Richard Rohr

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.