Step one: identify the problem. Step two: come up with a solution. Step three: solve the problem. I understand this process of problem solving and yet somehow I find myself time and again getting stuck between steps two and three. It’s all well and good to come up with a solution; to understand how to solve my problems but putting that solution into action appears to be harder than it sounds. That disconnect between our thoughts and our actions is hard one. We can have all sorts of plans and ideals going around and around in our minds, and yet actually living our lives according to those ideals and plans can go very wrong.
There is a little known German fairy tale, first recorded by the Grimm brothers, titled, “The Shreds” that shows how important it is to not only think what is good but to do what is good as well.
It is a short little story about a beautiful girl who is so lazy that while she is spinning thread and comes upon a knot, she will pull off the knot and throw it on the ground. Her maidservant, on the other hand, is so industrious that she picks up these threads, cleans them, and weaves into a dress. A young man falls in love with the lazy maiden and they are betrothed, but on their wedding day, the maidservant wears the dress she wove from the shreds and dances in it. The beautiful maiden complains and tells her bridegroom that the dress is made from her shreds. The young man, then sees how lazy the beautiful maid is compared to her maidservant and he decides to marry the maidservant instead.
This is a clear cautionary tale against laziness, but using Swedenborg’s science of correspondences, a more spiritual meaning can be seen as well.
The beautiful maiden corresponds to an affection for spiritual truths while her maidservant is an affection for natural truths (Arcana Coelestia 4073, 9059). A thread corresponds to the literal sense of the word and spinning could possibly be a symbol for spiritual thought or the work of understanding what is spiritual (Apocalypse Explained 1042). When the lazy girl pulls off the knots that appear in her threads this could correspond to those contradictions that can make the literal sense of the word so confusing. Therefore her laziness is a spiritual laziness. She is an affection for the spiritual truths so she wants to skip over the confusing and easily construed literal sense and get straight to the correspondences. Her maidservant, on the other hand, takes those contradictions and dense sections of the word, and cleans them. She makes sense of them on the literal level but she doesn’t stop there. She also weaves a dress out of them. A garment corresponds to truth (Arcana Coelestia 5954) and dancing corresponds to gladness of the affection of spiritual truth (Arcana Coelestia 9339).
The maidservant has found the internal meaning of the word through the literal meaning. She is an affection for the natural truths of the word, she worked through those confusing things that can obscure the spiritual truths of the word and wears her new found natural truth as a garment. Then she dances in that garment, celebrating the spiritual truths that can be found through the natural truths of the word. The young man corresponds to our intelligence or intellect (Arcana Coelestia 7668). At first, we can see the beauty of the spiritual sense of the word and want to join our intellect to the affection for it. But we then see how the natural sense of the word celebrates the spiritual sense and that by working through the difficult natural truths, the spiritual truths can be that much more beautiful and useful. If we put in the hard work of working through the literal sense of the word, its messages can be that much more useful.
The lazy girl spent all her time contemplating the spiritual sense of the word, while her maidservant did the work and found a use for the truths of the word and celebrated them.
This is not to say that the internal meaning of the word is not important. I used the internal meaning of the word to find an internal meaning for this story. But I do think it is important to remember the literal sense and to not just brush it off as a means to an ends (the internal sense). Rather, it can be an opportunity for us to enjoy the stories in the word, to celebrate how the spiritual sense shines through the contradictions. It serves the use of connecting us to the internal meaning and in turn for us to use the internal meaning in order to be useful in this world.
Bringing all my thoughts into the real world takes work, and it can be very difficult. But it is better to do that work and put my thoughts into action that can be useful, than to spend all my time contemplating usefulness without fulfilling it. My goal is to not just think about solving my problems but to actually do it. I want to clean the threads and weave a dress, so that I can dance in it.