12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; 13 I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. 14 It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, 15 and I will remember My covenant. (Genesis)
Just yesterday, following a brief rain fall, a double rainbow appeared in the sky! It was a very brilliant, colorful, and complete bow. A special rainbow since you don’t always see a full rainbow, let alone a double full rainbow in which you could distinctly discern each color of each bow. Unfortunately I did not take a picture of that rainbow, so I included the picture above which I took last year. As beautiful as the bow in the picture is, it pales in comparison to the rainbow of last night.
As I stared at that perfect creation of nature my mind flowed to many thoughts and feelings, one of which was to wonder what others thought about when they saw this rainbow. Did they even notice it? What emotion did it trigger? It’s amazing that no matter how old I am, the first snow of the season makes me feel like a kid; and the sight of a perfect rainbow causes me to pause and wonder what it all means. Do sights in nature give you pause? Why?
Symbols are all around us. Street signs are now devoid of words in exchange for a shape, color and picture; icons are replacing text in computing and technology; emoticons replace our need to find just that right word to express our feelings. It seems to me that as time progresses our means of communicating is morphing into pictures and symbols and not the usage of traditional words. I’m not saying this in a sense of regret, just stating that symbols, in ours and almost all cultures, are important to the members of a society, and if you wish to get along in society you need to understand and embrace it’s symbols.
Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), world recognized scholar of mythology, in an interview in 1985 stated: “I’m calling a symbol a sign that points past itself to a ground of meaning and being that is one with the consciousness of the beholder.” In other words, a symbol is something which holds meaning to each of us individually (a myth holds meaning to the society as a whole). I have been fascinated with symbol and myth since my early years in college as I began to realize how often we turn to objects to give us meaning. Our early ancestors, when they didn’t understand the world around them, assigned meaning to objects or events to understand them.
Even today, in our “modern” age, we continue to assign meaning to objects, such as a ring. These objects are symbols with meaning, meant to express emotion or concepts in a simple way. This is one of the reasons the first snow fall symbolizes the joy of childhood for me.
Yesterday, as I watched that rainbow, I realized that there is much in this world which is greater than ourselves. We are small in comparison to our universe; but, in our symbols, we become large to those who understand their meaning. I may be small in comparison to the universe, but in comparison to the people who love me, I am large, just as they are large in my part of the universe.
I encourage all of us to find those symbols which are important to you and cherish them. Spend some time meditating on the world around you and begin to notice all the symbols. Name them, embrace their meaning, feel their meaning, cherish their meaning as they help you to understand who you are in this vast universe.