I came across the phrase ‘morticed metaphors’ in ‘The Greatest Prayer’ a book by Dominic Crossan about the Lord’s Prayer. Crossan is wonderful for the way he can breathe new life into subjects that we think we know all about.
The phrase comes from a fragment of poetry by Gerard Manley Hopkins. it is just a fragment –
Yes for a time they held as well
Together, as the criss-cross’d shelly cup
Sucks close the acorn: as the hand and glove:
As water moulded to the duct it runs in:
As keel locks close to kelson –
Let me now
Shake and unset your morticed metaphors
The hand draws of the glove; the acorn cup
Drops the fruit out: the duct runs dry or breaks:
The stranded keel and kelson warp apart
And your two etc
And that’s it – there is no more, and we don’t know where he was going to go next.
But it’s that phrase, the ‘morticed metaphors’ that Crossan takes to describe how metaphors can become more reified and more real than the reality which they try to describe. They become concrete, set in stone, in a way that they were never meant to be.
For me, this is what has happened with Christianity. The metaphors have become set in stone and the truths they were meant to describe, allude to, have been discarded, or set as an optional extra.
God is a metaphor – for what a community sees as good and of value and life-giving. It is a human construct and it can be a very useful, life enhancing concept.
Too often though it becomes tied up with power and prejudice , and the metaphor becomes an idol – an object to be worshipped in its own right, rather than being recognised as something that points to a truth that we should be trying to live out as a community.
However I believe it does not have to be like this. There can be groups of people living life to the full and ensuring that all others can too, sharing and loving and giving, and laughing.