The Metaphor of Your Spiritual Life
What is the metaphor of your spiritual life?
Spiritual life is, by its very nature, beyond our ability to understand it. Does anyone truly grasp and appreciate all its complexities, concepts, and apparent contradictions? Each of us relies on our own metaphors to help us recognize the spiritual life within us.
Some of us see spiritual life as a crutch or a thermometer for taking our spiritual temperature. Other people approach spiritual life as a divine checklist or a roadmap for living. There are people who view spiritual life as pie in the sky when you die, bye and bye.
I know people who seem to see spiritual life as a sort of vending machine they go to when they need something. Some people see spiritual life like gambling, either hedging their bets or rolling the dice.
There are even people who approach spiritual life like fire insurance, saving them from fiery eternal punishment.
People have many metaphors for God. Some of us see God as an old man with a long white beard, checking to make sure no one is enjoying life too much. We may think of God as a father, a son, and a spirit. Some people experience God as a voice or as a way of thinking or how they feel. For some of us God is a flame of fire or the taste of bread and wine.
Our metaphors for God are often grounded in particular events or experiences. They may grow from the time we were baptized or when we felt especially close to God.
We may find God in the metaphor of a friend’s face or a specific location. I even know people who hear the voice of spiritual life in stillness.
Discovering Our Metaphors for Spiritual Life
The metaphors for spiritual life which resonate with us often tell us a great deal about ourselves.
The metaphors which draw us in have power and meaning for us. Many of us begin understanding spiritual life through other people’s metaphors. We may have inherited them or heard them from other people when we were young. People may have explained things to us in metaphors and we accepted them as true.
Those of us who received other people’s metaphors for spiritual life often get to a point when we begin to question them.
It is important our metaphors for spiritual life connect with us as deeply as possible. Some of us are drawn to tangible metaphors we can experience with our senses. Other people prefer conceptual, visionary metaphors which float just beyond our reach.
The metaphors for spiritual life may be primarily emotional or particularly analytical. We may see spiritual life as being about community or focused on our own individual internal processes.
Some people see spiritual life as guiding them through specific steps in a clear direction. Others of us live into a metaphor of openness, flexibility, and developing newness.
The time and effort we put into discovering our metaphors for spiritual life benefits us. The more deeply we explore and the more clearly we see our own metaphors, the more they can teach us.
What metaphors for spiritual life draw you into deeper understanding?
We get to know ourselves better by understanding our metaphors for spiritual life. As we gain insights we see more clearly why we choose the metaphors we do.
It can be a challenge for us not to become too closely wedded to our metaphors for spiritual life. People can become so enmeshed in their metaphors they put more energy into defending them than understanding them.
Going Beyond the Metaphor
The story of spiritual life is filled with metaphors, as well as with arguments over competing metaphors.
We can be so attracted to our own metaphors for spiritual life we forget they are metaphors.
The earliest metaphor of my spiritual life I can remember was a military one. I remember hearing about spiritual life as if it were armies marching off to war. There was talk of crusades and battles and winning victories.
Another metaphor I remember was spiritual life as an athletic contest. We talked about running a good race and disciplining ourselves.
There was a metaphor of spiritual life as a family or a community. It was as if spiritual life were a shared experience, something we all did together.
Other people have talked to me about their metaphors for spiritual life, including books and stories, movies and pieces of music.
Some of us like to see spiritual life as a journey or a pilgrimage. We like to believe we are making progress or climbing a mountain.
Our metaphors for spiritual life are still metaphors, not the complete picture. There is always more.
Beginning With the Metaphor of Spiritual Life
It is essential for us to appreciate whether we are seeing spiritual life clearly.
Our metaphors for spiritual life allow us to see in new ways, though there are still aspects which remain obscured.
The metaphors we choose to understand spiritual life are imperfect images. They draw us in and persuade us with their power and meaning. Metaphors can highlight things we might have missed. They also make it more challenging to recognize the value of other aspects of spiritual life.
My own most recent metaphor for spiritual life is sitting in a rocking chair, watching a fire in a fireplace.
I try to set aside ideas of competition and combat, and even the notion of making progress toward a goal. We are not taking a trip or even climbing a mountain.
Spiritual life lives in us, filling us and drawing us into itself. We take time to sit still, breathe deeply, and listen. It is not about struggling or trying to earn enough points. Spiritual life fills us with new life, day after day, one breath at a time.
What is the metaphor of our spiritual life today?
How can we begin this week to go beyond our own metaphors for the world around us, and within us?
[Image by KIUKO]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is http://StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.