In a land of verdant fields and ochre earth lived a people who fell in love with voice of the sea. The people stood on its shore as the deep blue billows beckoned, “Come closer and I’ll tell you of a great kingdom with golden hills and emerald trees. The far kingdom is on my distant shore. I’ll carry you there if you build stout boats and lower them into my arms.”
The people longed to see the far kingdom. A handful of men set sail into the waves which lifted their boat playfully, passing them from swell to swell, until they disappeared from sight. When the men failed to return, the people exclaimed, “They must have found the kingdom,” for there were no signs of shipwreck or storm.
In their rush to build boats, the people devoured their forests. Some built simple skiffs, choosing to sail alone. Others constructed sturdy ships to ferry whole families across the water. Each builder had faith in his own plans, proclaiming, “My craft will not fail.”
Once a grizzled man washed up on the beach. “Where is your boat? Did you reach the far kingdom,” the people cried, but he staggered past them into his hut, and locked the door tight.
“Silly old shipbuilder. Where he failed, we’ll succeed,” the people said, and soon forgot him. They drew up elaborate plans. They christened larger ships to travel in style.
One day a young man came running down the beach. “Stop building. I have found a bridge to the far kingdom.”
“Nonsense,” the people laughed, “No one could bridge that distance. A sturdy boat of your own design is the surest way to reach the far kingdom.”
“No,” said the man, “There is a place where a bridge can cross. I’ve walked on it and I’ve seen the wreckage of our ships as they tried to sail underneath. They were driven by high winds, battered by strong rains, and dashed upon large rocks. This bridge is the only safe passage.”
The people refused to believe and kept on building.
A door opened quietly and the lonely seafarer emerged from his hut. His back was a broken mast; his eyebrows, two whitecaps above storm-filled eyes. “This man speaks the truth,” he said, “I’ve witnessed the wreckage. I barely escaped myself. I’d like to hear more about the bridge.”
“Show us this bridge and we’ll believe,” the people insisted.
The young man led them up the cliffs and down the coast until they spied a high span reaching across the waves far below. The road leading to the bridge was built of stone, firm and unyielding, so unlike the ever-changing sea. From the heights they could see a distant, gleaming tower, but they could also see dark storm clouds gathering over the water. “Don’t be afraid. The bridge is solid. It will hold and keep you safe. Trust the builder and cross safely to the far kingdom.”
“No,” the people cried, “The bridge is too high. The winds will blow, the rains will buffet, and we will fall over the side into darkness.” They returned to their shipbuilding. “We’re wiser than before. We’ve seen the storm. We’ve seen the rocks. We’ll strengthen our ships and reach the kingdom alive.”
Only the seafarer remained, “I no longer trust the sea’s voice. No one can restrain her, nor can she be befriended. But, this road is solid and well built. The bridge is raised high, but remains anchored to the rock. I’m weary of living among foolish shipbuilders, tossed about by wind and waves. I would rather live among the people of this rock.”
So the seafarer crossed the bridge and approached the lone gate to the far kingdom.
* * *
“But grandfather,” interrupted young Thomas, “The bridge you speak of is no longer there. Jakob says that it once was a way to cross, but now we must find our own way over the sea.”
Grandfather replied, “That Jakob is a witless boy. It’s true that we can no longer see the living bridge, but witnesses have verified its existence and our poets and storytellers testify to its glory. Their testimony is a light in the darkness. Walk in this light. Then, when you stand on the road that is anchored to the rock, you’ll see the bridgeway of my teaching. It holds together with a power no storm can overcome. Trust the builder and cross safely to the far kingdom.”
* * * * *
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. -- Ephesians 4:14 NIV
Inspired by an allegory in The Dialogue of Catherine of Siena
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