Physical Parables

There are many ways that spiritual truths can be shared with with pictures from the natural world. Jesus used parables extensively in His teaching, and Paul often used metaphors. These pictures often described spiritual concepts by using a physical item to picture them. For example, Jesus described our relationship to Him by using the image of a vine, and Paul described our existence as a called-out people as a body, a building, and a cultivated field. In the Old Testament, God used actual physical items and actions to do the same. Broken pottery, unfaithful wives, and even bread recipes. 🙂

I think this technique still has power, and am interested in exploring it practically by creating physical objects that can be used to illustrate spiritual truths. The goal is to make us more aware of spiritual reality. As I’ve pondered this over the years, a number of possibilities have come up. Eventually, I hope to start making them, but as a start, they are briefly listed below. Some of them are described more fully in posts, and the link is given.

Virtual reality photography allows someone to view a scene from any direction as if they were actually standing there. It can be a powerful tool for illustrating spiritual reality, and can also be a metaphor itself for having spiritual sight.

In addition to VR photography itself being a metaphor, immersing people in a virtual reality space can be used to bring spiritual concepts to life. This would be especially effective if used with immersive 3D technologies such as VR headsets that include audio. When we experience things ourselves, the natural inclination is to believe what we see. Thus, such experiences can help people accept things like the truth of miracles, the historical existence of Jesus, and the reality of the spiritual world. Also, creative visual effects can be used to further illustrate limitations of our natural senses and reasoning abilities.

Pictures can be printed using inks that glow when illuminated by UV light. Such a picture would be invisible under normal circumstances. This could be especially effective when combine with a printing image, for the two together could illustrate the existence of both physical and spiritual reality. Here is a description of such a possibility.

People have constructed a series of pendulums, that when started at the same time, exhibit a variety of dynamic patterns. This can be used to illustrate the way the Holy Spirit can act in the lives of believers to coordinate our actions and behaviors.

It is possible to control flashing LEDs in a way that cause us to see images as the LEDs move around. A variation of this is to flash LEDs such that they make images as our eyes move past them. This can be used to illustrate the keys to seeing things spiritually.

Cubes can be viewed from three completely different directions, and can be carved so that their appearance is completely different from each direction. By shining light through them, and allow the completely different shadows to be cast, one can make an illustration of the Trinity. I call this a “Trinity Lamp”.

Museums often make use of a special type of speaker which projects sound in a very specific, localized location. An array of these, deployed above a group of people, could direct each person in a different, yet coordinated way. Such a construction could be used to explore and illustrate a variety of concepts related to the Holy Spirit’s direction in our lives.

Standard concepts from science can be used to illustrate spiritual principles. Although they may work well as essays, I think they could be physically realized for greater impact. Examples include crystals, super-cooled water, and relativity.

Scripture uses a number of things to illustrate spiritual concepts. Some of my favorites include the use of water. With a growing interest in waterfalls, I’ve come to see a number of ways they could be used to illustrate things like God’s power, majesty, the refreshment of living water, etc.

If a dripping fixture is designed to be very consistent, it can be illuminated by carefully-timed strobes such that drops appear to be falling in slow motion. The effect is striking, and can be used to illustrate how our perception of time can be different than reality, and related, how God’s perception of time is different than ours.

If a person stares straight ahead while an object is moved slowly out of their field of vision, at some point it will seem to disappear. However, if the object is moving or flashing, it can be detected much further even though not really seen. The difference is quite noticeable when personally experienced, and nicely illustrates our limited senses. This is related to the virtual reality photograph metaphor, and can be used to explore the relationship between limited physical sense and spiritual sensitivity, perhaps also related to the flashing LEDs.

An interesting aspect of our visual system can be illustrated by staring at a single color for a period of time. Then when that color is replaced by a neutral tone, the opposite color will be seen. It is not really there, but is an artifact of the way our eyes work. The effect can be used to create a striking illusion by having a subject stare at the inverted colors from a picture, then suddenly replace that with a gray scale version of the picture. The subject will see a full-color picture, even though it’s not really there. This striking illusion can be used to illustrate how things we perceive can be real, from a human standpoint, even though they don’t physically exist, and related spiritual concepts.

Scrims are common theatrical devices intended to hide a scene until it is purposefully revealed. Typically, it is a light-colored material with many holes, like something coarse weave. When lit form the front, it becomes a fairly bright surface. An unlit scene is then set up behind such a screen. The imbalance in lighting causes the background scene to be unseeable, until lighting is added, typically at the same time that the front lights on the scrim are lowered. The result is that the previously-hidden scene becomes visible. This effect could be used to illustrate various spiritual concepts, such as the revealing of truth. In fact, the Bible uses the idea of a veil to illustrate a truth that has been hidden.

Stained glass windows present a picture that is most apparent when lit from behind. They are most beautiful then, too. This may make a nice metaphor for consciousness, by thinking that the picture we see (our mind) is composed of both elements — the physical (the glass), and the spiritual (the backlight). If we disturb the glass, perhaps by covering it, then should we assume that it is the glass that produces the glowing picture, and ignore the light behind?

Imaging looking at a VR photo, and the opening scene is of the outside of a building. You swipe (or whatever) to look around, expecting to see the street behind you, perhaps other buildings, and so on. Instead, the view quickly returns to the original scene, as if held there by a rubber band. In the brief view you had, it seems different than expected, but not sure how. Moving faster, you eventually realize the opening scene is a picture on the wall, and you are actually inside the building. The difficulty in looking away represent dogma, and the reality of the scene how much our preferred view of the world may be wrong.

A collection of many of these could create a compelling space for exploring spiritual concepts. Here is such a possibility.

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