We really don’t think too much about metaphors. An intriguing or powerful metaphor might grab hold of us out of a song lyric or a meme but for the most part we don’t talk much about metaphors. If we brush the dust off our middle school English class brain, we might remember a metaphor as a tool of language, a communication device, a means to improve our messaging and deepen understanding.
But metaphors are much more than that. They are foundational in how we see and experience the world. They are more than a fading memory from middle school. Metaphors are deeply embedded in how we conceptualize and frame our thinking, our actions and our lives.
So while we might not think too much about metaphors, we continually think through metaphors. In just the last few sentences you “brushed the dust off,” considered a “tool” of language,” a “deeper” understanding and that which is “foundational” probably without even realizing you were knee deep in metaphors. Oops! There we go again with “knee deep!” We cannot live outside the realm of metaphors.
So what does this have to do with our spirituality?
Well, how we metaphorically frame and reframe our lives (spiritually and otherwise) revitalizes and shapes how we experience the world and how we think and behave. My spiritual outlook and behavior is different if my guiding metaphor is that spiritually I am “on a path,” or if I have reached a “destination,” or hit a “dead end,” or am at a “crossroad.” Recognizing each of these metaphorical spiritual realities helps us make sense of our lives and the world around us.
But we can get stuck in a metaphorical realm. Sure, life is a metaphorical “journey” and all these human realities fit in the realm of a journey, but “journey” is not the only metaphorical realm. Often, changing our guiding metaphorical realm can be life-giving and provide a spiritual kick-start.
“Life is a blank canvas” or “life is a story we write” may invite us into a new and different way of thinking and experiencing the world centered in creativity and new expression. “Life is a garden” may bring us to consider what we plant, how and what we water, my role as gardener (or garden) and the work of tending to weeds. “Life is a gift” may open us to consider blessings, generosity, intrinsic value and connectedness. There are plenty of places in our lives where our choices are limited, but which metaphorical frame(s) we use is not one of them.
Becoming aware and curious about how we metaphorically frame our lives and derive meaning can be transformative for how we experience and show up in the world. It may in fact plant a seed, provide a spark, or open a new door. The choice is ours.