Spirituality in Daily Life: Reject the Box – Not the Mystery! || Mary Edwards

By Mary Coday Edwards
People House Featured Blogger

In last week’s blog, I mentioned three items relevant to this week’s:

1. Staying present to your current experience: basically, HOW is your NOW?
2. Not only does this NOW hold valuable information, it’s also where we experience Oneness with the Universe, Divine, Higher Consciousness, Gaia, Brahman, Ultimate Reality, Goddess/God, non-God, Light, Love (space limits the ways this concept is expressed), and
3. Spirituality seems to imply we are seeking a connection with something greater than ourselves.

So, combining those three items, did you experience anything when you read that last phrase of No. 2, words I used to describe the ineffable, the unexplainable, the Mystery? Did any of those limiting words cause a reaction within you? In your body? Is one of your emotions screaming at the edge of your consciousness? Did you stop reading at that point? Or is one rising gently, peacefully? Did a past memory surface, pleasant or unpleasant? What did I leave out that feels important to your experience? Do you believe that some of those words/images are just flat out wrong?

I encourage you to bring your awareness to WHAT you may be rejecting and WHY.

No one can tell us exactly what – or who – this Ultimate Reality really IS. Mystics and poets down through the eons have described their own experiences and thus have given us intimations of what this Reality may look like, but at the end of the day, all these terms are metaphoric variations.

A metaphor is used when we don’t know what something is in order to give it some sort of meaning that we can connect the concept to.

Feminist Christian theologian Sallie McFague says that to think metaphorically “… means spotting a thread of similarity between two dissimilar objects, events, or whatever, one of which is better known that the other, and using the better-known one as a way of speaking about the lesser known (Note 1, pg 15).

Scholar Ian Barbour first studied science and then religion, eventually drawing comparisons and differences between the two, in particular how both used metaphors, models, and paradigms to explain the unseen (Note 2). Barbour says that “Religious language often uses imaginative metaphors, symbols, and parables, all of which express analogies” (Note 3, pg 119).

Models & paradigms: Helpful, but not the same as Reality!

Some of these analogies evolve into models. For example, Western Christians are familiar with the metaphors of God as father, king/conqueror, to the point where the Divine is restricted to this patriarchal-defined reality, leaving analogical language behind. In parts of Latin America, the model of God as Liberator informs reality.

But the New Testament scriptures are replete with other metaphors, such as God as the woman seeking her coin. Although that is mentioned in the same Bible verse as the parable of the good shepherd, how many stained glass windows do you see depicting God as Woman seeking her lost coin? Or Jesus as a Mother Hen, gathering up her chicks under her wings (Note 4)? Neither of those metaphors even made it to model stage.

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And this is not just true of Western Christianity; I’ve seen and experienced this pattern repeat itself all over the world. Every religion, every sect, for the most part, has definite ideas about Ultimate Reality, leaving little wiggle room – in other words, little room left for Mystery. It’s the mystics who shatter the walls of their respective boxes.

Barbour goes on to explain how a model can then crystalize into a paradigm. A paradigm, whether in science or religion, includes metaphysical assumptions and captures the imagination of its adherents. In the process, a paradigm defines reality, determines what sort of questions can be asked, and what sort of tools are used to analyze this reality (Note 5).

“Doubt frees us from illusions of having captured God in a creed.”

We have inklings of this Otherness, but our words anthropomorphize this Otherness. When we say, “God is Love,” our human ideas, images, and definitions of love immediately surface. Whatever negative or positive attributes we associate with love are now imputed to the God we defined as love.

When we reject “God”, what we might really be rejecting is the metaphor, the model, or the paradigm presented to us as the only or primary version of Ultimate Reality.  Perhaps it was imposed upon us in our childhoods and it no longer fits our experience. Our world picture changes as we grow and change.

Additionally, if you’re reading this blog, you’re either my good friend or relative, and/or you’re interested in growing spiritually. As noted in last week’s blog, spirituality conveys the idea of living peaceably with ourselves, with each other, and with our natural environment. The global battle for religious supremacy still rages among us. Thinking metaphorically vs. in absolutes (OUR absolutes) about the Divine opens up a space of humility within us where we can cultivate kindness, gentleness, and compassion for our fellow travelers.

Barbour says that, “Doubt frees us from illusions of having captured God in a creed” (Note 6).

So does thinking metaphorically.


Note 1: McFague, Sallie. Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982, 1987.

Note 2: The atoms subatomic construct cannot be directly observed, but based on theories we’ve developed amazing technology, such as this computer I’m typing on, my cell phone, and information available at my fingertips due to the internet.

Note 3: Barbour, Ian. Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.

Note 4: Luke 15:8-10; Matthew 23:37

Note 5: For more information on metaphors, models, and paradigms, see Barbour, Religion and Science; Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study in Science & Religion; Harper & Row, 1974; and Kuhn, T.S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; University of Chicago Press, 1996 ed.

Note 6: Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative


About the Author: Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth