“Human nature demands symbols”
We stand on a sidewalk watching a parade. Dignitaries pass in uncovered cars, beauty queens on floats, high school fanfares parade.
Next is the flag carried with pride. Many in the crowd are at attention. Some take off their hats, others place their hands over their hearts, maybe a veteran touches an old scar, As the old glory passes, something accelerates in my heart, a lump forms in my throat , moisture rises in the eyes.
Why this feeling of emotion? What we see is a piece of fabric, printed with stripes and stars, and in the colors red, white and blue. It has little intrinsic value and costs only a few dollars. What makes the flag different is that it is a symbol. As we see things – of our freedom, of those who made the supreme sacrifice, of the bounty with which God has blessed our land.
We see a simple piece of cloth, but it is such a precious symbol that we will not allow it to touch the ground or be desecrated.
A woman sits alone and tenderly gazes at a simple gold band on her finger. What is she looking at? Why such softness in his expression? Does she only see a band of metal shaped into a ring?
The alliance is a symbol. She remembers a young love and stands before an altar to promise that love. She remembers happy days and sad days, both unexpected joys and difficult paths.
This human nature of ours requires symbols. The heart thirsts for tangible means to express the moods of the mind. He seeks to mold into the physical mold emotions which, by nature, belong only to the invisible realm. Symbols are attempts to see the invisible and touch the untouchable. We find a lot of symbolism in our churches – the Torah centered in the synagogue, the Crucifix in Roman Catholic churches, the unadorned Cross in Protestant shrines. There is the use of candles, the beauty of the windows, the wonder of music, the bread and wine of the sacraments.
It is impossible to remove symbols from life. If a person decides never to use a symbol, they will never shake a friend’s hand, kiss a child, or salute their country’s flag again. Symbols remind us of events, circumstances, emotions, and experiences that may be difficult to express. They speak to the mind, heart and spirit and reinforce the deep meanings of life. They are powerful.
The reverse is also true. An overlooked or omitted symbol may result in a loss. When husband and wife no longer touch each other the children are not hugged, when smiles are not shared then something vital comes out of life.
During this day, pay attention to the symbols you will see. Note the arrows of the churches pointing upwards towards God. Be sensitive to how your family will talk to you. Respond to the waves that come from friends, to the smiles bestowed by strangers.
In expressing your deepest feelings, don’t neglect words. There are things people need to hear. But remember that you also communicate with symbols. A soft touch, the offering of a single flower, or the help of a single task may say more than any word. Human nature demands symbols.