brother, does not the Book of Guidance quote our Father as saying that there is much that he wishes to speak with us about, but we may not always be ready to hear it?”

“Yes,” the prince answered. “The Book of Guidance says that our Father will reveal those things to us in time.”

“Then my brother, how can you hope to learn more of our Father’s heart when you never listen to his living voice?”

The young prince’s mouth fell open, and he followed his sister’s gaze towards the gate of the royal gardens. Looking up at her, he pointed to the gates. She smiled down at him and held her hand out, inviting him to walk with her. As they approached the gates, he heard his father’s voice call out for his sister. She stopped walking, and urged her brother on alone.

The young prince stepped through the gates and immediately saw his father seated under an apple tree. His father’s face lit up with surprise, and the king ran to his son. After a tender embrace, the prince nervously squeaked out that his sister had invited him to take her place today.

“Of course she has!” the King responded, an infectious smile on his face. “She well understands my heart towards you, my boy. Come, and let us walk and talk.”

As they paced the garden paths, the boy waited for his father to begin speaking. After some minutes, the prince realized that his father was waiting for him to start.

“Father?” he asked. “The… the Book of Guidance says that you value clean robes.” The prince put all of his hopes for approval into his next sentence. “Father, I keep my robes clean as best I can!”

The king stopped walking, took his son by the hand, and sat him down by a reflection pool.

“My son, the Book of Guidance says many things. And for every word you find in it, each of my children could find a dozen different ways to interpret the meaning.”

The boy allowed this to sink in before exclaiming, “But my father! Is the Book of Guidance useless then?”

“Never, my boy. It was I who first instructed my counselors to write it. It was I who supervised their work. I have always intended for you and your brothers and sisters to have the book. But my dear son, the Book of Guidance is only of use to you so long as you can interpret it through me. I will always meet you here, and you can learn all that you need to know about my heart and my plan for you from me. Read the book, my son, and talk with me about it. Ask me about things that you don’t understand. Ask me about things that you do not like. Ask me about things that are nowhere to be found in the book. Listen to my voice, my son, and heed what I tell you, and you shall do well.”

They rose and resumed walking. Presently the boy asked another question.

“Father, what if I hear your voice and don’t understand what you meant? What if I act on something only to find that it isn’t what you wish for me to do?”

The king grinned, bent down until he was face to face with the prince, and said, “Dear one, you will undoubtedly do so. But remember what I say to you now. Whenever you make a mistake, remember this. Whenever you think you may be wrong, remember this. Whenever your brothers and sisters, or my counselors and officals, tell you that you’re wrong or chastise you, remember this: You are my son, and I love you with all my heart. You wear on your finger my royal seal, and as such you walk in the full authority of my crown. When you are wrong, I alone will be your judge. When you are right, my praise alone is sufficient for you. Each and every day, you are clothed and fed and cared for by my word alone. And each and every day, my boy, you have my love.”

The boy wrapped his arms around his father’s neck, and the great king lifted his son up in his arms. They walked on like this for some time until the prince asked yet another question.

“Father, what of my brothers and sisters, and your officials?”

“What of them, my son?”

“They teach in the school about you, and now that I have talked with you, I think that they are teaching about you wrongly.”

“Ah, my child, rest your mind. Whether they are right or wrong is for me to discuss with them, is it not? Just like yourself, they each answer to me and me alone. I will deal with the school when the time is right, and I will determine what good and harm it has caused in each and every individual case. But be at peace, child. The school can do nothing that I cannot set right.”

The prince lifted his head from the king’s shoulder and asked whether or not the school did any good at all.

“Of course it does, my son. If not for the school, would you know what is in the Book of Guidance? Many of your siblings left their books to collect dust in the library before the school was opened. Now, those same children learn from the book I commissioned. Through the school, the foundation of my desires is made known to them. And one day, my boy, they will find themselves in the garden with me, just as you have today. In time, my son, everything will be made right. In time my will shall be done.”

With that, the king set the young boy down on the ground again. The prince looked around and saw to his surprise that they had returned to the gate. He looked up at his father, and saw that the great king had tears in his eyes. His father reached down and ever so gently cupped the prince’s face in his hands.

“One last thing for today, my dear boy. You will find, as you grow, that some of the others in the palace may grow to dislike the changes that will take place if you continue to listen to my voice. They will attempt to rein you in towards what they see as my desire for your life and how it should be lived. They may even become hostile and very angry. The root of their intentions is a strong desire to heed my commands, my son, but that doesn’t mean that you should ever value their plan above mine. They desire to make my children as the Palace Guard are ordered, unified and interchangeable. It was never my design for my royal heirs to be so ordered. The guards, son, are guards. But you are my son. My son.”

The prince reached up with his tiny hand and touched a tear streaking down his father’s face.

“My father,” he whispered. “Is this another thing that shall be made right when the time comes?”

The king smiled, kissed his son on the forehead, and said, “You have listened and learned well. Now run along and think on these things, lad. We’ve covered much in a very short time.”

The boy walked towards the gate that would take him back into the halls of the palace in which he lived, but as he reached the massive stone pillars that framed the gateway, he suddenly turned back around.

“Father? What should I do when I have questions about what we’ve talked about, or if I forget some of it?”

The king was walking down the center path that led off into a maze of hedges. He flashed a pleased smile, and shouted in a jovial voice, “My love, use the silver rope! Rest assured that you can ring it as often as you wish, and I will always come.”

The young prince’s heart was ready to burst with joy as he ran from the garden into his sister’s waiting arms. They walked slowly down the corridors and talked of their father and the garden for the rest of the day. Many hours later, as the castle slept, the young prince slipped from his bedsheets, tip-toed to the silver cord, and pulled it firmly. Securing his bathrobe about his waist, he opened his door and made for the garden gate to see his father.

The End.

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13 responses to “A story.

  1. Kerry Miller-Whalen November 30, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Wow, Ethan. That is just. beautiful. And so profoundly true. May I share it?

  2. Joyce November 30, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Lovely! Thanks for sharing that Ethan! Brought tears to my eyes!

  3. Davo November 30, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Hurray! I love stories! Thanks for sharing your thoughts through this medium. I love that stories have the ability to communicate very complex truths through simple illustrations. Yours has definitely succeeded in doing so. 🙂 I enjoyed the read!

    You got me thinking… and then writing… and here are some of the first things that came to mind.

    1) Your story seems to call out the idolatry of elevating scripture to a level it was never meant to hold. Yes, we should read and study scripture with eager enthusiasm as it is one of the more direct ways in which God has directly revealed Himself and His will to us. But as your story seems to point out, we mustn’t get so consumed with studying the Word that we forget about the awesome Being that it is revealing to us. Its so easy in an over-zealous desire to please God, to get caught up in a legalistic attempt to obey all His commands to the ‘T.’ When in reality, God wants us to understand the spirit and heart behind the commands – which are intended to drive us to Him! I think about the rigid religious system the Jews were living in when Jesus shows up on the scene and turns everything on its head. Suddenly we realize truths like – “The Sabbath was made for man” rather than vise versa (Mark 2:27). Even the clearly laid Kosher diet from the OT law is called into question as we realize that its not what goes into us that makes us unclean… but rather what comes out of our hearts (Matt 15:11).

    2) Our tendency to attempt to learn more about God by learning through the teaching of others is good… but this should only be in addition to first seeking to deepen our own personal relationship with the Lord through prayer and His Word. Otherwise, we can turn into mindless drones that dogmatically re-iterate other peoples conclusions based on their understanding of God.

    3) If only we could, as in your story, simply go before the Father Himself and get spoken clarification on things that have us all tangled up in confusion. Instead it seems that we are destined to continue in earthly ambiguity. But we can’t let our seeking of those elusive answers distract us from doing what matters most – loving and communing in relationship with our heavenly Father!! For at the end of the day, what does it matter if we’ve come to a certain conclusion on all the things in life… if in the process, we’ve missed Christ. That would be a self-defeating dismal tragedy indeed.

    • emarkthomas December 1, 2011 at 4:51 am

      I so hoped for a meaty response from you, and I was not disappointed! I love your thought processes; you’ve got a solid head on your shoulders. I am particularly fond of the language you used to describe how I wrote about scripture. You said, “the idolatry of elevating scripture to a level it was never meant to hold.” I am so thankful for your words there, as this has been a view I’ve long held and received no small share of harsh criticism for in the times that I have been brave enough to voice that belief. While I was writing this, I hesitated a bit when writing about the Book of Guidance; I was unsure whether I ought to go there. I’m glad I did, even if only to encounter a civil response for once.

      Something that was my intent from the first word of the story was to show the contrast of community between the prince and his brothers and sisters involved with the school, and his sister who was on her way to the garden. Well-intentioned no doubt, his school siblings offered him a path that didn’t really reflect the prince’s authenticity. I didn’t want to write it so heavily that it was overkill, but yeah, that theme specifically was the encouragement and feedback I intended for your blog post. Not that I think I was telling you anything you didn’t already know, but it’s nice to be encouraged in that . At least I think so!

      Also, in response to your last point, I think that perhaps we CAN so easily go to the Father. While I have never heard an audible voice or received a letter with carefully written instructions explained step by step, I do believe that the Spirit speaks to m constantly. I think I miss most of it, and the majority of it I do hear I often try to ignore, but I firmly believe that the Living God, my Papa, speaks to me and guides me through the transformation of my mind and heart by the Holy Spirit. A new perspective, a different way of living, a change of conviction or conscience. I think those are how I hear my Father at this stage of my life.

      Anyway, I’m so glad you enjoyed the read!

  4. emarkthomas December 1, 2011 at 5:26 am

    I also wanted to throw out a general thought for anyone reading this who might find parts of my story disturbing: the story is a model, and all models are wrong. Some can be useful, however, in helping us come to see themes or perspectives in a new way. Perhaps, in some cases, a better way.

    To that end, and with that heart, I hope that there isn’t any offense or outrage over parts of this story. In no way do I mean to imply a sense of superiority or inferiority to any person in any context. In no way do I hold or intend to impart to others that the gospel or Kingdom of Heaven is an elitist movement of people who understand things “correctly.”

    We are all of us royal children. We are all of us loved. And of course, our Royal Father interacts with us all in a completly unique and custom way. Thus, for the young prince in our story, authenticity was not to be found in the mainstream. But that’s just the story of the young prince. Yours, of course, will be custom fitted for you. Who can say where your authenticity is to be found? And how can I be foolish enough to presume to say that yours cannot be from the King? He alone will be the judge of that.

    As for me, I believe he asks me to live and love well with you regardless of how our authentic lives are constructed. So peace and grace be with you, my royal brothers and sisters. May we embark on a journey in which all peoples from all kingdoms can know that we are children of the great king, because we listen to his voice and live and love well with one another, even when we disagree on how best to please our Father. Because we’ll have taken the step back to realize that our Father is better pleased through our love and good treatment of each other than through our sibling squabbles over veracity.

  5. Stuart December 2, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Hi, I’m a stranger, but a friend of Kerry’s. I think the is well written, and is a great allegory of how you imagine we are supposed to interact with the creator of the universe, but to me, to even allegorically pull a silver cord, to give us instant access with what ever it is that holds the universe together, is too much for me.

    I’m sure people imagine they have a relationship with the “King”, but it is only imaginings. When you say you listen to the spirit, I wont mock that, but I think that’s something all humans are capable of, it is part of our intelligence, our wisdom, our normal human spirit.

    • emarkthomas December 2, 2011 at 3:35 pm

      Stuart, welcome! Thanks for taking the time to read! As for your comments, fair enough. If I’m correctly understanding you, that’s an idea that I’ve spent many hours discussing with a good friend of mine who believes similarly. At the end of the day, the both of us think that the other is fantastic, but slightly mistaken. And that’s okay with me, even if it’s me that’s mistaken. I think where I am and what I believe now probably won’t be exactly where I am and what I believe ten years from now; it certainly isn’t the same as it was ten years ago! So I’m okay with the idea of being a bit mistaken.

      There’s a passage in C.S. Lewis’ book The Silver Chair in which the characters are faced with the thought that perhaps Aslan (the allegorical Living God) isn’t really real. One of the characters, Puddleglum, comments that perhaps Aslan is just a children’s fantasy, but it seems to him that the fantasy is the best way to live that he’s ever heard, and so he’d continue to live according to Aslan’s way, even if it wasn’t true. I hold the same. Even if it turns out that I’m completely mistaken, I still think that living my life according to the ideals of living and loving well is worth following for me.

      But yeah, that’s just me. Anyway thanks again, and I hope to hear more from you! Not only here, but on Kerry’s blog also, I often find your perspectives very refreshing and interesting, even if I don’t see things the same way. It’s nice for this guy, so used to hearing things through the same 21st century Christian viewpoint, to hear and see things another way.

      Thank you!

  6. Stuart December 2, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    I agree with Puddlegum’s sentiment, though Aslan may be imaginary, his laws are well worth following. There is wisdom in the book of guidelines. Atheists keep pointing out to me the inconsistencies, the weird, and such laws as not mixing cloth, etc. They read the book in an fundamentalist, literal way.

    I’ve seen enough of life, that when people (or I) break the important laws, they end up in a world of pain…. so there is something to them. I also agree that we have to love as much as we can.

    Which is why, I will listen actively to well researched, well thought out sermon, from the “school”.

    • tildeb December 4, 2011 at 3:13 pm

      Hey Stuart… if believers stopped treating scripture in any kind of literal way, you’d have a good point. Atheists understand that all religions are prescriptively derived from the supposed holy books and so continue in spite of your admonishments to repeatedly point out factual flaws and moral inconsistencies to reveal the need for interpretation.

      Like you pointed out from the story, there is no King in fact, and no one appears at the pulling of the chord, and no conversations actually take place. All of this is simply imagined to be so, as is the notion that there is some consistent moral guidance available through scripture – the Book of Guidance – that should be taken literally like various commandments and sermons… but then we run smack up against the previous argument you raise that it is somehow allowable to switch back and forth effortlessly between literalism and interpretive metaphor when greeted by legitimate literal criticism. This willingness to accept the truth claims of theology to be useful and meaningful from its own merit – that the Book of Guidance reveals good guidance in fact – even if not believed to be literally true requires a crab-in-the-shell game to be played against legitimate criticism – It’s a crab! No, It’s a shell! No, it’s a crab! No, it’s a shell!

      The simple question to be raised and honestly answered is: which part of scripture is literal and which part is metaphor and how can we know which is which?

      • Stuart Mawbey December 5, 2011 at 3:53 am

        G’day Tildeb.
        It’s all metaphor, all story, all mythology. Every single piece of it. It’s as relevant as the Norse mythologies and the Hindu mythologies, as truthful as every Grimm Fairy Tale.

        But then again, if you have a completely scientific, non-artistic view of human knowledge, your paradigm wont look for anything deeper in fairy tales other than what you see bubbling on the surface.

      • Stuart Mawbey December 5, 2011 at 4:32 am

        And… as profound as all of Aesop’s fables.

        Stu.

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