I love symbolism so much. I spent years buying books and diving deeply into the subject almost obsessively.
I found a way to ‘flip a switch’ in my mind to where I started looking at everything differently and it constituted a massive leap in my understanding and spiritual growth. It’s great because anyone can do it, you just have to start.
A few years ago, I kind of entered this weird place where all the information I was cramming into my mind settled into a profound simplicity. Then, I just stopped studying the subject for a long time.
I’m not sure I’ll ever study it that intensely again but I’m glad I did; I regret nothing.
I learned that finality has no place in symbolism. If God wants to say one thing, he will say it clearly. When he wants to say endless things, he uses symbols.
If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.
If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.Matthew 18:8-9 NASB
This week we have been studying Matthew 18 in Come Follow Me and I have had a few discussions with family members about these verses and the weight of the implications that Christ is getting at here are very challenging.
Imagine for a moment cutting off your own hand or foot; imagine plucking out one of your eyes. Can you imagine the pain and the horror? Think of how losing a key part of your body will affect the rest of your life.Read Full Post
“Symbolism exists precisely for the purpose of conveying to the imagination what the intellect is not ready for.”
– Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of CS Lewis, Vol. II (San Francisco, 2004), 565
My good friend Rick N. sent this quote my way via the @CSLewisDaily twitter feed. This quote is new to me and I think it is wonderful for how well it captures the essence of what symbolism can do. It reminds me a lot of this post where I shared a story about how I answered my 4-year old’s question with a sign instead of the literal answer which unfortunately would have been incomprehensible to her.
I also love how this quote includes imagination in the equation. Sometimes we may only consider symbolism and the potential meanings while forgetting the role imagination plays in helping us explore the possibilities. I feel as if I have discovered a hidden door in a familiar room and I am thrilled to see what awaits on the other side.
A fun idea about how adults, youth, and kids can learn about symbolism and temples with a sketchbook and LDS Symbol Cards.
Junior Ganymede had a great post about Lehi’s Vision and the people pointing the fingers. The post author had been out with the missionaries and the woman they were teaching had some insights that were expounded upon, here’s a small snippet:
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The fingers are being pointed to single out people for mockery. But she also saw it as a way of shifting responsibility. I think she is right.
The pointing finger is the finger that assigns responsibility. When it points to mock, it is designating the scapegoat. If the scapegoat is not explicitly given the blame, then the role of the scapegoat is to validate the existence of the inner circle by creating someone who is not part of the inner circle. And in an inner circle, by nature, questions of responsibility do not arise. One is not judged on merit but on membership.
The great and spacious building is key to understanding the modern structure (the Cathedral, That Hideous Strength, the Clerisy, the New Class, the Polygon, etc.). It explains its relationship to status. It highlights its divorce from reality, its existence in a purely social and symbolic world.
Understanding that the modern structure is a way of shifting blame and avoiding responsibility is also a valuable insight. It explains the victim sweepstakes and the grievance mongering. (A spiritually degenerative pursuit, obviously).
This quote brilliantly sums up a critically important key to understanding symbols.
“One explanation of a symbol that has been given does not preclude someone else seeing beyond that. Symbols were intended to expand our freedom of expression and feelings, not limit them. In suggesting some meanings associated with the symbols on the Salt Lake Temple, it need not be supposed that this constitutes the final word on the matter. Finality robs symbols of their meaning.” – Joseph Fielding McConkie, Symbols of Our Faith, 32
A few weeks ago, I was trying to leave my wife a love note on the fridge with some of the magnetic letters that were scattered everywhere. I quickly realized how limited my ability to express myself would be as I only had one of each letter.
Although I did manage to put some kind of crude message together, imagine trying to write a novel or something! Letters of the alphabet are symbols, and while the letters of the English alphabet don’t have meanings in and of themselves like Hebrew letters do, their real ability to communicate shines when they are combined with other letters to make words and sentences.
As you can see by the photo below, having only 26 letters to work with severely limits one’s capacity to communicate.
If we think of symbols like letters of the alphabet that form words and sentences, then we are expanding our capacity to be taught by the Spirit.
One of the things that worried me about creating my Symbol Cards and ldsSymbols.com was inadvertantly establishing some kind of authoritative guide that led people to exclude any meanings that didn’t appear in my resources. I didn’t want people to think that the meanings I shared were the only meanings or that some meanings were “better” or “more correct” than others.
I felt like the projects were worthwhile as long as people understood that they represented a starting point, a place to document certain potential meanings that appear to be consistently used in scripture, culture, mathematics, biology, astronomy, etc. I think I need to do a better job at expressing that because it cannot be stated enough.
What do you think?
- Has symbolism been a tough subject for you to understand?
- Does McConkie’s quote resonate with your experience or help you see things in a new light?
- What other qualities about symbolism do you feel are important to take note of?
Macrocosm: the harmonious order of the natural Universe.
Mesocosm: the harmonious order reflected in the organization of society, in art, architecture, music, and sacred objects made by people.
Microcosm: the harmonious order of the Macrocosm reflected in miniature within the human being.
These explanations were provided by Michael S. Schneider in his DVD A Journey From 1 to 12 which is one of my prized possessions! It’s either a great companion to or a decent substitute for his wonderful book, A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe (which I highly recommend).
There is a phrase I hear repeated every now and then among members of the church. Typically when there is an issue they come across that challenges their faith, they are able to either reconcile that issue one way or another or remain undecided.
Without the necessary information to arrive at a satisfactory understanding, the person says that, for now, they will put the issue “on the shelf”.
“The shelf” is the proverbial repository for issues that you no longer want to deal with at the moment for whatever reason. You don’t have the time, resources, information or desire to pursue an answer to the question so you “shelf” it.
Here’s why I really dislike this metaphor.
When you put things on shelves all they do is
I love symbols, and I love spirals and how they are used in architectural symbolism. The following videos are not about architectural symbolism, but the principles that are presented are worthy of consideration on a whole myriad of levels.
Vi Hart, the woman presenting the videos talks a little fast which can be a little irritating but I love how she explores spirals so these are definitely worth the watch. All the information builds up to a very interesting theory as to why these numbers appear in nature and I think it’s spot on.
There are some really interesting implications behind what she presents here that apply to many different topics, but I’ll let you ponder those things for yourself ;)