April 5, 2017: Beauty for Ashes: A Parable

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Part 1: The Search and Rescue
She was so grateful for her rescue. Years before, curled up like a bundle of rags, she had pleaded with the dawn that today her rescue would come. She would dull the pain in “skivvying” and scrubbing, and scold herself for the ridiculous audacity of hope. Cinderella’s mother had died when she was young, but old enough that Cinderella had caught the full assault upon her heart. Her father had never recovered and in his own pain, chose to withdraw into frozen silence. On the days that he would stop to look at his daughter, Cinderella was never certain as to the object of his gaze. Had he noticed her or was he looking at the gathering impression of his wife in Cinderella’s countenance? Cinderella allowed herself the luxury of doubt but she could afford no such comfort with her stepmother. It had all happened very quickly, an overseas business deal, perhaps the slightest warming in her father’s cold heart… and suddenly the house was occupied by a woman with a permanent smile but whose eyes betrayed a very contrary spirit. For a few hours, Cinderella had even wondered if this might be the rescue that she had dreamed of. It was not.

Cinderella was hidden from sight. Artful excuses were supplied for her absence at the dinner table and, if truth be told, her father found it easier to live with the lies. And then one wild and supernatural night, her spirited godmother came and within hours Cinderella was in the arms of the Prince. As he swept her around the dance floor, he held her closer than any man had ever held her and promised, “There are many things that are dispensable to me. I can create and re-create whatever I want to. You, however,” he said, looking straight into her eyes, “You, my beloved, are not on that list. You are unique and irreplaceable.” And as the clock struck twelve, he breathed, “You are the very object of my love.”

And then her rescue took the strangest turn. Back in the scullery, stooped over graying embers, she pleaded that today her Prince would come. And as the ashes hissed in the fireplace, she was certain that she heard his voice, “At night on my bed, I looked for the one I love; I looked for her but could not find her. I got up and went around the city, in the streets and squares, looking for the one I love. I looked for her but could not find her. The watchmen found me as they patrolled the city, so I asked, ‘Have you seen the one I love?’” It had never occurred to Cinderella that the Prince might also feel the pain of their separation. But if his love was as immeasurable and unending as he had whispered, how deep and profound must be his sense of sorrow and rejection in her unexplained disappearance. And Cinderella was right. For in truth, if anybody knew the pain of love unreturned, it was the Prince.

When at last he found her, he exchanged her dirty rags for royal robes. He placed his ring upon her finger, threw his arms around her, and kissed her again and again. As he held her close, he told her, “Beloved, let me make you what you cannot be alone. Let me take you where you cannot go alone. You were not created to live your life in the absence of my love. There is a dream for your life you can’t even begin to imagine without my love. Let me remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

And so closes chapter 1. The search and rescue are complete. But after the rescue, what happens next? Would it be “happily ever after” from here on? Cinderella’s story reaches a fork in the road. Should she turn left or right?

Part 2: Left Turn
There was something about the Prince that reminded Cinderella of her father. This was a blessing, but also a source of great pain. It was a blessing because for all her father’s icy emotions, she still loved him. But pain came when she recalled her father’s rejection. Cinderella remembered the Prince’s assurance, “Call upon me and come to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” But how could she give her broken heart to this promise? What if the Prince was just like her father?

And then there were her stepsisters and stepmother. They had written to Cinderella, “We do not deserve your forgiveness, but we are truly sorry for all the pain that we have caused you and with all our heart, we would ask you to please forgive us.” Cinderella told herself that she forgave them, but she dare not write back. “What if they should hurt me again?” she mused. Sometimes, in the dead of night, she would creep down to the kitchen and, desperate to find some sense of self-worth, she would take a mop and pail, and clean the kitchen floor. “You can take the girl out of the scullery,” she told herself, “but you can’t take the scullery out of the girl.” And when she was done, she would drag her soiled and weary body back to her room and hide her dirty clothes under the bed, grateful that the Prince had not seen her. How could he possibly love her if he ever saw her like this? Except, the Prince saw everything and although she never let him back into her room, there was never a moment when he was not standing at her door, waiting for her invitation and loving her.

Part 3: Right Turn
The Prince had assured her that her days of captivity and slavery were ended. Even though she was now in a very different Kingdom, she could not help but recall the torment and misery of her past. Her sleep was disturbed with nightmares that replayed her cruel history. In the daylight, these memories would surface to wound and torment her. But she found a strategy. It began almost by accident. Once again, the night terrors had crept into her room and had bullied her heart into a painful semi-consciousness. As she lay there, she cried out to the Prince. For a moment, she wondered if he was not already in the room. As she pondered his presence, she recalled his words, “You, are my beloved. You are unique and irreplaceable. You are the very object of my love.”

There was something about the Prince that reminded her of her father. And this was a blessing, but also a source of great pain. It was a blessing because for all her father’s lack of affection, she still loved him. But pain came when she remembered her father’s rejection. She remembered the Prince’s promise, “Call upon me and come to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Indeed, the Prince’s love for her was as real as if he were physically present. Increasingly, she found that when her father came to mind she saw the brokenness of his heart, and somehow it was easier to forgive him and to love him.

And then there were her stepsisters and her stepmother. It seemed strange that having been so sinned against that she had first to confess and repent but so sure was she of the Prince’s love that it did not take long to acknowledge the secret desire for revenge that lie in the darkest, coldest recesses of her heart, the vengeance that she quietly craved. She brought this to the Prince, who heard her confession, delighted in her repentance, and gave her the strength to write back and tell them that she forgave them.

And yet for all this love, confession and forgiveness, there were moments when Cinderella felt utterly worthless. Here she was crowned with all this beauty that she was certain she did not deserve. Often in the dead of night, desperate to feel some sort of self-worth, she would creep down to the kitchen, take a mop and pail, and clean the kitchen floor. “You can take the girl out of the scullery,” she told herself, “but you can’t take the scullery out of the girl.”

Then one night, as her tears mixed with the cold, soapy water that splashed the kitchen floor, she recognized his watchful presence. His watch was very gentle and somehow, she recognized his gaze. As he stepped toward her, she wondered if he was going to reproach her. She could not have anticipated his response. Kneeling at her side, he took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and, taking the mop from her, he began to scrub. His brushing went back and forth, back and forth over the flagstone floor and in the rhythm of his cleaning, her mind raced. And as the memories came in like a flood, she wept at the realization that in every recollection, in every framed memory of such terrible cruelty, there was her Prince — not standing at her side, but standing in her place; despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, familiar with her suffering; ragged, bloody and torn, like one from whom men hide their faces, despised, and esteemed not. And as the sun rose, it dawned upon Cinderella that by the light of his love, that by his wounds, she truly could be healed.

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