“Truth, like love and sleep, resents
Approaches that are too intense.”
W.H. Auden, The Double Man
When we were waiting in the Calgary airport a number of years ago, we witnessed two Japanese women in kimonos greet each other, bowing in turn a great number of times. It’s clear that Japan values this courtesy and politeness to a degree that we don’t usually see in Canada.
As preparation for his high school student exchange term in Japan, my son-in-law learned some rules of Japanese culture. He was taught to never ask a question for which you don’t already know the answer. For a person to say “No,” would mean someone losing face. Needless to say, this requires time and a great deal of tact and diplomacy.
Communication across cultures or hierarchies can be difficult, especially when the person to be addressed is in a position of power, or when we prefer not to have open conflict on major issues. In medieval times, a court jester or fool could use sly humour to get across a point to a monarch. Hamlet used theatre to confront his murderous stepfather-uncle, and the prophet Nathan told a simple story of injustice so that King David, in effect, pronounced sentence on himself.
Jesus’ parables, too, have multiple layers of meaning, characters with different viewpoints, stunningly illogical endings at times. As we grapple with them, we gradually absorb their concepts. In so doing, we are introduced to ourselves. It is a kind way to address complex and difficult topics.
This circuitous route is eye-opening, not only to confront wrong or to highlight what is actually happening, but also when the beauty of truth is too overwhelming, when we have to cover our eyes at the brightness and glory of it. Some experiences can’t be described in our limited vocabulary, they elude ordinary senses. There are worlds of wonder, but we can only glimpse the splendours.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise . . .
We are given great gifts in analogies, experiences, metaphors, juxtaposition, similes: “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .” It requires a poet’s attentive eye and the courtesy of listening with unstopped ears for the lessons that are all around us. It is God’s gracious stooping to bow down to our level, and we in turn bowing in our acknowledgement of Him.