To a Hammer, Everything is a Nail; to a Teacher, a Lesson Plan; to a Believer, Jesus Christ

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

Regarding Hammers and Teachers

I’ve noted on the blog in several places that I consider myself a metaphorist (if there is such a word–or pursuit) as well as a teacher. Like the references above to hammers and teachers, I’m always dialed in to perceiving one thing via another.

For example, as a teacher, I would immediately use the hammer/nail metaphor to teach, well, metaphor–after first having explained what that figure of speech is. Presenting a list of idioms helps drive the meaning home because everyone uses metaphor: for example, “keep this under your hat” (keep it secret), “don’t bite off more than you can chew” (take on too much work), “drive it home” (get to the point), etc. The trick for writers, of course, is to avoid clichés, or overused comparisons.

When I teach international students, I invite them to share idioms from their own language or provide examples of those similar to ours in English. Metaphor enhances cultural awareness, too. For example, from a student from an oil-rich Middle Eastern country came “born with a gold spoon in his mouth,” for “our” “born with a silver spoon.”

For another example, this from the viewpoint of a foreign student who was learning English, the following (my favorite anecdote).

“K.J.” a woman from South Korea, was in her first year or two of learning this crazy language called English. In the first year, of course, we teach the essentials of the language: parts of speech, sentence structure, etc. I like to sneak poetry in there, too, because the basic elements of language can get really tedious, and besides, students in community colleges often have some form of higher education from their home country. They appreciate the foray into something a little more interesting.

Such was the case with K.J. She held a Master of Fine Arts degree from a prestigious institution in South Korea. Some of her “fabric art (the kind that covers whole walls) hangs in museums and galleries back home. She brought pictures on our request. Her art, woven from ordinary bolts of cotton, wool, and synthetic fabric, depicts waterfalls, sunsets, forests…breathtaking stuff…

One day when we covered a poem for the first time (so I could teach on the topic of inference), K.J. began to cry. When asked why, she told me, “I thought English was only nouns and verbs…”

I gleaned, in her comment and because of her artistic background, she was expressing a kind of loss. She had, in this first stage of learning English, understandably interpreted this new language as one comprised only of the names of people, things, and places and action words, and how you arrange said nouns and verbs in sentences…

(This still makes ME tear up and, for what it’s worth, it reminds me of this little scene in “Charlie Brown Christmas.”)

Some might think metaphor is only for the classroom or teachers or writers, but I think it’s one of God’s key mechanisms to reveal Himself. Even small children “get” that there is more to what is viewed, heard, or experienced than the obvious. My favorite example of this comes from a family story.

My nephew was holding his two-year-old son on his shoulders so the youngster could get a closer view (above everybody’s heads) of fireworks. The child pointed up to the colorful (and noisy) bursts of color, exclaiming here, “Peacock!” there, “Flower” or whatever he saw in the fireworks displays that compared to other elements of his young awareness.

There is also metaphor in music, scent, and touch, of course. One of the reasons I love to walk (for, ah, exercise, yeah) is because it is a multi-sensory and metaphor-rich experience for me.

But perhaps you, too, have been transported back to somewhere in the past prompted by a whiff of newly mowed grass today or perhaps when a breeze brings some fragrant flower to the attention of your sense of smell.

When I walk by a horse barn on the country road near my home, I am often instantly transported in memory to a farm we lived on in 1957-58 where we kids roamed at will, exploring, running through fields (and having to hold still for Mom to check closely for wood ticks, later on) and learning about chickens and horses and wheat fields by scent, sight, and touch.

Not every sensory experience was pleasant, however, but in my memory, all of it is colored, now, in the bitter-sweet nostalgia of being very young, free to roam, and with a future as far-reaching and hopeful as, say, the color splash of a yellow, orange and red sunset stretching across the horizon as far as young eyes could see.

But besides the multi-sensory experience of verbal and non-verbal metaphor that enhances life (or in some cases, serves to warn one away from some threat or danger) I think it’s one of God’s essential mechanisms of communication, too.

And, it solves the problem of critics who argue that people who can’t read a Bible, or those who are forbidden to read one, or who will never hear a missionary’s sermon, don’t have a chance of “getting saved” via the Christian’s theology.

To that I suggest, well, look up, see, smell, touch, taste…

Regarding Jesus Christ…

…”in (Whom) all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him”…and there’s a lot more commentary like that in the Bible–that book, you might say, suggesting all that is seen and unseen. Consider: “(S)ince the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

And (this is my FAVORITE part of the analysis of all things God–made through His Son, Jesus Christ–no, this is my favorite part of what can be seen, heard, tasted, smelled and touched about the Metaphorist of metaphorists): like my little great-nephew, we can look up in excitement and awe. God isn’t only about judgement, He is also equal parts mercy, knowledge, wisdom–and pleasure.

And one last nod to the critics who might presume God’s message is only one of do’s and don’ts and Hell and damnation and how you behave as opposed to Who you put your faith in (an analysis similar to my ESL student K.J.’s very limited view of English as only a language of surface meanings) I invite you to simply look up and around. “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” as the Psalmist put it. And allow your perception of God to be expanded as well.

Here might be a good place to start:

Here’s another good place:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Not only that (in other words and images):

I invite you to savor today the riches of God’s love and of His creation that He gave and continues to give for–and because of–you.


Cross image adapted and designed by Claire Beveridge Gumbs.

This entry was posted in Bible/literary themes, elements, Devotionals, most recent posts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to To a Hammer, Everything is a Nail; to a Teacher, a Lesson Plan; to a Believer, Jesus Christ

  1. pmcb says:

    Thanks again, for a “like”.

    I almost called this one,”A Metaphorical Interlude to Refresh Believers in These Dark Times,” lol. With so much hate in the world, we lose a lot of “color”–and encouragement and hope–in the fog of (spiritual) warfare, let alone what’s happening literally on the streets.

    I am reminded of pictures of another era in recent history when the whole world, it seemed, was in such turmoil, notably, World War II. The (color) pictures revealed the lush, green, fertile farms surrounding the gray, bleak colors of concentration camps.

    Hate seems to thrive in colorless places.

    Cheers and Blessings,

    —–Original Message—–

    Liked by 1 person

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