Antique maps, with curlicues of ink
As borders, framing what we know, like pages
From a book of travelers’ tales: look,
Here in the margin, tiny ships at sail.
No-nonsense maps from family trips: each state
Traced out in color-coded numbered highways,
A web of roads with labeled city-dots
Punctuating the route and its slow stories.
Now GPS puts me right at the centre,
A Ptolemaic shift in my perspective.
Pinned where I am, right now, somewhere, I turn
And turn to orient myself. I have
Directions calculated, maps at hand:
Hopelessly lost till I look up at last.
Theology is not tidy, nor is it necessarily the truth. Worse, even when truth is solidly in the mind of an individual, there’s no guarantee that it can be accurately conveyed to another individual. All we have is words, and words are imperfect vehicles. Even when spoken with crystal clarity, they invariably fall on subjective ears. Words require a bridge from the known to the unknown.
Metaphors are valuable because they build a bridge between the known and the unknown. Or, to put it another way, metaphors serve the same purpose as propositional statements: to orient the reader toward reality. C. S. Lewis makes the point that Christian theology itself is not as directly powerful or exciting as a personal spiritual experience, but it is necessary all the same: “Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map . . . [but] if you want to get any further, you must use the map.” It may be more pleasant to dwell on spiritual feelings without thinking about doctrine, but, Lewis continues, “you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers and music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.”
A metaphor is like a map, as well: one that is drawn in a different style than a doctrinal statement, but a map nonetheless, intended to help the reader arrive at the truth. A beautifully drawn and illustrated map will attract the eye, but not as an end in itself; rather, the map helps readers to discover where they are—perhaps to realize that, in fact, they have gotten lost!—and it helps them get where they want, or need, to go.
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John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Meet The Author
Dr Holly Ordway is Professor of English and faculty in the M.A. in Apologetics at Houston Baptist University; she holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
She is the author of Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith (Emmaus Road, 2017) and Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (Ignatius, 2014), and she has contributed chapters to C.S. Lewis at Poets’ Corner (edited by Michael Ward and Peter S. Williams), C.S. Lewis’s List: The Ten Books that Influenced Him Most (edited by David Werther) among other volumes; she is also a published poet, with poems in Word in the Wilderness and Love, Remember (edited by Malcolm Guite).
Her academic work focuses on the writings of the Inklings, especially C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Her current book project is Tolkien’s Modern Sources: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages (forthcoming from Kent State University Press, 2019).
She lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and travels regularly to speak on Tolkien, Lewis, and imaginative apologetics.
Photo of Holly Ordway by Lancia E Smith