Those Terribly Human Signs
Just the other night, I had the pleasure of once again sitting down to one of life’s greatest pleasures, that of course being the reading of theology. And through the various musings put forward by the author, some of which were dry of course, one obvious and exciting truth in his writings struck me again as if hearing it for the first time. Essentially, the point was that though mathematical signs and language will never truly become human signs, as in, put to use by common man in his daily communication, it is also true that we are losing the very signs that can be just that.
Perhaps some explanation is in order.
Mathematical formulae, though very precise and guarding much necessary data, is hardly the medium chosen by billions to convey experience. And since we are historical beings, creatures which look to their past and future to understand who and what we are, experience is the first step needed in creating memory and imagination.
This is why signs and symbols are so powerful for us. They capture with a glance the momentary experience that we want to remember and (if they are potent enough) can alter the course of what is to come by simply looking upon them.
Now, I cannot be certain but I am almost willing to bet that the mathematical formula of ‘pi’ doesn’t do that for most people, neither does the theory of relativity nor the law of gravity. And we know this because for all of the truth that they do contain, they do not carry that fascinating truth called experience.
So here is the really sad thing. In our history as the people of God, we actually do have quite a few signs and symbols that pull at two worlds, the past and the future, but we are forgetting them. The ICHTHYS, the Alpha and the Omega, the victorious lamb, the INRI, all of these quietly and quickly pull us Christians back to a memory that has the power to change how we behave tomorrow if we can remember what they mean.
Of course, in the past our churches, our cemeteries, our schools, our homes, our art, our hospitals (and I could go on) were riddled with them, and this made sense, but now, few it seems even understand what these symbols are when they are present.
To be clear, these symbols are not the Faith which is why perhaps many teachers of religion have seen it fit not to teach these same symbols to their students, but they do carry the Faith, which may help to explain why many students march forward declaring that the Faith has lost all of its potency for their lives.
So let’s do ourselves a favour. Let’s find that one latent symbol hidden in plain site among our places of worship. Let’s unearth that ancient and persistent act of using experiential signs because the world we have inherited needs the Christian imagination desperately. It needs us to remember so that what occurred in the past can once again hold sway over a future yet to come.