The Sled: An Allegory
This 2008 post is a sneak-peak into my recently « published » e-book A Faith in Dialogue. If you enjoy the post why not download the book? It’s free! 🙂
There was an air of grim, determined comradery about the men as they filed into the room, shaking dust and mud from their hard-worn clothing. Shoulder slapping, compliments and wry humour flickered here and there amidst the group, like lighting flitting about in a distant thunder head.
These people go WAAAY back, I thought. The conclusion was drawn not only from the interactions of the men, but also their age. There couldn’t have been one of them below fifty.
But now I had spoken too soon!
The group was mostly seated when the Youth strode silently into the room, and took his seat closest to the door. He was received by several polite nods, which he almost forgot to acknowledge: he seemed very distracted by some small scratches and bruises about his neck and shoulders.
“This meeting will now come to order.” Said the Leader, solemnly picking up a large yoke from the floor, and placing it on his broad shoulders.
For a while, I listened respectfully to the proceedings. I gathered that this was a group of loggers who were collecting wood for the construction of some colossal government building. There was much talk about a large sled, the condition of the forests and roadways, the lack of workers, and the dire importance of their task. I quickly gathered that their enterprise had seen better days.
The meeting was interesting enough while my curiosity was piqued, but my attention quickly began to wander, and my gaze landed on the Youth. He was the only one who did not seem fully engaged in the words of the speaker. Conspicuously missing were the solemn, intent eyes, the nods, and the “amen’s which graciously flowed from all other mouths.
The Youth seemed to be the quintessential picture of a man with “something on his chest.” He was leaning forward in his chair, appearing to spring from his seat at every silence, then settling back down into begrudging silence when another took the floor. His right hand was resting on his shoulder, where he gently nursed his lacerations, and glanced at them often.
Again, my eyes wandered and, seeing nothing new, began to glaze over as the Leader droned on about the minutia of the forestry grind.
“…I guess all I’m wondering about is…well, why do we need the sled in the first place?”
I woke from my stupor suddenly, distinctly aware that the atmosphere had shifted. More like disintegrated. A “bombshell” had clearly been dropped, and my mind was reeling, desperately trying to penetrate the fog of the previous fifteen minutes, which lead up to the stunned silence stretching on before me.
The Leader cleared his throat.
The Youth was clearly uncomfortable. A flush was creeping up his neck, and the slight movements in his upper arms belied the fact that his fingers were twiddling furiously under the table. I saw Jesus walk to him, and place His hand on a restless shoulder. He calmed momentarily, then his gaze went again to the Leader, and he began to fidget again.
“Well, I guess…well…I don’t know…I mean…well, doesn’t it just seem like we aren’t making very much progress here?”
Blank stares greeted him.
“Well, I mean…just think of how the forest used to be! The wood was much bigger, and the roads were cleared and icy…and there was so much more help…”
He struggled to get the last of it out, in the midst of a chorus of grunts, “amen’s” and affirming noises. Immediately, the thick silence was replaced by several voices all speaking at once, excitedly reminiscing about what I took to be “the good old days.” “Oh, is THAT all that he is worried about!” everyone seemed to be expressing at once.
The Youth listened respectfully, but I could see that he was not satisfied with the response he had received. When all eyes were on him once more, then took a deep breath and continued.
“All I’m trying to say is that maybe there is a better way. Maybe there is a different way. Maybe the Sled was the perfect vehicle for yesterday, but…I don’t know…maybe there is something better for today?”
Instantly, the silence was back. This time, it was almost palpable. The Leader leaned forward and placed his glasses on the table gently. “What exactly are you suggesting, son?”
“Well, I mean, maybe we could use something like this…”
The transformation over the Youth was instantaneous as he bent down to pick up a pliable, willowy yoke from the floor. The fatigue and timidity seemed to fall from him: he even seemed to loose a couple pounds! In one excited, fluid motion he straightened and placed the yoke on his shoulders, quickly explaining the small cart which he could pull, to seek out and gather the smaller, but highly valuable trees from the crests of the ridges, where the Sled could never hope to go.
For several minutes, the Youth had the floor. He seemed to be in his own world as he rattled on and on. I felt like I was sitting in the presence of Michelangelo, describing a masterpiece to a stunned audience.
So enthralled was the Youth in his own dialogue, however, that he could not perceive that the expressions around him were beginning to shift from awe-struck confusion to passivity, to resistance. This was not a crowd that was used to new ideas.
By some fluke of my existence in this place, I was suddenly able to hear their thoughts.
We are so short-handed! How will we ever fill his place on the Sled?
He’s just a boy – what makes him think he could pull all of that off, at his age!?
It’s an impractical idea. Where would that yoke hook onto the Sled?
Arrogance, pure arrogance!! What makes him think he is so much better
It’s a shame – he seemed like such a good, dedicated boy…
Why, the rebellious little rascal! After all we have given him, he is just going to take it and run…
Suddenly, the Youth seemed to notice the disconnect. His eyes left the far corner of the room, where they had been staring dreamily as though the very walls opened up into the orchards of God. I could see him mentally catching his bearings as he glanced around, blinked uncertainly several times, then mumbled a quick conclusion and sat down.
The Leader saw that it was his turn. He leaned forward and, with an even, moderate tone, began to set the Youth very thoroughly Straight. The Sled had been built with great skill and care, built from the blue-prints which had been handed down for generations. Some of those sitting at the table had sacrificed significant amounts of resources and labour in the construction of the Sled. Many had deceased relatives who had sacrificed even more.
The Youth began to interrupt, saying something about how he agreed that the Sled had value…but the Leader was not finished.
It was a big sled, a functional sled, a good sled. It had worked so well in the past! Times were hard, but it was nothing that a little work and a lot of faith couldn’t get them through! The important thing was just to plough on, to carrying one’s yoke.
As he said this, the Leader leaned back and shifted, so that his own yoke lifted and his loose-fitting shirt was pulled aside. For a moment, his bare, weathered, and deeply scarred shoulder was visible for all to see. The youth quickly hid his own minor cuts and looked away, blushing and silenced at the signs of such great sacrifice.
Sacrifice? But now I needed to look again! Here was something odd, indeed!
It was common knowledge in Heaven that the most beautiful adornments to be had were scars of sacrifice. Even the angels longed for them – the very jewellery of our Lord I turned to look at Jesus now. Every scar – inflicted by nail, whip or splinter – was healed
over with a marvellous sort of glowing, liquid gold. There are no words to describe the beauty! In the darkest of times, it was always the light of His scars by which I found Him again. Even when I could not see Him, I could always feel the warmth of His scars, drawing me like a magnet, warming me like the sun.
This same adornment, I soon came to realize, was available for the Saints as well! Amazingly, there was no difference in quality – only the quantity was different, and even in this there was room for confusion. I remembered embarrassing myself once, mistaking Paul for Jesus – having seen him from afar. When I came closer I realized my mistake – but oh! Such adornments he wore! I realized, then, what he meant when he said that he would rather boast in his weakness! Truly, what greater object of boasting, than the adornments of grace, lavished onto the scars of sacrifice?
I looked again at the Leader. His scars looked like old cuts in thick leather. Dry, cracked, black, dead…wasted! But how could this be?
They were not scars of love. The answer came from Jesus. As I glanced at my Lord, I could read the true tragedy of the statement in his eyes.
Back in the meeting, things were coming to a close. The Leader was winding down his diatribe. People were beginning to reshuffle their papers and un-Velcro their packs.
“It’ll be a long day tomorrow, everyone, so make sure you all get lots of sleep!”
Mutters, shuffling feet and a creaking floorboards signalled the end of another long meeting, and the beginning of a night’s rest that was never quite long enough.
For a moment, the flow of traffic halted by the youth, as one odd little man leaned down and whispered confidentially, “I appreciated your contributions tonight – I found them very inspirational!!” Quickly, the little man straightened and, glancing furtively about, hurried to catch up with the others.
The Youth continued to sit and stare, apparently unaware of the adjournment, or of anything in the room. He was staring off into that distant corner again, with the face of a parted lover.
After several minutes, the Leader finally finished packing up his papers and began limping his way towards the exit. He paused at the door and, with a deep sigh that could have had a touch of compassion in it, turned to the Youth.
“Look, son – don’t take it so hard. You do good work! I’m very impressed with your contribution! Just keep it up – work hard for another…say…twenty, thirty years. Who knows? Maybe someday you’ll be wearing this!
The Leader lifted the colossal yoke from his shoulders and placed it experimentally on the Youth’s spindly frame. As he moved, I could see the label on the back of the yoke, ‘Pastor.’ The Youth groaned under the weight. The Leader winked at him, and grinned
proudly. “Pretty big, huh?” The big man winked again, picked up the yoke and rested it comfortably on his shoulders. Whistling a merry tune, he walked jauntily from the room.
Either from the exhaustion of the event, or from the exertions of some mental faculty, the Youth sat in a trance-like state for nearly an hour. I was beginning to think that there was some mistake – but Jesus was still there. Watching, waiting.
Suddenly, his fist slammed down on the table. “To Hell with it all!” he said viciously. He got up so quickly that his chair bounced once, then lay still.
The Youth turned purposefully, and walked out of the room.