The Parable of the Twins: A Holy Week Reflection

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,
neither has there entered into the heart of man,
the things God has prepared for them that love Him.”  (1 Corinthians 2:9)

In Our Greatest Gift (Harper One, 2009, pp. 18-19), Henri Nouwen imagines twins talking to each other in their mother’s womb—discussing the notion of life after birth.  A version of the story which I received and modified goes like this:

Once upon a time there were twin boys who were conceived in the same womb.

Weeks passed and the twins developed. As their awareness grew, they laughed for joy: “Isn’t it great! Isn’t it great to be alive in here?! Isn’t it great that -we were conceived?!” Together those twins explored their world. When they found their mother’s cord which gave them life, they sang for joy: “How great is our mother’s love that she shares her own life with us!” And again the celebration continued.

As weeks stretched into months, though, the twins noticed how much each other was changing.

“What does it mean?,” asked one of them.

“It means our stay it this world is drawing to an end,” said the other.

“But I don’t want to go!,” said the one. “I want to stay here always!”

“Aw, we have no choice,” said the other. “But, maybe there’s life after birth.”

“Oh, but how can there be?” whined the first. “We will shed our life cord. And how is life possible without it? Besides, we’ve never seen evidence of life after birth. I mean, there’s evidence all around us of others who were here before us, but none of them returned to tell us that there’s life after birth. Oh, this is the end… If conception ends at birth, what is the purpose of life in the womb? It’s meaningless… Maybe there’s no mother after all!”

“But there has to be,” said the other. “How else did we get here? How do we remain alive?”

“Have you ever seen your mother?” asked the first. “Maybe she only lives in our minds. Maybe we just made her up because the idea made us feel good.”

And so, their last days in the womb were filled with deep questioning and fear.

parable twinsBut, finally,
the moment of birth arrived. And when
the twins had passed from their old world, their eyes were opened.
They cried.
For what they saw exceeded their fondest dreams and wildest imaginings.

And tenderly,
oh so tenderly,
their mother cradled them in her arms.

Among other things,
I am stuck by the relative terms
by which we frame life and living, birth and dying.
The radical adjustments which a newborn makes:
these we can choose to define as “birth.”
The radical adjustments which we make
on the way from this world to the next:
these we choose to define as “dying.”

For my part, I hate to separate the two:
my birth demands my dying,
my dying invites new birth.
It’s the tale of the newborn.
It is the profound mystery of Lent and Easter.

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