Saturday, December 03, 2005

Parable of the Gypsy Tramp and Her Dress of Gold Coins

In a large vault of stone and steel, leaded glass windows dark at eventide, Christ stands at the altar next to his Bride, the Church. She is dressed in rich brocade, and a long train, with a gold crown. Church is thin and aging -"trim" - some would say, but manages a game smile. After all, is the Son of God not still at her side? But she is haughty, and does not remember her humble beginnings in the houses of the early Christians. She only got this perpetual church wedding when the rich neighbors, the citizens of Rome, noticed her artless beauty as they passed by. Christ stands with great dignity in simple garments, newly washed and sanctified. But he is incredibly sad.

Outside, sitting on the front steps of the huge vaulted cathedral, is a streetlady in a tattered dress. Looking more closely, you see that it's a kind of gypsy dress, fabricated of a mesh of gold coins. Looking even more closely, you can see that every coin is different, inscribed with the names of earthly beings - each a species. In some sections, there's an occasional missing coin. But in others, whole sections are rent asunder.

She stands and goes to the massive entrance doors and tries them. They remain closed and locked. The dress drags on the stone, clinking. As she returns to the steps, the setting sun streams from a break in the heavy clouds, and one can see that underneath the large areas where the dress is torn, the flesh is festering, raw open wounds. In other areas the wounds seem to be healing. She is battered, but a tough lady nonetheless. Her face is sad, but not hard like the Bride's inside. Earth's visage is one of compassion, the face of a mother and a survivor. She has the beauty of a devoted mother who was the prettiest girl in the valley as she approaches menopause.

It is hard for Earth to remember when these doors last opened, and she went inside to dance with the critters, who would come in from the forest, and Christ, the Lord of the Dance, her brother. In those days, the forest was vast, towering over the Vault, which was more like a town chapel. And the creatures who came out on Feast Days made a vast procession, a veritable ark.

In the times when the story of this sister first went around the circles of the friends of the bride, Earth was something like Cinderella, the sister who got left at home. But she would dress for the dance anyway. In that story, she put on her dress with the many coins and noticed one was missing. She swept the cottage floor again, trying to find the missing coin. Surely nobody would notice one coin missing. Nobody, that is, except her Brother, who minted all the coins at the beginning of the cosmic dance. Did the Book not say that He noticed the least sparrow that falls? But if it's a whole species, all the song sparrows falling, what then?

That land - the one where her brother was born - was one where the cedars grew tall in huge forests, the lion hunted, and the mustard grew as tall as trees. Do you know how these beings fare in that land now? And here, in the land of the cathedral with the massive doors and vaulted towers - how do they fare? How did our Mother become so destitute? We were told to be her stewards, to dress and keep her. We certainly have kept her, but we're not doing so well with the dressing. Stewards? We've systematically abused her, stripping her coins as we enjoy her abundant, ever-giving flesh.

Some of the primitive folk who missed the wedding we sanctify in the Vault still believe that getting under that dress is wrong, that the wounds are sacreligious, never healing. But they're superstitious. We know better. If there's gold lining that tinkling cloak, how much more might we find underneath? Remember the goose that laid the golden egg?

Next Week, Part II of this Advent Tale

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