We live and move in an entirely symbolic universe. Symbols are in fact the only solid way to experience substance. (The Greek root sym-bolon means “a throwing together.”) True symbols somehow are the thing itself. Our mind throws together meanings largely without realizing we are even doing it. Poets, artists, and storytellers have always known this, and now scientists are honest enough to realize that they too need metaphors to point to reality (for example, black holes, string theory, and the big bang). Without new symbols, which are sometimes also words, unconscious meanings never break through to consciousness, and the invisible has no way of becoming visible. We remain bored and boring. We do not experience our experiences–and there is surely no knife edge to our experiences that cuts us open and lances our wounds or refines our happiness.
Symbols allow us to reframe, reorganize, and reset the core meanings of our lives again and again. Many have called our postmodern world “a crisis of meaning,” a world where things do not mean anything. It is very lonely in such a universe. Humans cannot live happily without meaning–and ever deeper meaning. Symbols have the power to give meaning–the meanings we wake up for each morning. Religion should be a master at such mining for meaning.“
A thousand birds took a walk to the shore
early one morning.
Pecking through the sand
they sifted their early meal.
As the sun rose
their shadows shrank.
They lift their heads from time to time
listening for the sound that fills their breast.
Most lower their gaze
and resume filling their bellies.
They run from the crashing wave,
then scurry to catch her minor gifts.
Who look to the sea
and feel their wings flutter?
“I don’t like to fly over the ocean”
Again the calm whisper exhales to the horizon
raise their wings
and press their feet against the sand.
They Have Threatened Us with Resurrection
It is something within us that doesn’t let us sleep,
that doesn’t let us rest,
that won’t stop pounding
it is the silent, warm weeping
of Indian women without their husbands,
it is the sad gaze of children
fixed somewhere beyond memory, . . .
What keeps us from sleeping
is that they have threatened us with Resurrection!
Because every evening
though weary of killings,
an endless inventory since 1954,
yet we go on loving life
and do not accept their death!
. . . because in this marathon of Hope,
there are always others to relieve us
who carry the strength
to reach the finish line
which lies beyond death.
Join us in this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
Then you will know how marvelous it is
to live threatened with Resurrection!
To dream awake
to keep watch asleep,
to live while dying,
and to know ourselves already resurrected!
I want to know the mind of God . . . The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead.”
The Dark Night
Once in the dark of night
when love burned bright with yearning, I arose
(O windfall of delight!)
and how I felt none knows–
dead to the world my house, in deep repose;
in the dark, where all goes right,
thanks to a secret ladder, other clothes
(O windfall of delight!)
in the dark, enwrapped in those–
dead to the world my house, in deep repose.
There in the lucky dark,
none to observe me; darkness far and wide;
no sign for me to mark
no other light, no guide
except for my heart–the fire, the fire inside!
That led me on
true as the very noon is–truer too!–
to where there waited one
I knew–how well I knew!–
in a place where no one was in view.
O dark of night, my guide!
night dearer that anything all your dawns discover!
O night drawing side to side
the loved and the lover–
she that the lover loves, lost in the lover!
Upon my flowering breast,
kept for his pleasure garden, his alone,
the lover was sunk in rest;
I cherished him–my own!–
there in air from plumes of the cedar blown.
In air from the castle wall,
as my hand in his hair moved lovingly at play,
he let cool fingers fall
and the fire there where they lay!
all senses in oblivion drift away.
I stayed, not minding me;
my forehead on the lover I reclined.
Earth ending, I went free,
left all my care behind
among the lilies falling and out of mind.