I read this great parable the other day in Anthony De Mello’s book, “The Song of the Bird.”
The explorer returned to his people, who were eager to know about the Amazon. But how could he ever put into words the feelings that flooded his heart when he saw exotic flowers and heard the night-sounds of the forest; when he sensed the danger of wild beasts or paddled his canoe over treacherous rapids?
He said, “Go and find out for yourselves.”
To guide them he drew a map of the river. They pounced upon the map. They framed it in their town hall. They made copies of it for themselves. And all who had a copy considered themselves experts on the river, for did they not know its every turn and bend, how broad it was and how deep, where the rapids were and where the falls?”
When I finished reading it there was a lump in my throat. Like all good parables it speaks volumes of truth. It may be the best description of the problem in American Christianity today. In the 50s and 60s we hung the Ten Commandments (maps) in courtrooms and then denied men and women the right to vote. In church we study the Bible (map) and read it in worship, then over look our call to love, to justice, to grace and compassion.
Have we experienced the river, or just memorized the maps? Are we disciples, or just spiritual cartographers?