I am a writer, a speaker, and a teacher; but I'm perhaps more aware, and more wary, of language than many people are, possibly because I work so closely with words and communication. Language can be precise and laser-sharp; but it can also be profoundly contingent, contextual, and obfuscating or even meaningless in certain circumstances.
When gods and religions originate in one culture, often far away geographically and temporally, the language and context in which they are originally articulated is very specific. Translation can occur to other cultures, languages, and times, but it is never as precise as one might hope, nor as loaded with cultural associations and symbolic baggage (which can equally well be understood as "symbolic nuance") as in the original context. This is where the Greek translation of "translation" becomes useful: metaphor. Imagery, gestures, and even emotions or feelings -- those most difficult-to-encapsulate aspects of human experience -- can actually be easier to understand than language in such cases.
While I think it is possible that some people get direct messages from their gods, I've never experienced this myself. What I have experienced is a very deep level of myself putting into short and pithy words or phrases a particular experience of divine realities. I can see things that the gods show me, in visions, in dreams, in synchronicities amidst daily life, in examining mythology or ancient texts and archaeological remains, and in interactions with other people. My experiences of direct communication from gods have been vision-based, but rarely is there a linguistic component. Thus the words for these experiences, and the understandings of them, come from me and are my own -- and thus, they can be inaccurate or not fully understood at an initial stage.
I assume, then, that the same is true of others, and that the assurance many have at what the gods have shown them or told them may be more due to their own unconscious impulses and desires than to the gods' direct decrees. Rarely, in my experience, do the gods give direct answers, or directives of any sort that are easy to enact nor do they give step-by-step instructions. While it is possible, and some people are genuinely insightful and inspired oracles, even these pronouncements have to be tempered with discernment and deep reflection.
Thus, in my understanding, the gods do not speak; the gods show. It is up to us to speak what has been shown, using that imprecise and yet wondrous tool called language.
Read more from: Does God Really Talk to Us?
11/15/2010 5:00:00 AM