January 16, 2013 - One thing that has always fascinated me has been the power of symbols.
They are concrete things, images, or even sounds that have more value than what simply meets the eye or ear. Gestures, too, can be used as signs.
Symbols add color and spice to life and often allow us to transmit a message more elegantly than by using words.
Symbols point towards the fact that a human person is not just a bunch of random cells, but that we're made up of body and soul.
Our body sees the sign or symbol, but it's the soul that understands the symbol's deeper meaning.
Take the simple fact of a traffic light. Imagine the chaos at a busy intersection if all the drivers failed to grasp the deeper meaning we assign to the colors green, red, and yellow.
We all know that green means 'go', red means 'stop', and yellow means, 'go faster'. These symbols allow us to convey meaning in a colorful and lively way. Even the black lines that you're looking at now, the things we call letters, are symbols.
Or imagine if we failed to go deeper than hearing mere sounds when we hear a crying, hungry baby.
We have no problem understanding that a child needs food or warmth or attention just by their cries.
Sounds, then, can also be symbols pointing us to a deeper reality.
Gestures, such as bowing down, also transmit a specific message. It is a gesture of humility and respect when someone is in the presence of greatness.
For example, at two of the most important sites for Christians, the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem and the tomb where Jesus rose from the dead in Jerusalem, one can only enter by bowing down.
When it comes to spiritual matters and religion, symbols are even more important. God knows that and that's why he uses them to transmit certain spiritual messages.
The symbols themselves not only point to something deeper, but they actually make that deeper reality present.
That's what is meant by the word 'sacrament': it is a sign or symbol that carries with it a spiritual result.
Take water, for example. It can be a particularly powerful symbol because it is universally understood. It is a symbol of purity, life, and refreshment.
Water is used in Christian Baptism not only because it symbolizes purity, life, and refreshment, but more importantly because we believe that the waters of Baptism actually purifies the soul, gives it a share in God's life by refreshing it with grace.
At the very moment the water is cleansing the skin, God is purifying, giving life to, and refreshing the soul.
Symbols are an important part of life and I hope these few words have given you just a little better appreciation of how precious they are.
They help us to understand better that we're more than just flesh and blood. We're body and soul.
So, whether it's slowing down when you see yellow, or a simple smile, make the most of the symbols in your life.
Fr. Daniel Pajerski, LC, is Formation Director for Everest Academy.