Life as an arduous journey is an ancient metaphor. The Greek word metapherein, from which our English metaphor comes, is made up of the words meta, meaning “over, or across,” implying a change of state or location, and pherein, meaning “to bear, or carry.” In modern as in ancient Greek, the word metapherein commonly means “to transport, or transfer.”
Though we think of metaphor as a mere figure of speech, something poetic and decorative, in fact metaphors abound in our lives, underlying many concepts that we take for granted. And metaphors condition, far more than we realize, the way we think about ourselves and our world, and therefore the way we are and act. So to consider a metaphor seriously, bringing it to consciousness, turning it over in our minds and hearts, is to allow ourselves to be carried across toward some subtle yet profound inner change.
Metaphors can engage our imagination and spirit, transporting us beyond the literality of what seems to be in front of us toward what’s deeper, more lively, and dynamic. Objects in the world can be defined, measured, and manipulated according to our specifications. But the heart can’t be. Its requirements are more subtle, more vague. Metaphors are inexact and suggestive; they take an image or a concept and map it onto another image or concept that may seem quite disparate, as if to say “this is like that; understand this and you will understand that.”
In this way metaphor can help us to feel our way into the unspeakable, unchartable aspects of our lives. Seeing your life as a “spiritual odyssey” is a metaphorical truth. Contemplating your life as a spiritual odyssey can help you to enter hidden parts of your life…
Perhaps we are living in a post-heroic age. Maybe the human race, so full of promise, bright ideas, and hubris, is finally weary of the toxic idealisms and thoughtless excesses of power that have been so destructive and so exhausting for so long. We have seen and done too much, and it has left us dazed and confused.
Maybe, like Odysseus, we are finally ready simply to return home to what we are, to our beauty and strength as well as our limitations. Maybe we are ready to see that what’s wanted and needed is what was there all along, our animal life, our love and our presence. Maybe we’re ready finally to become the creatures that our deepest stories and metaphors have always described: half heavenly, half stupidly earthbound, full of wonder and awe, powerful and vulnerable.
Maybe the point of our life’s journey, our spiritual odyssey, is not conquest or perfection, whether spiritual or worldly, but rather the simple transformation into what we have been all along: flesh-and-blood people in a flesh-and-blood world, feeling what people feel and doing what people do. Returning home to what we are.
Could this be enough?