A knowledge too heavy

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I’ve spent the last two days laying on the couch with a fever, listening to Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.  One particular story stuck out.

Every Monday, Corrie’s father, a watchmaker, would take the train to Amsterdam to get the time from the astronomical clock at the Naval Observatory.  She wrote:

Oftentimes I would use the trip home to bring up things that were troubling me…  Once–I must have been ten or eleven–I asked Father about a poem we had read at school the winter before.  One line had described “a young man whose face was not shadowed by sexsin.”  …

And so, seated next to Father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, “Father, what is sexsin?”

He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing.  At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.

“Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.

I stood up and tugged at it.  It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.  It’s too heavy,” I said.

“Yes,” he said.  “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load.  It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge.  Some knowledge is too heavy for children.  When you are older and stronger you can bear it.  For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”

And I was satisfied.  More than satisfied–wonderfully at peace.  There were answers to this and all my hard questions–for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.

The Hiding Place, 26

Much later in the book, Corrie and her father are arrested by the Gestapo for their work of hiding Jews in their home, and moving them to safer locations.  After three months in prison at Scheveningen, she is called for her first hearing with Lieutenant Rahms.  Through the first hearing, he is disarmed by some of the things she says.  At the second hearing, he drops all pretense of questioning her on her underground activities, and instead asks her to tell him stories from her childhood.

Corrie writes:

The hardest thing for him seemed to be that Christians should suffer.  “How can you believe in God now?” he’d ask.  “What kind of a God would have let that old man die here in Scheveningen?”

…I did not understand either why Father had died in such a place.  I did not understand a great deal.

And suddenly I was thinking of Father’s own answer to hard questions: “Some knowledge is too heavy… you cannot bear it… your Father will carry it until you are able.”

ibid. 162-63

I find her father’s answer strangely comforting, too.  In trying to imagine what it would be like to understand all things, to be all knowing, to see how all things fit together in this world and universe, it does seem that it would be a knowledge too weighty for me to bear.

This is just a hypothetical example, but imagine being able to see how a particular event from fifty years ago, triggered another event, which caused so-and-so to make such-and-such a decision, which kept another man alive, who eventually fathered you.  That would be incredible enough to see, and there are only a few links in the chain.

But what would it be like to see the interconnectedness of every living thing in the universe?  To understand why there is suffering here, but not there?  To be able to see what is redemptive about that suffering, or even what could be redemptive about that suffering?  To know not only all that has been, but all that could be, were every person that ever lived had made any one of the many choices that he or she had available at any given moment, and to know how each of those choices could have affected any other person’s choice, throughout history, and into the future?

It would drive me utterly insane.  I would be able to think of nothing else.  I wouldn’t sleep.  Is it God’s kindness to us that he has not given us a mind to comprehend such knowledge?

Guided tour

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Tour guide: Good evening, everyone.  My name is Joseph.  I will be guiding you tonight through the Cardillo Museum of Modern Art.  Today we will be taking a tour through the south wing of the Museum, into the Back Room Atelier.  Watch your step.  The floor declines a bit right there.

First, on our right is a pencil sketch, by Anna Belle (2), entitled Fireflies At Twilight.  She is our newest artist in residence, and getting acquainted with the materials and process.

Fireflies

Next is a series of marker and watercolor pieces by Emeth (3).  From top to bottom: Talia Jay, Rain Bird, and Caught In The Web.  His primary subject of study is birds.  Particularly Blue Jays.Emeth art

Woman 1: [Wearing a brown, polyester dress with a straw hat, whispering to woman 2] How does he do it?  His layering of colors is unprecedented.  Remarkable!

Woman 2: [Finishing a yawn] Did that man say there would be refreshments?

Tour guide:  [Noticing they are lagging behind] Come along, ladies.  [Then to the crowd] A second set of marker and watercolor paintings can be seen our your left, by our most prolific artist in residence, Micaela Jane.  To be frank, we had a very difficult time deciding which of her paintings to display.  She has done countless commissioned pieces for Grandma and Grandpa, and Mom-mom and Pop-pop.  If you’re interested in commissioning a piece, please let us know after the tour, or just contact our office any time at a later date.

In order from top to bottom: Rainbows, Taming The Rooster, and Tiger Of Paradise.

Micaela art

Well, that concludes our tour ladies and gentlemen…

Man 1: [Interrupting] Wait.  Whud’uh bout dese?

Tour guide: [Turning around, startled] Those?  How could I have forgotten!  Those were done by the founders of the Atelier.  First is a set by Rachel.  From left to right: Pan And Brushes, Emeth (A Sketch), and Dancing To Rhapsody In Blue.

Mommy art

[Turning to the last pair of sketches] Ladies and gentlemen, we have come to the most acclaimed pieces in the Museum.  Please do forgive me for almost walking past.  In all humility, this is a pair of my most renowned sketches.  [Drifting into a reverie as the group gathers close to the sketches, in a hum of cultural awe.]

Man 1: [Turning back to the tour guide] Whud’eh dese ca’d?

Tour guide: [Coming to his senses] Yes.  Called?  Oh, yes.  From left to right: Lamp And Eraser, and Talia On The Chair.

Daddy art

 

Please join me in the foyer for refreshments.  If you are interested in becoming a member of the Atelier, there’s a brochure on the refreshment table with all the information you should need.  Monthly and yearly membership rates are available.  Thank you, everyone.

A letter to my father

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Dear Dad,

I’ve come to understand that you still express regret over the mistakes you’ve made as a parent.  Things that you feel you should or shouldn’t have done.  I know we’ve talked about this in the past, yet, even though I’ve reassured you, I’ve expressed more of my regrets than joys.  More criticism than thanks-giving.  I can understand why this would leave you with some doubt as to the efficacy of your parenting.

Now that I have four children, I see my tendency to be controlling rather than trusting.  While there were real and legitimate rules imposed on me as a child, you gave me the freedom to make mistakes and to fail.  You didn’t simply write out a list of prohibitions, and threaten me with punishment if I transgressed.

Wouldn’t that have been easy?  I sometimes wish I could set up clear and definable boundaries for my children, with warning signs plastered all over the the 16′ cement block walls, and barbed wire along the top.  Giving children freedom to fail is hard.  It requires trust.

You gave me that freedom.  Freedom to play with fire and get burnt.

I’m sure you remember my mini-prodigal son experience.  Not quite as dramatic of course, but I don’t think that’s the point.  Rather, that when I think of my childhood, I see you there with open arms.  There was nothing I could do to distance myself from your patient and forgiving love.

You could have opened your arms, and yet remained distant in your heart.  Accepting me with your actions while condemning me from within.  Instead, I could come to you with any problem, any struggle, any question, any discontentment, any doubt.  Why?  Because you revealed yours to me.  You showed me that you, too, are flesh.  An imperfect human being.  You came along side and sat with me in my miseries and confusions and joys.

Home was a comfort and a refuge.  A place of great peace.  When I went into the world to taste its wares, only to find them giving less than promised, I knew I had a home to return to, where love was more than I deserved.  When relationships failed me, I knew I had a home to return to, even though I had failed you.  When life’s turns disappointed me, throwing me into to despair, I knew I had a home to return to, even though I what I had done had perhaps tempted you to despair.

Is there anything greater that a son could ask of his father?  Not that he would simply overlook his son’s shortcomings, imperfections and sins, but rather, that he would love him in his shortcomings, imperfections and sins?

Your love led me to a greater love.  A love that does not let me go, even when I want to be let go of.  A love that is faithful even when I am faithless.  A love that is always there with open arms, even when I spit on it, curse it and leave.

I can only hope to emulate this same love for my children.

Love,
Joseph

 

Micaela composing at the piano

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Micaela, composing at the piano

Micaela, composing at the piano

I have to keep myself from interrupting.  The impulse is strong, but I don’t want to get in the way of what she is discovering.  Her middle finger on her right hand hops over her thumb as she plays a melody.  Her left hand is playing two note chords.

“Daddy, can I record?”  I set the microphone up in front of her.  She begins.

Bring It Back, by Micaela

The phonograph

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At the Phonograph

Listening to Antonín Dvořák – Slavonic Dances

Micaela drags her chair across the living room, shouting to me over the music, “We’re putting chairs next to the record player so we can listen to the record!”

“Yeah, because it’s my favorite record!” Emeth yells, already sitting in front of the speaker.

They sit dutifully, listening to the swell of violins in 6/8 time.  Their books are their scores, and they follow along to the music.

As the record plays, Micaela gets up to pluck out a few notes at the piano, then back to her chair.

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