One of my favorite metaphors is in Alice Walker’s essay, Beauty, When the Other Dancer is the Self. In it, she writes about her blind eye, a result of a BB gun injury from one of her brothers. She charts her relationship to her blind scarred eye, from painful adolescence to the moment when her little girl first notices it. “You have a world in your eye,“ says her daughter, carefully observing what is left of the scar tissue. All at once, her eye becomes a metaphor for the internal worlds inside Walker that have grown because of the injury. I have posted a link at the end so you can read her revelatory work for yourself.
But we all have our internal metaphors that we must explore, and the Bible is full of them as well. Jacob’s ladder, the parting of the Red Sea, the wilderness, and of course, the cross are some of my favorites. For me, Alice in Wonderland served as a deeply implanted metaphor. I did not realize until I was an adult why that book held my attention and when I did see it, it was not good.
Alice goes through a world full of crazy and mostly unfriendly beings. Nothing and no one around her is safe and in this chaotic world, she is quite alone. This is how I felt, especially in my early childhood where bullies would take me miles from home and leave me to find my way back. I believe I did not make any real friends until I went to a little Lutheran parochial school in the fourth grade.
Now I no longer identify with Alice in Wonderland. The little girl lost in the maze of the world lies in my distant past. And thank goodness! It took me years to shed the people in my life that were unsafe, but like Alice, I suppose, I have reshuffled the Queen of Hearts and her house of cards and drawn better ones.
Dreams are often the containers of these metaphors, whether from God or our subconscious. I remember a vivid dream that came about six months before I left my abusive first husband. I kept trying to leave the house. I wanted to get things done or travel but every time I made a move to leave, a ghostly white hand would grab my elbow and yank me back. I knew there was something I needed to know about this dream.
Finally, after reliving it in my mind over and over, I heard the word stronghold.
I couldn’t help but laugh. The hand with its firm grip and vicious yank backward represented a stronghold of fear. I felt stupid for not getting it sooner. And after twelve years of serious emotional and verbal abuse, I suffered under an intense stronghold of fear.
Now my current metaphor is pilgrimage. I move almost every year, and every place I go has a key to my destiny. I learn something important every step of this tumultuous journey I am on with my husband. Like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, I am on my way to the Celestial City, and oh boy, am I absorbing a lot on the way. Speaking of metaphors, that book is chock full, so much so that the whole story is an allegory.
So how do you discover what are your resonant metaphors? A little time and some self-reflection will probably teach you things you already know but didn’t know you knew. You know what I mean?
Ask yourself these questions and you will begin to unearth some of the metaphorical treasures that help us to make meaning of our lives.
- What stories really speak to you? Stories appeal to us because ‘deep calls to deep’. For a long time, Jacob wrestling with God meant a lot to me. I even have a very painful hip injury that surfaces with stress. I have wrestled and wrestled with God so much, demanding answers and blessings from Him. And yes, He won. But Jacob was blessed in the end. Definitely one of my resonant metaphors.
- What is your name? I think names have a prophetic effect on us. My name, Alice, means truth. As a longtime victim of domestic violence, I am well acquainted with lying. Prevarication of the highest order is required to cover up a home life that is a living torture. My greatest freedoms have come from telling the truth. Now I value it highly and try to live up to my name.
I find, however, that many people bear their names as a heavy burden. Like me, one of the areas they struggle most with is the meaning of their name. Find out the meaning of your name and look long and hard at its significance in your life.
- What are you attracted to? My favorite color is green. A color of new life and growth, the color green is soothing to me. I am on a constant search for personal and spiritual growth. It is in my DNA somehow. I have the luck of having a bedroom window that looks out on trees. Sunlight filters in through the bright green leaves that move from the wind, casting moving patterns of light and shadow on my bed. The only thing more soothing is the sound of the ocean.
- What stories do you tell? How you are featured in your own stories about yourself can really reveal a great many metaphors. But even the stories you tell about others can expose your metaphors. My ex-husband had really just one family story he would tell. In it, his grandfather is urging his then thirteen-year-old father to jump off the fence. He tells him that he will catch him. Instead, he lets his son fall to the ground and tells him to never trust anyone.
When my ex would tell this story, he laughed and laughed, but I knew the truth. Emotional and verbal abuse was handed down from father to son in that family, damaging their ability to love and trust anyone. In the case of my ex, the damage is tragic and irreparable. They never had anyone love them enough to catch them when they jumped.
God often speaks to us in metaphors. I remember when a young woman at a Bible study I attended kept finding two shiny new dimes in random places; the floor of her car, the grocery store, and once on a random seat at the movies. She felt like she was supposed to learn something from this recurring twenty cents. The pastor looked at her and started laughing. God is telling you that you need a new paradigm he told her.
I found it funny at the time, but now, I see my metaphors as revealing to me my relationship to meaning and myself. If the metaphor is painful, I need to work on it. If it is good, then I delve into it, mining it for treasures. And if you need a powerful argument for studying your Bible (or even if you don’t), the primary metaphor operational in the Bible is incarnation.
God, who is spirit, manifests in the person of Jesus, who dwells in us with His Holy Spirit. We become Christ-like. Christ similes or Christ metaphors. Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. Do you want to know what Jesus is like? Hopefully, that is you. If not, you might start weeding your metaphorical garden.
Here are a few of my favorite books on meaning:
Have a problem with food? This book explains the resonant metaphor of a hungry soul and what to do about it. Seriously one of the best books I have read on the topic.