I am sitting this morning, as has become my usual, witnessing the magic of the growing light in the garden. There are invisibly fine spider lines criss-crossing between trees — visible now and again as the light plays on them and they are stirred in the breeze, so fine that a person walking across the lawn would be unaware of passing through them.
Some are clear and luminous. Others manifest red or gold. Yet all are the same — the intersection of the light with the purity of their form combined with the culture of the surrounding garden. Now, if two or three others, all unaware of this dynamic, were sitting with me, a few feet apart, one would say that the spider’s work was a line of clear light, another, a shaft of fire, and yet another a strand of shimmering gold. Of course, all would be correct because that which we perceive is coloured by point in time, position, the physical qualities of that which we perceive, the reflection of the surroundings and the ability of the viewer to understand the nature of what is visible.
Is not religion much the same? Each is coloured by time, culture and the collective maturity of the witnesses. Yet, we choose to fight over our varying perceptions, shedding one another’s blood, discrediting points of reference that differ from our own, seeing the varying effects as more important than the source. Why is it that we do this — generation after generation, century after century? What would prompt us to witness something of such fluid and surpassing beauty while dogmatically defining it according to the vagaries of passing time, place, our own mortality and the vain confidence in the correctness of our myopic vision? That particular question I leave to you, readers, to ponder and maybe even discuss with your friends. But perhaps a further note may be of assistance with your musing.
I believe that one of the most significant oversights of western culture and of education in particular is learning to see life metaphorically. After all, if the universe and this earthly existence is a mere reflection, a shadow, of reality, and, if the contingent (us dependent beings) can have no access whatsoever to the absolute (not conditioned on anything —God) we can know Him only through His attributes and not through His essence. And if that is the case, any beneficial knowledge and understanding of the attributes will, on one hand, vary according to one’s circumstances and, on the other hand, be valuable only to the extent that we are able to view physical reality metaphorically — to translate between the concrete and the abstract.
Would it not be beneficial to teach ourselves and our children to think metaphorically, to move across the bridge between concrete and abstract, in order to benefit from the experience of life, to remain in the serene depths of the ocean even when the surface water is raging and foaming?
Expanding on the metaphor of the spiders’ webs, spirituality is like light. We take light for granted but, in fact, it is invisible. What we actually see is the point of intersection between light and the physical world. Light allows us to appreciate the nature of the world around us and the world, reciprocally, provides us the opportunity to understand the attributes of light.
The world is like a giant prism. When light intersects with a prism, it refracts into all the colours of the spectrum. But the prism of our metaphor is very big and we are very small so there is the tendency to identify individually with one or another of these colours and, further, to believe that our particular colour is better than other colours — all the while yearning in vain to attain the etherial beauty of pure light, unaware that light is only clear when the combination all colours occurs.
Perhaps the idea of seeing metaphorically could start as a dinner table conversation. Take a spiritual concept like love, for example, which is empirically undefinable. But we do define love by creating metaphors to better understand its attributes and through this metaphorical process we allow the beauty of love to inform our lives. We recognize love when certain conditions occur — attraction, wishing to serve, to protect, affinity with the qualities of others because they are like or compliment our own.
But none of these things defines love in its essence because we have no access to the essence of anything — not even in science. We know of things through their attributes, through metaphor. Wouldn’t it be better if we recognized this wonderful oddity of learning and became really adept at it?