Excerpts From Thou Art That (2001)
Metaphors only seem to describe the outer world of time and place. Their real universe is the spiritual realm of the inner life. The Kingdom of God is within you.
The problem, as we have noted many times, is that these metaphors, which concern that which cannot in any other way be told, are misread prosaically as referring to tangible facts and historical occurrences. The denotation—that is, the reference in time and space: a particular Virgin Birth, the End of the World—is taken as the message, and the connotation, the rich aura of the metaphor in which its spiritual significance may be detected, is ignored altogether. The result is that we are left with the particular “ethnic” inflection of the metaphor, the historical vesture, rather than the living spiritual core.
Inevitably, therefore, the popular understanding is focused on the rituals and legends of the local system, and the sense of the symbols is reduced to the concrete goals of a particular political system of socialization. When the language of metaphor is misunderstood and its surface structures become brittle, it evokes merely the current time-and-place-bound order of things and its spiritual signal, if transmitted at all, becomes ever fainter.
It has puzzled me greatly that the emphasis in the professional exegesis of the entire Judeo-Christian-Islamic mythology has been on the denotative rather than on the connotative meaning of the metaphoric imagery that is its active language. The Virgin Birth, as I have mentioned, has been presented as an historical fact, fashioned into a concrete article of faith over which theologians have argued for hundreds of years, often with grave and disruptive consequences. Practically every mythology in the world has used this “elementary” or co-natural idea of a virgin birth to refer to a spiritual rather than an historical reality. The same, as I have suggested, is true of the metaphor of the Promised Land, which in its denotation plots nothing but a piece of earthly geography to be taken by force. Its connotation—that is, its real meaning—however, is of a spiritual place in the heart that can only be entered by contemplation.