Monday, February 08, 2010

What She Said

We are talking about Ash Wednesday, my daughter and I, and I mention Eliot's poem, which I still liked last time I read it. Kelly explains about the burning of the palms. We start talking about Lent, fasting, quarantine, and I try to explain to my daughter that people have different views on religious writing and practice. Some reject them altogether, some regard them as a harmless puzzle, some advocate their literal truth. I struggle to define my own position which seems inconsistent, even to me. I don't believe in any of it, really, I told her, but if I did, I'd approach both text and process as metaphor. We use metaphor commonly to illuminate concepts or conditions which cannot be made comprehensible otherwise. We tell the fable of the dog in the manger to make a child aware of the drawbacks of selfishness. We tell the fable of Christ in a manger to make the Gospel story resonate with children and the poor, to make the son of God human, sympathetic and universal. Bible stories, I tell her, (these are not my exact words, but they're close) might contain a kind of internal truth which reveals something to us about how we get along now.

"Do you get what I'm saying?" I ask.
"It's the truth that never runs out," she says, calmly. I freak out briefly, because she's suggesting something radical, radical for a nine-year-old at least, an idea which she has arrived at with just the slightest push from me. Until it becomes clear that she's misheard 'eternal' for 'internal'.

But still, I love the idea, that we repeat certain narratives because they continue to offer us understanding, that there is an consequent inexhaustibility in these stories, that fiction can offer a special kind of truth, that never runs out.

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