Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Power of Symbols

Often when teaching scriptures at Brigham Young University, I have students who balk when being introduced to symbolism in the scriptures. I completely understand. Being very right-brained, I balk at math and statistics! But these students always complain that it is too hard to understand or that it doesn’t make sense or that no one can really know that’s what it means. Well, it is much more “scientific” than they think. It is amazing how many, many symbols cross cultural boundaries so be found in diverse parts of the world. But even more than that, it is amazing how much more you get out of the scriptures and religious experience when you understand the symbolism. But easier than trying to explain that, let me give you an example.

The other day when I was waiting in the chapel of the temple for the next session to start, I suddenly looked up and on the ceiling was a large, stylized, five petal “flower.” I immediately burst into tears. Why? Because five is a symbol of the Atonement! As I saw that symbol, I thought of how the miracles that have happened in my life the last month were all made possible because of the Atonement. If Jesus Christ had not performed the Atonement, there would be no power over evil. There would be no healing. Everything would be engulfed in entropy—or in other words be moving toward destruction. There would be no such thing as progress or any kind of goodness. We would all be like the adversary, and would be in bondage to him in outer darkness forever.

But because there was an Atonement made, the tumor was miraculously discovered. I can see. The side effects of the surgery have been considerably less than usual. The healing process much faster. I’ve understood for a long time what the Atonement means in the eternal scheme of things. But in that moment, as I saw the five petal flower, suddenly the meaning of the Atonement was personalized and sank deep into the very marrow of my bones. Symbols are important. They can communicate so much more than words, and learning to read them enriches everything good in life!

[Two excellent books for those of you who want to learn more about religious symbolism are: Joseph Fielding McConkie’s Gospel Symbolism, and Alonzo L. Gaskill’s The Lost Language of Symbolism.]


Anonymous said...

I love your blogs! :0
Oh ps... I sent another email with my stories :)

Sherrie Mills Johnson said...

Hi Aimee, Thanks for the kind words about the blog and I'll get to the stories soon!