Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Metaphors

I found this photo on a blog, The Feathered Nest. A nest in a bird cage. A nest is a symbol of new life, of nurturing. An empty nest is a metaphor for letting that young life free. And a cage is a good analogy for trying to hold what wishes to be free. I got stuck thinking about metaphors. I wanted to write something drectly about the image above... but this post came out instead.


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A spear of light pierced the dark, pooling around the antique wooden chest with the metal straps and reinforced corners. The humped lid swung up and away, revealing, nothing, just an empty box.

The first gold coin turned slowly as it fell, dropping into the container on the smooth grey floor. A steady stream of gold coins followed, filling it up with the weight of precious metal, filling to the top, heaping above the top. It would be too heavy for one person to lift. The metal handles on each side were large enough for each to be grasped by two hands, which is what it would take to lift so much gold.


The sound of the coins striking each other, the rich sound of wealth, quieted and a powerful humming, almost choral sound grew.

A piece of rectangular paper fluttered, rocked from side to side as it sought its place on the pile of coins. The chorus rose. An indistinct, deep, swelling of voices that did not stop for breath, swung its unified voice, a dramatic sound of hope and joy and love and promise, rose as another piece of green currency fluttered down and joined the first.

The rumble of voices, voices that sounded as if they could sing joyously forever without tiring, grew soft as the currency continued to drift through the air, bill after bill, until all the gold was covered.

The sight of all that wealth seemed more of a promise of personalized joy than a symbol of material wealth.

A deep thrumming slowly replaced the chorus. The rumble seemed to be saying something, though I could not make out the words. But if that distant thunder could be described as a feeling, and if that feeling could be translated into words, it would be: "I promise."

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They say all people dream. Most people I ask tell me that though they may dream, they are unaware of it. They awake and if there is anything left of their dreams it is a diaphanous veil, more feeling than memory.

Apparently I differ in this respect.

I remember my dreams.

I remember them as clearly as I remember any other experience. A few of them are vivid enough that they stand clearly in my mind for years and years.

Like the big moments of my waking life.

I remember a little boy, not too far off my own age, saluting a horse-drawn casket accompanied by soldiers in their finest dress down a street lined with crowds.


I remember lying on the living room floor watching the grainy, black and white, flickering sight of a man in heavy clothing and a round white helmet descending a ladder onto the dusty surface of another world. I was 13.


I remember a man standing atop a wall against the backdrop of sky, a crowd cheering as he swung a hammer... and another image of that same wall falling from repeated hammer blows. My heart swelled as I realized that the ridiculous promise that an elementary school desk would protect me from nuclear holocaust would not be told to another generation. The Cold War had ended.


I remember a column of white smoke forking in the sky. I remember the pounding of my heart as something I had never seen in all my viewings of launches from Cape Canaveral, creating that enormous white Y as the announcer stumbled in his descriptions, unsure of what we had just witnessed.


I remember my wife telling me of a plane crash as I left for work, and then, a few minutes after arriving, learning that a second plane had crashed in New York City. The image of an expanding ball of flame duplicating the smoke which already poured from an identical building is frozen in my memory.


I remember certain moments so clearly, even when they are dreams.

I remember the chest filled with gold and currency with the sound of enormous power stepping itself down to a small rumble so a mortal might understand.

For me dreams are like any other experience.

I recall dreams from when I was five, ones that had the same sort of import as the events which etched themselves in my waking life.

For me there are distinct types of dreams. Some are mere flotsam. Bits and pieces of my life, jumbled together and being placed in convenient spots of my mind... just a bit of psychological housekeeping.

Some are messages from myself to myself. Bits of advice from the subconscious.

Others a fantasies. Experiences I would like to have, often breaking laws of physics.

And some are not mine at all. Some are clearly messages from outside my mind and heart.

Those are the important ones. They have a quality different than the others. There is always a sense of importance to them, an importance that I feel while I am dreaming, which is stamped on them ever after. They have in common a simplicity outside my normal dreams of bizarre plot twists.

Though many of my dreams may incorporate real places, things, there is often the added dimension of metaphors to them.

The night before the dream of the treasure chest I had prayed.

"Lord, tomorrow we see the lawyer. Tomorrow we begin spending money we don't have. Guide me Lord. Shall we adopt this child? Is this the son you promised me? If we adopt him, make him ours, how will I care for him? I'm going to school and money is tight. How will we buy the furniture, clothing, food, toys, all the things we will need to raise this child? Lord, I need an answer now. I need an answer before 10:00 tomorrow morning. Bless me, Lord. And Lord, if this is what You want... if adopting this boy is Your desire for me, then I make You this promise... I give him back to You. I will raise him the way You would have me raise him, and I will love him, and I will dedicate him to You. What you choose to do with his life, I will stand firmly behind. I give You my first child, my first son. May his life please You, if it is Your will that we take him into our home."

That next morning I was certain. The treasure we longed for, the gift of a child of our own would be fulfilled. The empty chest of my heart that longed for a son, would be filled. I would get the thing I treasured. And as for my fears for how I would raise him, how I would find the money to feed, and clothe him, I needn't worry. It was all covered.

We went to the attorney that day. A few months later my first child was born. He came home with us less than a day old.

I kept my word. A month later I threw a celebratory feast for my closest friends. And at that table, after we had blessed our meal and eaten our fill, I prayed that prayer of dedication.

"Lord, You have blessed me with my heart's desire. We have our child. But he isn't just ours. And so I pray, and I promise, that this first son is Yours, Lord. Whatever Your will, whatever You want me to do in raising this child, I do in obedience to You. I give him to You. I will be his teacher, his provider, his father, but all in Your name Lord. Because You gave this child to me, I give him to You. --Amen."

A little over two months later the Lord took that child home.

A few weeks after that, in packing away clothing and toys and pacifiers, and cards and gifts, we came to a startling conclusion. Gifts of food, clothing, furniture, money, totaled within $10 of all we had spent on that child, my son, Willy.

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It was a painful year. I hurt. I was depressed. Suicidal.

But I came out of the experience with a deeper understanding of sorrow, and surprisingly, of joy.

Now I have more children. Two more. And though they present challenges, and though they cannot learn the things I had hoped to teach my children, I feel extremely blessed.

I look back at the first child's life and I see meaning. I see symbology in a short life, one that passes through so quickly that all it gathered in its quick sojourn through this world was the basic experience of birth, parents, taste, touch, smells, sight. No crawling. No walking. But a bright soul headed toward eternity with the simple experience of mortality.

People see metaphors all the time. We see the cross and think of forgiven sin, and the suffering endured by eternity in experiencing tortured deicide.

We see the six pointed star and think of a people gathered beneath a flawed king who established a lineage, a family that led to that day of ultimate sacrifice at Golgotha.

For three years the incarnate God walked among us, listened to our sorrows, healed our wounds, washed our feet, feed us when we hungered, and told us stories.

He told us stories that held meaning. Important morality tales which shed light on matters of the spirit, and matters of daily living.

Jesus taught us through parables.

It is natural for us to think that way. We like metaphors. We use symbols to represent sounds, events, empires, points about faith and morality, all things of our minds are represented in many ways, in symbols and metaphors.

We dream that way, we speak that way.

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Brenda is confused. If God is good, if He loves us, why would He let us suffer? Why would He let evil roam unfettered?

It is a common question. We seem to have an innate sense of what is right, what is wrong, and much we see of the world seems very, very wrong.

There are the usual answers to the question, about free will, about choices, about how God works good out of the hurts we inflict on each other.

A more interesting question for me is why do I believe all the stronger when I too have been hurt the same ways as she, and I have the passion for science which relies only on what is measurable, testable?

I have had some strange experiences which reinforce my faith, a vision of Jesus when I was six, two experiences with angels, a miraculous healing from a life-threatening illness. Dreams which felt outside my reality.

But my faith does not spring from those experiences.

My faith springs from my soul. There is something inside me which recognizes the truths of faith regardless of circumstances or evidence.

Metaphors in dreams, parables in scripture, examples of spiritual truths looming large in ordinary events, such as the quiet death of an infant, speak to me.

And the amazing realities of science (see previous post) which demonstrate a universe beyond human proportions, human imagination (though I work hard at grasping those proportions) speak to me of greatness, glory, care, love, power and control which I heard echoed in the rumble of certain dreams.

Do I believe in God?

Should we believe in God?

I think we have it backwards.

At the limits of human exploration of what might be at the tiniest of levels, at the level below that of sub atomic particles, at the level of quarks and 12 dimensional strings singing the universe into being, we find that everything is chance. The patterns and order we see in the newtonian universe seem to be completely random.

It seems that the effect of a mind can have more influence on what is than the laws of the universe. The act of observing somehow constrains things to behave outside their random nature.

If one throws one's mind down into the realm of quantum mechanics and turns to gaze upward at the world we experience, we see that the "real" world is as imaginary as a dream.

In this dream of what we believe is reality we question the existence of God.

We should question our own existence.

Might we be metaphors?

Might I not be the question: "How does a soul respond to the experiences of being raised this particular way, having those particular experiences, walking that particular path?"

We want God to prove Himself to us. To show us He cares and loves and has control over a world where evil roams and pain is common and grief and longing drive us in directions away from Him.

Perhaps we have it backwards.

Perhaps we should prove ourselves to Him.

Life sucks.

Life is wonderful.

Life is all things, and what we decide, what we do, how we choose to stand, how we choose to live, is far more important than the sorrows that might cross our path in the brief time we walk this world of ephemeral living, this realm of mortality.

I am ready to accept things I don't want to accept. I am ready to do things I would rather not.

If it pleases Him, I am ready.

6 comments:

The Feathered Nest said...

Wonderful post Will. What matters most is our reaction to what happens in our lives...not the action itself. And that our reaction truly speaks of our faith and love for our Lord. It is our purpose to react in a way that pleases Him...you are very welcome for the photo, Dawn

Fred said...

It was a great first read. I'll be back again tomorrow to soak it all in.

MoziEsmé said...

The metaphor of the photo is thought-provoking.

You've got a lot packed into one post. Much like life, the mood goes up and down and sometimes leaves me wondering how things connect. Your ending ties it together, though - we may not like what life hands us, or we may love it - but the key is acceptance, and knowing He is in control.

Still in a half-awakened fog of mind this morning - I'll be thinking about this more.

Fuschia said...

I, too, question why I believe so passonately, and others do not.
"Perhaps we should prove ourselves to Him"...genius!!

Pia said...

hi will. hmm... you are in my prayers. i celebrate with you in your successes and blessings. i cry with you in times of pain. i know how it feels. but more than anything else, God knows the desires of our hearts. delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. that is true, just don't give up on God. He'll never give up on you nor your marriage. He's still in the healing business. hang in there, bro!

KAN said...

You have undoubtedly one of the most awesome posts on this blogsphere. You put so much into one post, that I find myself reading and re-reading different passages, not wanting to miss what you're saying, or being careful not to read more into your writings than you intend.

Not knowing you at all, I find myself dissecting your words. I love to write, love to read, and after teaching high school English for over 17 years, I tend to do that rather automatically. I want to know what the writer is truly writing. I have always "hated" poetry, for that very reason. I feel people are telling what's on their heart, and it really isn't my business to try to "figure" them out.

Thanks again for this post. You are a complex man, I'm sure... Just like I know about myself: God isn't finished with you yet. You have so much more to do for Him in this lifetime.