19: work the metaphor.

19. Work the metaphor. Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.

– Bruce Mau, An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth

(For a recap of what I am doing, read this post.)

“A metaphor is not language, it is an idea expressed by language, an idea that in its turn functions as a symbol to express something.” – Susanne Langer

‘Tis the beginning of the holiday season aka the season of the metaphor, the season of symbols.  (Let me add then:  Work the SYMBOL.)

What is Christmas but a metaphor for joy and hope to some and gross commercialism to others?

There is darkness, cold, and gloom that is a reflection of the weather outside and the amount of daylight.  We look to create rituals and traditions to bring us back to the light, survive the darkest day of the year, and lead us to love or to Christ or to joy or to goodness – whatever works for you.  We light our Advent candle as a symbol for spiritual preparation.  We walk a spiral to symbolize going inward to kindle your own inner light during this time of reflection and contemplation. Whether you celebrate the birth of Christ or the end of the darkest of days at winter solstice, there is an implicit hero and villain at this time of year.  My soul feels this need to conquer the dark, the night, the cold.


Every story I tell or lesson I teach are all metaphors and symbols.   They all stand for something completely different – a theme for life that I hope my children will awaken to one day.  They will all have a  “Oh! That’s what she meant” kind of moment.  I was discussing a quote from Moby Dick with my daughter: “Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and make him the own brother of Jove?” We talked about water and the sea.  Metaphors abound.  As she reads with eyes that look beneath the surface of the story, there is a renewed interest in the story.  The whole book is a lesson in metaphors.

When I talk about the limbs of a deer through story and how they propel the deer forward, carry its weight and in general, serve the trunk of the deer, I hope that my daughter will eventually understand how her limbs can serve and not only to carry the weight of her body but to carry others through the weight of her heart.

That is how I prepare every month.  I explore metaphors or symbols in stories.  I use them to teach the theme that I want them to grasp whether it’s feeling at home in their own body as a human being or understanding the virtues and the honour in the early republic of Rome.  I skip the details and focus on what will embody these themes that I want my children to absorb with each lesson block.

In December, I tell stories of warmth and comfort.  Recently, at a storytelling drop-in, we heard the popular story: “The Mitten.”  It is a favourite in our house.  The kids love hearing about animals, predator and prey, just looking for a warm place to go.  We read stories to celebrate feasts and festivals.  We do a family activity every day where all 7 of us must participate in together.  This is a tradition that the children look forward to every year.  This is how we let the light in – by coming together and celebrating family.


I have worked hard establishing traditions for our little family over the years.  Tradition itself gives comfort and security.  We do the same activities, tell the same stories, make the same crafts, sing the same carols, and recite the same verses. Through this dedication to tradition, even when I am exhausted and want to let this month slip by unnoticed, I know that in the coming years, as they move in separate directions, they will have these rituals to ground themselves and to stay connected to our family.  By the end of November, they are always excited about December and there is always discussion around their favourite traditions and an uproar if I plan to skip some.

We are just awaiting the snowfall. The white against the grey.  The white against the grim.  The blanket covering the earth. The quiet movement of tiny perfect snowflakes against the stark immovable landscape. The little ones call out to King Winter to visit us because we have had enough of Jack Frost’s mischief.  They call for the gentle, delicate, and fleeting snowfall.

How are you working the metaphor or the symbol this December?



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