In language, we are not content in using abstractions. In describing something, we typically use, "this......that," or, "like....as," etc. Or as Luci Shaw puts it in her book, Breath for the Bones, "A metaphor, because of its implicit reality and force in one area of life, can transfer or carry over its meaning into another arena. The image acts to bring sense and immediacy and relevance to the real-life situation it parallels."
As a music educator, I constantly teach my students through the use of metaphor. The example usually begins with this word, "Imagine...." As a mom, AKA nurse, we ask our children to describe their bump or scrape... using metaphor. It is true, we think in pictures!
Imagine.. (there I go with that word again!) your view of the world limited to a revolving globe, map or maybe a computer satellite image of a given place. Or, imagine being in that given place. Hearing the sounds of auto rick-shaws, street vendors yelling (selling!) their wares, horns continuously honking, bells on bicycles, radios blaring Hindu morning mantras and the Adhan from the mosques. Seeing the street children and beggars, men in stuffy business suits, matrons in silk saris and young ladies with strings of fresh jasmine in their hair. Color, color everywhere seeming more colorful against the red dirt! Priests in saffron robes, spices cone-shaped in shops, fabrics, jewelry, brass and copper, shoes, carpets, and flowers everywhere. Smells.... layer upon layer of kerosene and smog, oily street snacks, smoke and incense, fiery spices and sweet chai tea... This is the power of sensory metaphor. Dry facts about population density and petrol prices do not transport you anywhere at all! The artist, then, fills in all the detail.
Abstract concepts always need metaphors to help explain them. Truth, for example, we use words like core, root, rock, bottom. Why? Because symbols help tether this nebulous abstraction and we reel in the concept with concrete everyday language and illustration.
Once the artist has caught the fish (truth!), paradox comes into play. Two sides to the coin appear and now we struggle to grasp hold of the one without losing the other. For example, we are both living and dying. Jesus made this statement when he said a seed after falling to the ground must first die before it roots and lives again. Elsewhere He says, to find our life, we should lose it. Even Jesus is referred to as the Lamb and the Lion - two diametrically opposed examples!
Images are not meant to be abstracted, but seen and felt. So as we write and deal with images, metaphor, paradox, we are showing how this part of creation relates to that. Nothing is too untouchable or too sacred to explain or define. God is at the center of all things and shows us, through Jesus, how all is sacred and useful and beautiful.
The poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins said,