I took a class on Faith Development while I was at Samford University. We were studying it predominantly through developmental psychology as the name suggests, primarily through the work of James Fowler. At the beginning of the course, however, we spend a good deal of time in theological and personal reflection. Reading Paul Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith was a critical part of that process. At another point our instructor tasked up with bringing an object, creating a representation, or performing an action that represented what James Fowler called “faith” and “the ultimate environment.” This parable about how faith works was my contribution to class that day.
Written in Birmingham, AL in Spring 2013.
There once was a man striving to find the kingdom of heaven. He looked everywhere, considering everything, and asking every creature. He was more than a renaissance man — he approached every task along his quest with the aptitude of an expert.
When he considered the light, he did so as a genius physicist.
When he examined the waters, he did so as a hydrologist.
When he analyzed the land around him,
turning over every stone, he did so as a practiced geologist.
When he scrutinized the plants, he was a brilliant botanist.
When he asked the sea animals, he was a marine biologist;
when he interrogated the birds, an orithologist;
the wild animals, a zoologist;
the creeping things, an entomologist.
When it came to his fellow humans, he asked them as
a political scientist,
as everything, even as an ethnomusicologist.
He even studied literature, music, art, and feeling, but could not find the kingdom in any branch of
or revealing writing.
He sought the kingdom all over the world until he had collected a vast array of different disciplines, variant art forms, and singular emotions, each unique, contained, and separate banks of knowledge and feeling, all stored in specialized compartments of his head and heart.
Baffled that with all his disparate skill sets, areas of specialty, and endless talents, he could still not find the kingdom of heaven, he consigned to ask his friend the saint. She smiled as he recounted his story and paused for a moment in silence.
After a while, she said simply, “For all the knowledge and feeling of the earth, you lack the knowledge and feeling of heaven.”
“Where can I find the things of heaven?” he asked desperately.
She replied, “In everything at once.”