Friday, February 10, 2012
The Language of Poetry
I'm in the midst of writing a Bible study book on three New Testament letters: Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. I just finished writing chapter 11 that is based on Colossians 2:6-15. The focus of this passage is what it means to "live in Christ."
The author uses several images to convey the reality of living in Christ. He uses an agricultural image (rooted), an architectural image (built up), a gastronomical image (filled) and a religious image (buried/raised). Each of these images captures a different aspect of one's relationship with Christ.
Each of these images is a metaphor. When our prose language comes up against its limitations, we are forced to use the language of poetry: metaphor,symbol, and image. Poetry is concentrated language that can convey many levels of meaning in a single word or phrase. For example, the Yin-Yang symbol above expresses far more than words can capture.
I believe that most religious language is metaphorical. When we attempt to describe that which is beyond description, we must use metaphors. This is true of our language about God and about our relationship with Christ. Whenever we talk about the spiritual dimension of life we use metaphorical language.
Once we acknowledge the metaphorical nature of religious language, we are freed from a misplaced literalism about things spiritual. Also, metaphors and images can convey the richness, depth and power of the sacred realm.