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Symbols


I am starting to learn what the ashes are for. What the bread and cup are for. The water. The cross, draped and undraped. The butterfly, the rainbow. These rich symbols, ancient and concrete, tactile and visual.

We have just passed through the season that most abundantly places these symbols in front of us. Ash Wednesday, with the archaic practice of using ashes to mark the cross on our foreheads. Maundy Thursday and the somber draping of the cross. Easter, with the soaring music and the symbols of new life, the cross undraped and raised high as a symbol of victory.

Many of us grew up in traditions that minimized or ignored most of these symbols. Some of us left traditions that seemed to rely on them too much. We sought a more pragmatic religion, more rational and less dependent on what seemed to be borderline superstition. But it is possible that the great conceit of our generation has been the belief that we could figure things out. We would probe space and determine the origins of the universe; unlock the DNA sequence and understand the mystery of human life; split the atom and pull the veil from the long-hidden microscopic building blocks of matter. Rather than embracing mystery, our plan was to explain it. The ancient symbols, archaic and simplistic, would become irrelevant.

Maybe it’s just my age, but my search for rational truth has left me humbled. I’m starting to appreciate the possibility that there might be powerful spiritual realities that lie beyond the reach of our rational faculties. That the Truth we search for can only be claimed, not explained. That the symbols of our faith, ancient and mysterious, provide our most vivid language with which to proclaim a resurrected Love that, against all odds, remains risen and undefeatable.

Rev. Don Underwood