Soren Kierkegaard is no beach read. But one of the wisest spiritual directors I ever had quickly discovered that the fastest way to my heart was through metaphor. As every teacher knows, we learn by comparing the unfamiliar with the familiar. If a complex quadratic equation can be compared to 2 + 3 = 5, it’s the first step to understanding. For that reason, I was intrigued by Soren’s metaphors. Not that I’m an expert, but here are a few nuggets from his book Provocations:
- We’re like children who play and talk together. But then comes the message to go home. “That is, God calls to us.” Just as the child can’t get stuck in the illusion that his relationship with the other children is the whole thing, so too adults must turn home to God.
- A desert wanderer is thrilled to find the refreshing coolness of a spring. So too, God is faithful and unchanging. Even more remarkable, God is like a spring that seeks the thirsty traveler, so is always available. This spring doesn’t stay in the same place; it follows wherever we go, and can be found wherever we are.
- And what if a desert dweller found a spring within his or her own tent? The person who is always turned outward thinks happiness lies outside him or herself. But turning within, one finds “water gushing up to eternal life.”
Kierkegaard has little sympathy for the institutional church, which he compares to a hospital where all the patients are dying. Efforts to find the cause of their illness fail, because it comes from the building. “This whole pile of lumber of an established Church, which from time immemorial has not been ventilated…the air has developed poison.”
No wonder the title is Provocations!