Of Road Signs and Flags

There are two different types of signs we see driving along the road.  One of them is a read sign, like STOP or SPEED LIMIT. The other is a symbol, usually a graphic sign showing the road configuration ahead.  The read sign says, “Look at me and obey.” The symbol sign says, “Don’t look at me. Pay attention to what I am pointing you to.” A symbol can convey ideas and information in a much more powerful way than mere words can; there are so many symbols that surround us both commercial, like a trademark, and private, like an engagement ring; however we tend to focus on the physical object, instead of the intent.   We want to “read” the symbol. This harkens back to Sherlock Holmes when he bemoaned, “Oh, Watson. You see but you do not observe.” The really important symbols, the ones that are suppose to take us to a higher level of understanding of life, get lost in translation.

Take the Flag for instance.  We say it represents our country, but how? Stars? Stripes?   The Flag symbolizes the promise that we as Americans make to each other in the pledge of allegiance.  Promises are very important. When I was a kid we followed a promise with “Cross my heart and hope to die”: serious stuff.  Boil it down the pledge of allegiance basically says: We promise, cross our hearts and hope to die, to be on team America and commit ourselves to a government by, for and of the people.  We want to be a good people, there for each other, to guard each person’s freedom and be as fair as we know how. How can you not stand up for that, especially when you consider the many people in our history who crossed their hearts and died for their part of the promise?  Do you see the flag beyond a red white and blue cloth?

A person conveys information through body language whither conscious or not:  a smile, a frown, the rolling of eyes, all shout without words; not to mention the one finger salute.   All successful poker players and salespeople make a living out of reading “tells” that people exhibit. Ergo the sunglasses and hoodies at the world Poker Tours. Touch can be the most powerful symbol of all.  Who wouldn’t prefer a hug and a kiss on the lips over a punch in the nose and an arm lock? And then there is sex, the “ultimate touch”; providing the deepest insight into a person’s soul. It translates either into momentary animal lust; that tells a person that they or you or both are only commodities to be used or it can fulfill the other in love where two can become one physically and spiritually.  The greatest joys or the worst devastation can both be expressed by this one symbolic act. 

Creation is God’s greatest invitation to us to get to know Him.  The painted canvas of a sunset speaks to our souls. The precision of the constellations guide us through the dark night.  Who could conceive of all the intricacies of the plant and animal ecology that we depend on daily? Who doesn’t marvel at the birth of their child?  We are fearfully and wonderfully made. How can you think it all just happened? RSVP the invitation.

Religion is an employer of symbols.  In the same way that you would need to describe color to a blind man by using touch words:  red is hot, blue is cold. God must use symbols as a necessity in order to convey spiritual ideas to a physical world.   Take the Passover. The participants needed to see, through the eyes of faith, the connection of their life (salvation) to the death of the lamb.  Not only in the act of sacrificing the lamb itself, but in eating the lamb and so identifying with it in an intimate manner. I and this sacrifice are one.  I deserve what happened to it due to my sin and I live because it died. If you never go beyond mere ritual you miss the message. I wonder how Jesus felt growing up as He participated in each Passover year after year.  How did He see Himself as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world in the observances; all the way up to the Last Supper when He said, “This is My body which is given for you…cross My heart and hope to die”?  Do you see the transcendence in a piece of bread and sip of wine? It’s the symbol of God’s love for you and you becoming the symbol of His love to the world.

Open your eyes.  There are many deep concepts that God conveys to us and we to each other that mere language cannot say.  Observe the symbols around you and life will grow in meaning. Listen to the silent words.

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