Publication details [#7115]

Lane, Belden C. 1987. Language, metaphor, and pastoral theology. 16 pp.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language


Metaphor is a particular form of language-play in which the familiar, commonplace, and down-to earth is used to speak in a striking, often shocking - though incomplete and indirect - way, about the unfamiliar.... The processes involved in pastoral care and spiritual direction may be very different from those of psychotherapeutic intervention, but the creative - even shocking - use of metaphor in effecting change is quite similar. Pastoral theology is perennially concerned with the whole linguistic process by which truth is "carried over" (metaphora) from systematic reflection. How are meanings transferred from ideation to praxis, and back again? This is the essential function of metaphor in provocatively superimposing one set of meanings over another. What it may lack in strict precision is gained in the creative mixing of disparate images. Novelist Walker Percy was well aware of this delightful, if also troubling, feature of every metaphor-that, strictly speaking, it is "wrong." It asserts of one thing that it is something else. Yet the peculiar scandal of metaphor is that "it is wrongest when it is most beautiful." It provokes where it most delights. This imaginative openness of language is what finally makes possible the relating of theology to all the ambiguities of lived experience. Our concern here will be to argue for the theological indispensability of metaphor and to suggest four characteristics of this figure of speech which make it particularly adaptable to the tasks of pastoral theology. Metaphor may be understood as a form of playing with language. Cicero said that an important mark of a metaphor is its giving of pleasure, and the Scriptures make it clear that God takes great delight in playfulness with speech. 2 Metaphor is a particular form of language play in which the familiar, commonplace, and down-to-earth is used to speak in a striking, often shocking-though incomplete and indirect way, about the unfamiliar. It forces a constant interplay of experience and preconception in the process of "naming" one's world a virtual dance of mixed meanings by which the Spirit gives life. (Belden Lane)