I’m still looking at this idea of God’s restoration of the symbolic realm of communication. Here I am looking at true associations versus false ones. The notion of renewing the mind, includes renewing the image center of it, or the imagination.
People, things, places each have meaning clusters around them. To reattach the true cluster of meaning around each thing is part of God’s restoration of the earth. On a city level, each city has come to be associated with certain ideas–Paris, for example, is associated with romance, passion, beauty etc. Berlin with might or strength, decision making. A false association placed on Berlin from the war is abusive use of power. But we can see that this is not a true association. The fact that it is mighty or powerful city does not necessarily mean it is also an abusive city.You see in our time a real battle in the realm of what things mean. Jesus is the light, which in part is the understanding of what things mean. He is working to reattach things to their true meaning clusters, so that it is clear, that, for instance, woman’s body is not associated with evil. Or bread with death.
Man cannot live on bread alone. We eat and we drink daily. We fast from food at certain points. What do food and drink symbolize? Jesus understood that things have a symbolic dimension of meaning. He knew what bread symbolized. The nature of symbols is that each thing in life has a cluster of symbolic meaning surrounding them. Bread or food is not just an allegory, but symbolizes a cluster of associative meanings.
The church has largely not understood the nature of the symbolic. Even the medieval cathedrals were largely allegory only and less metaphore. Metaphore radiates more levels of meaning than allegory. The lion is not just Jesus or David, but also Kingship itself, regality, strength with wisdom etc. There is from each thing in life a stream or circle of symbolic associations surrounding them. Red symbolizes more than blood or life. It also symbolizes passion, verocity, vibrancy, things of the heart-emotions and on and on. But not on and on forever–there is a semantic ending to these associations.
One thing does not mean everything. God is a God of distinction. Each thing has a distinct ring of associations surrounding it. This is why art works. That yellow tree does not mean everything. It has specificity. What it symbolizes has a boundary. But this boundary is much further out than is commonly assumed. This is why we have art–to remind us that there is more to reality than this=that. That there is a symbolic level or dimension of meaning to life!
We often accept false symbolic associations. Advertizing is full of them-where we see woman’s body associated with a product, or a motorcycle. It is good to break down these false associations and question them. Part of renewing our minds is to mend the breach between things and what they actually symbolize! To re-cluster the true ring of associations which a thing was meant to mean. Much of the mission of art is to teach true associations–ie to teach us what things truly symbolize.
Pornography is a great example of clearly false associations. Woman’s body equals power, enslavement, domination, secrecy, and a host of other false associations. One way to fight porn is to reattach true associations to woman’s body. Take off the old associations, put on the new. If we, for example, were abused by the opposite sex, we probably have false associations around them. Often these false associations are the same as the ones in pornography, so we are drawn to the reinforcement of these false clusters of meaning around the opposite sex. We then have to take off these false associations and put on the new truer ones. This process is a healing of our symbolic level of perception, so we can see truly, and perceive accurately.
There are false associations and limited ones–as i mentioned above as allegory. Allegory says lion equals strength. But it stops there–a bit short of all the other aspects of what lion symbolizes. Allegory is like the first step, but then we must go out into the actual symbolic dimension of meaning to glean the fullest sense of what is being communicated. Symbol is, in the end, a part of communication. God desires to communicate Himself. The symbolic dimension is one aspect of this communication.
In our times, there is war in the symbolic realm. We see this in the early 20th C in war propaganda, where artists were ask to make one to one associative messages supporting this or that agenda. But we also see it more subtly in marketing. Our battle is to reattach the complexity of what God is trying to communicate–His fullest revelation about Himself-to the world we see around us. Jesus came to break down many dividing walls–one is between things and what they symbolize. He wants to reconcile things and what they truly mean. We, as artists, are partners with Him in this task of mending this gap–of regathering meaning!