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"DOING METAPHOR"

Today, we witness the end of a faith that "simply thinks," that forms from mere passive assent, that fades day by day with the dying gasps of the unempowered. Instead, we are learning to participate in the language of prophetic metaphor. We are learning how to "do" metaphor.

Here are the highlights:

Metaphors . . .

. . . require a conscious lifestyle of serious make-believe. They demand new ways of thinking and new spiritual skills.

. . . are inspired dialogue. They are bidirectional—give and take, to-and-fro movements between "here" and "there." They are never-ending, always deepening cycles—started by God and completed by God with the us in the middle.

. . . "do" something; and in that "doing," we "do" something too. In metaphor—as in faith—we give form to the "substance," "evidence" and "proof" of things we do not see. In the same way, metaphor is the prototype of all creativity.

. . . are not an invention of natural skill nor an expression of subjectivity. Neither do they suffer the mediation of man’s doctrines.

. . . do not limit themselves to "special occasions"or time-appointed moments. Instead, they move in everything we do.

. . . project a world. They describe what is coming to be. Unlike our modern words which merely "supervene" in life—that is, they only "add to" life—metaphors "intervene" in life—they "change life."

. . . provide the truth to "end times." Metaphors represent our participation in the "end times"—the doing of "end times," anticipating and giving form to a future, real world that God is bringing to pass.

. . . will prove our only advantage in a future world run by computer intelligence. For Power incarnates Power.

For more, continue reading:

What Do We Do?

If metaphor is the language of the future, how do we take part in that language? Beyond all the poetry, what specific duties do we declare? Beyond all the idealism, what skills do we develop?

And, how do we develop the practice of metaphor when schools insist we put theory before practice? After all, seminaries make rational knowledge the main "power." They make a literal world the main "reality." And, they make the lecture hall the main "Word." As a result, we analyze, classify, examine, and question, but have few skills in "calling those things that be not as though they were."1

Thus, unskilled in metaphor, our worldly and otherworldly actions meet only by accident.

Of course, godly metaphor finds a place in any willing vessel, but pure vision prefers a pure heart. So, before seeking the skills of metaphor, we must move the selfish "self" out of the way. We must "die" to the self. Ordinary, everyday lives must become sacrificial offerings.

As Paul reminded, we must "die daily."2

Only then will the rivers of revelation flow unrestricted and fulsome. Only then will our voice become the "Word made flesh." Only then will our love "speak" with passion and authority.

Indeed, revelation—without love—counts for nothing.

Mastering Metaphor

Actually, anyone could say they’re skilled in metaphor. Metaphor, after all, permeates all of life. There’s a vast difference, though, between metaphors that saturate unthinking lives and metaphors that emerge from conscious lifestyles. Aristotle correctly observed, "The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor."3

Today’s mastery, however, requires a new way of thinking. It contemplates the unknown more than the known, the awe more than the ordinary, the mystery more than the mundane. It watches the intuition more than the intellect, the content more than the form, the message more than the medium. It feels the ecstasy more than the discipline, the compelling more than the control, the artistry more than the technique.

This way of thinking is like seeing our self see. We stand to one side and reflect on something totally outside our self. We stand present to this world, yet not at home in it. Half-seeing, half-blind, we follow things probably as precise as math, yet as elusive as spirit.

And, as in a hall of mirrors, we see one thing but notice many things. We see a collage of incongruous images but feel at home with their paradox.

If all this "mastery" seems too much for the novice, we can at least begin with alert expectancy. We can watch for something to catch fire. We can listen for the "aha" moment. We can see the familiar turning strange, or capture the ordinary fusing with grace.

Without doubt, today’s mastery of metaphor requires a different way of thinking.

You cannot study Pleasure in the moment of nuptial embrace, nor repentance while repenting, nor analyze the nature of humor while roaring with laughter.4

Leaping Sparks

The mastery of metaphor requires inspiration as well. The creating of metaphor, for example, requires a quickening, "born suddenly in the soul, like a light . . . fired by a leaping spark."5 Even making sense of metaphor requires an intuitive sensitivity seen primarily by the "eyes" of our hearts.

In other words, something must speak to the hidden prophet within.

We’re talking, of course, about the many ways the human spirit flows from the Holy Spirit—how God’s Spirit in man responds to God’s Spirit in God—how the mind of God permeates the mind of man. We could call it the momentary merger of the finite with the Infinite. We could call it the creaturely experience of receiving from the "Other." Or, we could simply call it a spiritual gift.

This gift is no abstract mysticism or remote transcendence. Neither is it a vague omnipresence. It is, instead, a manifest presence, an immanent Spirit, an indwelling reality—from a God who dwells both without and within!

Modern minds, of course, demand less "religious" examples. And creativity satisfies that demand, for inspiration is the vital breath of creativity, the only source of original imagination. When Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote, for example, "I could not control the story; it wrote itself," she spoke for all artists who know an "Otherness" in their art.

The poet and the prophet, in other words, share a similar anointing.

"The Lord said to me," Jeremiah reported, "Behold, I have put My words in your mouth."6 Later, Peter reported being "moved and impelled" by the same Spirit.7 And, in truth, Jesus built His church on these "inspired" visions.8

We must take care though. Such inspiration is not invented by, or pulled out of, natural skills. It is not something "figured out." Nor does it suffer the mediation of man’s doctrines. "‘Originality,’ after all, is the prerogative of God alone."9

So, moment by moment, we move with trust in this manifest presence. We intentionally respond to its "otherness." In our wild patience, we explore the bounds of its wisdom and grace. "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the glory of kings is to search out a thing."10

This inspiration, this divine quickening, has yet to be explored in our time. So we must move quickly. As computer intelligence increases, the leading of the Holy Spirit will be the only advantage we will have.

. . . not written with (digital code) but with the Spirit of the living God . . . on tablets of human hearts.11

Whenever and Wherever

Inspired metaphor, though, does not limit itself to "special occasions," time-appointed moments, or "the talented." Nothing is trivial. Nothing is insignificant. Nobody is empty-handed.

The conviction that anything, anyone, anywhere, and anytime can be filled with prophetic power is one of the lost ideas of early Christianity. Then and now, everything "points." Everything "speaks."

Metaphor, in other words, floods all of life. Moments not considered works of art are, themselves, works of art—often hidden, but there nevertheless. All things point potentially to vignettes of visitations, sacramental realities, "Words made flesh." Though their purpose and timing escape our understanding, "The wind of the Spirit blows where it wills."12

As Jacob confessed, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it."13

The mastery of metaphor, then, allows the incarnation of metaphor, whenever and wherever the "wind of the Spirit" decides. Contrary to the priorities of our time, we are called to extract the precious from the worthless, to make all things sacred.

"If you extract the precious from the worthless, you will become My spokesman."14

Caught in the Middle

So among many of life’s quiet excitements, we can watch something making us the author of something beautiful. Or, if that something is an already existing metaphor, we can simply let it be, let it surprise us, let it guide us.

Over and over. Deeper and deeper.

Thus, metaphor is a dialogue. It is bidirectional. "When we act from . . . God in ourselves—we are collaborators."15 Of course, we give back only what comes from Him in the first place. Still, metaphor is a give and take, to-and-fro movement between one place and another. As in a game, we "put something into play."

In the words of Scripture, we are both "in Christ" and "He in us."16 Paul also puts it this way: "We stand in Christ’s presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can."17

Once more, the creative process provides our example: Artists "discover" things they admit already existed before being discovered. Then, they "collaborate"—they give inspired form to these things. Finally, they receive inspired understandings of their collaboration and collaborate, again.

Their journey is a never-ending, always deepening cycle—started by God and completed by God with the artist in the middle:

To lose ourselves in the performance of an obligation which we accept, in spite of its appearing on reflection impossible of achievement . . . (is) a clue to God."18

We find the same journey in Hebrew meditation—a whirling, revolving reflection with multilayered meanings. With always deepening significance, the Hebrew faithful contemplated things of the spirit and expressed the resulting visions in a dialogue with God. Their prophets often gave form to these sensory images and feelings, then shared them with others.

Today’s religious leaders have spoken eloquently "about" God and "to" God. Now it’s time to let God speak too!

Spear Fishermen

In this dialogue, metaphor "does" something. It compels either its own creation or the creative understanding of its creation. It doesn’t just lie there, lounging passively in our imagination. It doesn’t just lurk in the dormant regions of our subconscious.

Its "doing," though, means we "do" something too. Metaphor, after all, involves the volition of our imagination, the will of our spirit. In metaphor, something gets expressed, feelings are given form, the anointing gets announced. It is an activity on behalf of others. Yes, we contemplate its mystery, but we also express its mystery. Yes, we stand awed by its depth, but we also give form to its depth.

We follow in the prophetic line of Ezekiel, who said, "The Lord came to me, saying . . . utter a parable."19 So in the raw reality of creativity and spontaneity, we orchestrate our intuition, we forge our feelings. Then, more dance than drill, we display our "controlled exaggeration."

It’s no surprise that the "doing" of metaphor has always been the prototype of all creativity–"the kernel of creative thought"—the very "poetics of the will."20, 21, 22 For, in the words of Shakespeare, it "bodies forth the forms of things unknown."23

In truth, creativity—as it "bodies forth" spiritual reality—miraculously continues the Incarnation. For its sacramental truth manifests God’s Presence in the "real" world. After all, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us," and that fact forever affirms that spiritual realities can be known through earthly forms.24

So, we are "both called and empowered to be extensions of the Incarnation."25 We were created to create, in other words. We make "new things," not only because we want to, but because we were intended to.

Consider faith itself! It is both passive and active. It combines, for example, both believing and speaking.26 It never remains totally passive nor neglectedly unspoken. For in faith—as in metaphor—we speak or give form to the "substance," "evidence" and "proof" of things we do not see.27 In fact, that’s the very definition of faith. And it’s the reason, in Hebraic culture, "‘Truth’ is created by speaking it."28

So metaphor, like faith, becomes a lifestyle—a life of serious make-believe. Masters of metaphor live their lives, for example, like those spear fishermen who throw their spears in places different from the fish, knowing that the original image refracts in the water. And they do it daily—without wavering and without doubt.

Yes, the forms we bring to metaphor are personal. They carry our style, our skill, and our unique view of the whole. Even so, we point only out of the power to which we point. And—like both prophet and listener, guide and visitor—we discover and witness another Witness.

Bringing Far Things Near

Today, we witness the end of a faith that "simply thinks," that forms from mere passive assent, that fades day by day with the dying gasps of the unempowered. In its place, a new faith moves with powerful and determined expectation. It acts with the perfect knowledge that absent things are present.

It projects a world.

"Phenomena to support that new (world) will obediently turn up," said C. S. Lewis, and "I do not at all mean that these new phenomena are illusory."29 In total accord, Albert Einstein said, "It is the theory that decides what can be observed."30 And today, great minds agree: "It is the metaphor that decides future reality."31

Metaphor happens in this world, yet causes happenings in another world. It transgresses a present reality, yet pursues an evolving reality. It deconstructs an old world, yet constructs a new world.

In other words, prophetic metaphor reflects more than a poetic world, it frames a world. It’s more than a creation, it is a creating. It doesn’t simply happen "in" history, it "is" history. It doesn’t simply "predict" the future, it fathers the future.

We’ve glimpsed some of this in the arts. After all, a true work of art is the creation of something new. At the most profound level, however, art creates a new world. As a result, artists dwell in a not-yet realm, receiving and sharing from the future what is not yet. They are transported both by future and into the future.

They bring far things near.

A Coming Kingdom

Why have we refused this world-making "outside" the arts? The fathers of our faith would want to know. From the beginning, Scripture describes the limitless, godlike power of "Words." Prophetic metaphor, in fact, pervades the entire Bible. And, it doesn’t describe what "is," it describes what is "coming to be."

God, after all, wills a future reality, not a present reality.32

So, again, metaphor—like faith—is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."33 It slips into the future, captures its intended purpose, and brings it back. It fulfills its own prophecy, manifests its own meaning. It becomes the reality we proclaim even as we proclaim it. It becomes the world we announce even as we announce it.

No wonder Hebrew "words" went forth and did things. Unlike today’s words which merely "supervene" in life—that is, they only "add to" life—Hebrew "words" "intervened" in life—they actually "changed life." And their "words" were confirmed "with signs following."

Today, the study of these "signs," or the study of "end times," has become a popular pastime where our fears and hopes struggle for supremacy. The "end time" metaphors of Scripture, however, represent a message of hope, pulling us toward God’s future. It is the actual universe as it one day will be, far more real than the present world which, even now, is "passing away."34

So the truth of "end times" is our participation in them—the doing of them! To that end, we see all reality as a future, real world that God is bringing into being. In the midst of our present existence, we anticipate the future. We dream and give form to a coming kingdom.

<<<>>>

The future is already here whether we give it form or not. Like Michelangelo freeing his statues from stone, we simply give form to what is already there. In other words, the metaphor in our desire is already in our desire.

So with agility, openness and humble inadequacy we boldly risk intimacy with a godly "Otherness" . . .

. . . knowing that Power incarnates power.

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt

ENDNOTES

1. Romans 4:17, KJ.

2. I Corinthians 15:31, AMP.

3. Aristotle, in his Poetics, quoted in http://www.pace.edu/press/briggs.htm

4. C.S. Lewis quote in Leanne Payne, Real Presence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) p. 133.

5. Socrates, quoted in Raoul Morley, From Word to Silence, Vol. 1, The Rise and Fall of Logos (Bonn: Hanstein, 1986), p. 95.

6. Jeremiah 1:9-10, AMP.

7. Second Peter 1:21, AMP.

8. A careful reading of the original Greek in Matthew 16:15-18 reveals Jesus founded His church on spiritual revelation.

9. Leanne Payne, Real Presence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) p. 80.

10. Prov 25:2, AMP.

11. II Corinthians 3:3, AMP (my parentheses).

12. John 3:8, (my paraphrase).

13. Genesis 28:16, AMP.

14. Jeremiah 15:19, NAS.

15. Madeleine L’Engle, quoted in Leanne Payne, Real Presence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) p. 129.

16. Galatians 2:20.

17. II Corinthians 2:17, The Message Bible.

18. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958) p. 324.

19. Ezekiel 24:1-3, AMP.

20. Lewis Edwin Hahn, Editor, The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur (Chicago: Open Court, 1995) p. 267.

21. Paul Ricoeur, quoted in Jay A. Seitz, "The Development of Metaphoric Understanding: Implications for a Theory of Creativity," Creativity Research Journal 1997, Vol. 10, No. 4, 347-353.

22. Hahn, p. 215.

23. http://bit.ly/aTtAue

24. John 1:14, KJ.

25. C. S. Lewis, quoted in Leanne Payne, Real Presence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) p. 143, 144.

26. Matthew 17:20 (and similar passages). Also, The Message Bible describes the "seamless unity of believing and doing" in James 2:16-3:1.

27. Hebrew 11:1.

28. Richard C. Leonard, "The Literary Arts" The Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, Editor, (Nashville: Star Song Publishing Group, 1993) p. 224.

29. C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1964) p. 221.

30. Charles Daney, "Open Questions: Quotations Relevant to Science,"

http://www.openquestions.com/oq-quote.htm

31. Paul Ricoeur, Carl Hausman, Murray Krieger, José Ortega y Gasset, among others.

32. Examples include Isaiah. 65:17-19; Rev. 21:5.

33. Hebrews 11:1.

34. I Corinthians 7:31, AMP.




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