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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

On Symbol and Subject

As children are in part symbol, so likewise are parents.  I remember mother telling me when I was just this side of being a toddler, our family had recently been moved to another church and both mother and dad were feeling discouraged.  She said they were sitting in the parsonage and heard me circling the house singing refrains of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  This offered great encouragement to them.  In this case, I had become more than child, I had become the fresh air that a child can represent.  Likewise my parents became symbols.  Not only did they stoke the necessary fires of the home, they came to represent foremost the meaning of sacrificial love. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Anyone who has been generously accepted into the love proffered by a child knows what Jesus is getting at. So it is clear that while an individual is something upon which a strict physiological description can be given, that same individual inescapably for better or worse becomes a symbol of qualities good or ill.  The inescapable role of mankind as a deriver of symbols is evidenced by his turning the energy engines of stars into abiding symbols.  A “black hole” is subsumed into symbol almost from the moment it is identified.  I am reminded of Yeats phrase “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”  Perhaps this is a doctor’s role—to abstract the purely physical aspects of a patient.  Not being a doctor, I cannot know the challenges here, but surely even an emergency room physician must face them.

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