Thursday, July 18, 2013

Significance of Signs

I was out for a leisurely walk yesterday afternoon.  It was one of those glorious days that would be unfortunate to miss.  It was an effort not so much focused on exercise and more focused on simply enjoying the day.  I am not sure I do enough of that.  Too often I am in the middle of something I think is important and I am too much in a hurry to get to wherever I am going.  I think I do miss the roses sometimes!

I was trying to pay attention to the world around me and the cosmic beauty.  But I was not particularly focused on anything special.  I was not trying to see anything nor learn anything special.  I was certainly not thinking about this reflection to be written tonight.  But as usual, if one is open and attentive, things are revealed.  Once again, I went for a walk and something spiritual occurred.

It was provoked by an older woman who was driving down a street.  I did not even notice until she stopped and a young lad jumped out of the car and disappeared into one of the college buildings.  There was nothing unusual in that.  But then the woman pulled into a driveway and began to turn around.  Suddenly, I was alert.  She was preparing to drive the wrong way on the one-way street.

I came close to the car, as she was already backing out, ready to head in the wrong direction.  Without a sound, I simply pointed to the direction she was supposed to drive…and I walked on.  Sometimes I know people intentionally drive the wrong way on a street.  But I think she was going wrong out of ignorance.  I had shown her the correct way; it was up to her to decide which way to go.

I do think in her case, it was ignorance.  I don’t think she saw any one-way sign.  And then it hit me.  Immediately I was fascinated by signs and their function.  Suddenly I started seeing signs all over the place.  I never realized how many signs there are in my work neighborhood---and probably in many neighborhoods.

There are stop signs, street signs, signs to identify buildings.  There are signs on stores and in stores.  I realized that a primary function of a sign is to point out something.  Signs “tell” us things.  More precisely, signs “signify” something.  Good signs are clear and unambiguous.  We talk about a stop sign.  It means one thing.  It ‘signifies” by both its shape and its wording.  Of course, we can choose to ignore it.  Funny that when that happens, we say someone “ran a stop sign!”

The most common form of signs in our world would be the words we use.  If I say “cat,” you do not think “elephant.”  The word “cat” signifies some little feline animal---anything but an elephant.  Good signs usually have a shared meaning.  All of us who drive know what the stop sign means.  Signs like this have significance.

The significance of the stop sign is that it prevents accidents and chaos.  Think how messy it would be if all drivers did whatever they felt like when they came to stop signs.  If we did this, the stop sign would have no significance.  It would be meaningless.

One more step led me to realize not all signs deal with words.  If I smile, that is a sign that I am ok or, even, happy.  That could have significance.  It probably means I am not likely to bite off your head!  So signs signify and they have significance.  But is there anything spiritual in all this?

Of course there is spirituality implicated here.  Let’s take the cue from my example of the smile.  My smile is how I present myself in the moment.  It gives you a cue and maybe a clue to my personality.  Or my smile may mislead you; my smile may be faking you out to believe something I want you to believe.  But we all know that I am more than a smile.  And you are, too.

But the point is made.  I present myself every day by how I am and who I am.  I am a walking, talking sign.  I am always signifying.  Hopefully, I have significance.  But I know some signs have no significance.

Allow me to take this to the ultimate level.  I suggest the incarnation itself is the super-sign.  For Christians the incarnation affirms that the Divinity became humanity in Jesus.  In effect, Jesus “signs” God’s Presence on earth.  What he said and did were powerful events of signaling something specific about God’s desire for human beings.  His life as a sign had immense significance.  That is spiritual to the “nth” degree.

The spiritual significance in this is clear: each of us has the same “signing” capacity as we go about our own lives.  It is not just a Christian thing; it is a religious (or spiritual) thing.  Our lives signify our loyalties, our values, and our purpose. Let your life speak!  And let your life speak significantly.  Let your life be one of significance of the sign of God’s Presence.           

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