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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Drawing on memory

Hope Symbols

Hope requires a very careful symbolization. It must not be expressed too fully in the present tense because hope one can touch and handle is not likely to retain its promissory call to a new future. Hope expressed only in the present tense will no doubt be co-opted by the managers of this age.”
Walter Brueggemann (The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd Edition)

Brueggemann explains in The Prophetic Imagination, the means by which people of faith can move from despair to freedom. He maintains that we become illiterate in the language of hope, and that the offering of symbols helps to break the downward spiral. Such symbols cannot be futuristic, but rather must be those of deepest memory; those that have always been a beacon and touchstone for this particular community. Returning to the deep symbols, the people “will discern that hope is not a late, tacked-on hypothesis to serve a crisis but rather the primal dimension of every memory of this community.”

Being of Jungian orientation, symbols are my bread and butter. In our recent political season, our candidates cleverly tapped into symbolism by adopting slogans that could be picked up by their followers and shouted with gusto. “Make America Great Again” harked back to a time some, mostly Caucasians, remember nostalgically as “a chicken in every pot;” when most people had a job, worked hard and reaped the benefits of a growing economy. It was a time when institutions and industries hired young, and then took care of their employees for life. People, at least, white people, felt secure because their lives were predictable.

The other campaign's slogan, “Stronger Together,” was more reflective of present realities, of a blended, global community, where black and white and brown people share the benefits of society. It celebrated an inclusive world in which the categories of identity are less starkly drawn. People of color are now evoking their own freedom symbols from the gospel themes of the abolition era, and the civil unrest of the 1960's. The fact that “Stronger Together” represented the present, far from strengthening it, made it less palatable. The denial of the reality of a global village has been deep and harsh.

I find myself turning to even older symbols—the descending dove of Spirit, the fish, the new moon, even various colored dots like the art of aboriginal and native peoples. Our oldest symbols offer centering, grounding, soul-level security. When we evoke them they fit like our oldest pair of jeans. Brueggemann wrote, “In offering symbols the prophet had two tasks. One is to mine the memory of this people and educate them to use the tools of hope. The other is to recognize how singularly words, speech, language and phrase shape consciousness and define reality.” Some of the word symbols that I'm seeing now are the signs of protesters saying, “We are a country of immigrants,” and “We welcome immigrants and refugees.” They evoke the memory of who we are, and what we have always stood for. Hope emerging.

                                           In the Spirit,


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