I so appreciate metaphors; some have sustained me for years. The pictures they have formed in my mind have been powerful aids in healing and dealing with the challenges of life.
The first one I recall operating in my life was Kahlil Gibran’s metaphor for parenthood in The Prophet which I read in the 70’s, the decade when my children were born: parents are the bow through which the Great Archer shoots the arrows (children) into the future. He goes on to say that parents cannot accompany their children into the future. That imagery supported me through parenting three kids from infancy to adulthood. It helped me let them grow independent of me, to come into their own selves, not some version of me. It also allowed me let them go to lead their own lives as they became adults. That metaphor was a guide in my life, a pattern for parenting that gave me support and sustenance for that twenty-five year journey.
A second metaphor helped me in my spiritual journey from the early 1980’s: Teresa of Avila’s metaphor for the prayer life in her life story, The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila: The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus. She imagined four levels of prayer and likened it to watering a garden. In the first level one has to draw up water from a well and carry it to the garden. It’s very hard work. In the second level one fashions a series of sloughs to carry the water to the garden once it is drawn from the well. This is somewhat easier. In the third level of prayer a river runs through the garden and waters it. And in the fourth the rains water the garden. This metaphor carried me through the years when prayer and silence were difficult for me and seemed unattainable. I knew from Teresa’s metaphor that the spiritual life was an ever deepening, ever easier journey once a life of prayer was established.
John of the Cross’s metaphors for the Dark Night of the Senses and of the Soul helped me through times when I could not feel the closeness of God.
Jesus’ Way of being in the world has been a powerful metaphor for me that showed me how to balance a spirit-filled life. The record of his life shows a deep relationship with God as Father(Abba), loving and caring for marginalized people, healing of the sick and possessed, speaking the truth to all he encountered, and taking on the powers that be where he felt they needed correction. I have learned from this that putting God first and then doing what I am called to do is faithful to Jesus’ way.
Metaphors help us frame our actions and thinking in ways that lead us to become the people we want to be. The pictures they offer us are more powerful than words or thought, they are vehicles for change and transformation in our lives.