Over the last month or so, I’ve had the great joy of reading through the parables collected in Peter Rollins’ book The Orthodox Heretic. The more I read and am shaped by the indispensable language of poetry, story, and parable, the more I am convinced that we cannot do without what is “said” within them. It is why, for example, in moments of intense gratitude and awareness in the wake of Christ (Mary contemplating the immense possibility of the child in her womb, Paul proclaiming the unspeakable glory of Christ), cold prose will not suffice. In such moments, and forever after them, the language that strikes nearest the full depth the divine will be poetic, metaphorical, and symbolic in nature.
And thus, Pete Rollins’ parables: speaking beautifully to the radical nature of Christ, the kingdom, faith, and doubt in ways that both enlighten and mystify, they are a testament to the power of poetic/parabolic uttering.
And so, over the next few days I will be posting a handful of parables from Pete’s book that are especially relevant not only to the journey that those of us from Amos House find ourselves on, but for the now-underway season of Lent as well.
“Salvation for a Demon”
In the center of a once-great city there stood a magnificent cathedral that was cared for by a kindly old priest who spent his days praying in the vestry and caring for the poor. As a result of the priest’s tireless work, the cathedral was known throughout the land as a true sanctuary. The priest welcomed all who came to his door and gave completely without prejudice or restraint. Each stranger was, to the priest, a neighbor in need and thus the incoming of Christ. His hospitality was famous and his heart was known to be pure. No one could steal from this old man, for he considered no possession his own, and while thieves sometimes left that place with items pillaged from the sanctuary, the priest never grew concerned: he had given everything to God and knew that these people needed such items more than the church did.
Early one evening in the middle of winter, while the priest was praying before the cross, there was a loud and ominous knock on the cathedral door. The priest quickly got to his feet and went to the entrance, as he knew it was a terrible night and reasoned that his visitor might be in need of shelter.
Upon opening the door he was surprised to find a terrifying demon towering over him with large dead eyes and rotting flesh.
“Old man,” the demon hissed, “I have traveled many miles to seek your shelter. Will you welcome me in?”
Without hesitation, the priest bid this hideous demon welcome and beckoned him into the church. The evil demon stooped down and stepped across the threshold, spitting venom onto the tiled floor as he went. In full view of the priest, the demon proceeded to tear down the various icons that adorned the walls and rip the fine linens that hung around the sanctuary, while screaming blasphemy and curses.
During this time the priest knelt silently on the floor and continued in his devotions until it was time for him to retire for the night.
“Old man,” cried the demon, “where are you going now?”
“I am returning home to rest, for it has been a long day,” replied the kindly priest.
“May I come with you?” spat the demon. “I too am tired and in need of a place to lay my head.”
“Why, of course,” replied the priest. “Come, and I will prepare a meal.”
On returning to his house, the priest prepared some food while the evil demon mocked the priest and broke the various religious artifacts that adorned his humble dwelling. The demon then ate the meal that was provided and afterward turned his attention to the priest,
“Old man, you welcomed me first into your church and then into your house. I have one more request for you: will you now welcome me into your heart?”
“Why, of course,” said the priest, “what I have is yours and what I am is yours.”
This heartfelt response brought the demon to a standstill, for by giving everything the priest had retained the very thing that the demon sought to take. For the demon was unable to rob him of his kindness and his hospitality, his love and his compassion. And so the great demon left in defeat, never to return.
What happened to that demon after this meeting with the elderly priest is anyone’s guess. Some say that although he left that place empty-handed he received more than he could ever have imagined.
And the priest? He simply ascended his stairs, got into bed and drifted off to sleep, all the time wondering what guise his Christ would take next.