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Meditation: Parable of the Brilliant Baby

Photo Credit: Angie Hill, http://www.angiehillphotography.com/Once there was a baby both brilliant and proud. He was brilliant because he grasped human language at just three weeks of age. Indeed, he could talk at six weeks. But he didn’t talk, because he was proud.
 
Why should I use the same language everyone else uses?” he thought. “That’s just imitating what others do.”
 
So instead of speaking his mother-tongue he made up his own language. At first everyone thought the infant was simply babbling like all babies do. The baby boy spoke clearly and directly in a way that made perfect sense to him: “Mother, I’m hungry,” he would say, but she did not understand his words. Because she loved her child she was acutely aware of his needs and managed to understand his hunger without understanding his language. “The fools,” thought Baby Brilliant. “Anyone can speak their language, but I have invented my own. I refuse to imitate their common speech.” Indeed, he also rejected the facial expressions common his culture. He knew that smiles meant happiness, but when he was happy he would squeeze his eyes shut and puff out his cheeks. When he was angry he would not frown, but instead hold his ears and breath. He had invented new expressions, but no one knew what he was feeling.
 
At a time when other children were learning their first words and beginning to communicate with words like “Momma” and “Dadda,” he was ready to discourse on the meaning of life. Of course, he had no one to talk to but it did not matter--his great intellect was company enough. He despised other babies and the parents who insisted they imitate the ways of society. Imitation was for sheep, brilliance demanded a new language, new thoughts, new ways. So great was his pride that he refused to communicate with others or imitate their language.
 
Eventually, at a time when other babies grew into children and toddled off to school (to imitate their elders even more) the Brilliant Baby was packed off to an institution for children “non-responsive to their surroundings.”

There, at the institution, the night nurse fell asleep while reading at her desk, but not before underlining these words by the author: "A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon."

What meaning do you assign to this story?  I’d love to know.

Reader Comments (12)

Ephesians 4:1-6

May 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Thanks Rebecca: that's concise! :-)

May 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

On one level this story might be instructive, but on another level it could be rhetorical subterfuge - intended or not. The meme of "language" and "speech" -- what are you getting at? Big words (or, "nuanced concepts?"). I have to ask because a persistent theme in your writing is something like suspicion for theology - !. I say this because of your willingness to embrace ideas like "some things have to be caught rather than taught." -- But I may be projecting ideas into this that you don't mean to. You do say that the child has "pride" which gets in the way of its communicating -- but I would like to know if you think the child might have been gifted and had "pride" only in the same old-nature sense that applies to all, gifted or not?

There is also a touchy-feely aspect to this, perhaps. You end your parable talking about the impossibility of private religion - in the context of this story, you probably mean something like "in isolation from others" - but for many people their life with Christ does not consist of chatting in church with other believers about iPhones and puppies; or even about theology. It might, for example, be about real relational matters like their committment to watch their fellow believer's back, or to help strangers, for example. If you have having trouble following my line of reasoning, think of it this way: Chatting for many women is chick crack. That's fine, that's how they are designed. A lot of 'fellowship' is something like forming bonds by chatting. There are other kinds of fellowship. - I grant that I am making sweeping generalizations. -- My not chatting about iPhones (or theology, or puppies) does not make me less of a believer; or anti-social. The kinds of masculine Christian men I like to make friends with are more 'real' in their relationship if they actually have my back than for any other reason. Not that I mind chatting with people.

May 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

Hi Charles. Thanks for your thoughts. Of course, story contains a simultaneous weakness and strength in that it is notoriously hard to pin down a precise meaning. I'm very comfortable with that, especially with a post that invites comment and genuinely wants to hear other people's understanding.

Yes, I'll admit to a certain level of suspicion regarding theology. And no, I don't think I've ever used the phrase, "some things have to be caught rather than taught."

Be well!

May 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

My apologies if I have misquoted you in this. If I have, I have conflated you with other Vineyard teachers I try to follow the writings of. - Though you spur me to re-examine your writings for signs of this idea.

May 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

Language is a resource to be shared and is not of any value when the speaker refuses to talk in the vocabulary and inflection of the listener. God's language can convey all that He understands perfectly. Our language barely conveys sufficiently what we understand. The Holy Spirit speaks to us in our language through our hearts and minds and not in the too complex language for us He is capable of. His love for us circumvents any pride in His perfect language so that we might be able to relate with Him even if only at our puny level.

What I just wrote is in a language I hope can be understood. I'm hoping it conveys the picture the story you shared (in a seemingly like language) developed in my heart and mind. Thank you for that thought and feeling stimulation.

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerm Halbach

I gather simply this: Pride can act as a means of seperating us from others, robbing us of the joys of fellowship, community, and the exchange of ideas. Moreso, this baby's pride in his own intellect not only isolated him but actually prevented anyone around him to see how 'brilliant' he really was. In the end, his pride blinded him to the wisdom that was all around. His pride was nothing short of stubborness and self-elevation that alienated him. He had created a world for himself in which he was the sole ocupant.

"A man can no more posess a private religion..." Religion by nature is about community. Iron sharpens iron and all that. There is no room for elitism in religion. Just like the baby had lost the true value of humanism by not participating in the world around him, the nature of religion - Christianity specifically - is lost in solitude.

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBonnie

Herm: you're welcome.

Bonnie: Well said! Perhaps you should've written the post? Plus, anyone who writes a sentence, "Iron sharpens iron and all that." has struck exactly the right tone. Thanks for stopping by--you're always welcome here.

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

The baby was too proud to share. Wasted gifts. Not certain bout the absolute at the end.... still considering :)

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterwabobb

Wabobb: I'm not certain about the end, either. Thanks for visiting.

May 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

When one imagines oneself as the center of the universe, as often those around us will lead us to believe, one leans inexorably toward the conclusion that we are in fact the center of the universe. Of course the sun and moon revolve around us!

In the next phase of this delusion we become mystified at first, then frustrated and angry, when the world does not appear to acknowledge our superior posture. "They are all mad!" we insist, when we were the one who drank the Kool-aide, not them.

And yet ironically, when I am bathed in the light and warmth of the sun - and of the Son - in that moment it sure does feel like it is all about me, but not in the elitist sense. Rather, that the living Creator of the universe cared enough about me in that moment, to remind me to sense the beauty of His creation, its author, and His love for me.

May 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEd

Thanks for stopping by, Ed: that sounds like a wonderful light to be bathed in.

May 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

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