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  • Sonya Leigh Anderson

Symbolic


Photo credit to Kiana Grant Photography

I am an unpredictable crier. It is possible for me to smile throughout a son’s wedding ceremony, but tear up at the sight of a little boy in baseball uniform. I remain dry-eyed at graduations, while my husband (who is far more predictable than me) nearly always gets choked up. But I have wept as though grieving while vacuuming the vacant space that once housed my teenager’s drum-set. My tears always surprise me.

By far my most unexpected outpouring of emotion occurred a few years ago in a prayer garden in southern California. I was at a conference with several from our church staff, when a seminary professor gave a talk on leadership types. Not a typical setting for a good cry. And yet, this particular lecture triggered something so deep, later, when it was time to circle with our teams to discuss the content, I erupted in tears. Overwhelmed, I looked around the table at the rather stunned faces of several from my church’s senior staff, excused myself, and slipped away. For the next hour or so I found solitude in a quiet garden, where I alternately wept and poured out my heart to God in a simple prayer. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

The professor had been describing three types of leaders. As I recall, the labels he used were strategic, relational, and symbolic. I had never heard of a “symbolic leader.” To this day, whenever I tell the story, I find the label to be quite insufficient for the epiphany I experienced that day. The symbolic leader finds meaning in story. This leader appreciates the significance of images and symbols. The symbolic leader values beauty and artistry, in words and environments. She sees ministry as an opportunity to help others find their place in a bigger story. She cherishes the sacred rhythms and practices which retell this story. And so on. The professor was describing me.

There I was, at a conference with coworkers, friends I’d worked alongside for several years, and what I was hearing explained something I’d known was true, but couldn’t have possibly explained, because until that day, I had no explanation. This unexpected revelation gave language and vision to something essential about how I was wired, and how I thought. This was how I needed to function as a leader, and as a human being. I was overwhelmed with a sense that God understood me. This was his gift. This “symbolic” wiring was his design in me. Thus the repeated prayer, uttered through happiest tears, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”


It’s no wonder I cherish the “covenant story” woven throughout the pages of scripture. It is a biblical theme rich in symbols. Covenant partners, pledging their lives. Covenant promises, telling a story. The covenant meal; the covenant cup. The blood. Life is in the blood.

I remember the first time I received communion fully aware of its significance, seeing it in light of the covenant story. It was overwhelming and beautiful. It was alive with meaning. Jesus was my covenant partner. His life was forever bound with mine, saving me, empowering me, filling me up.


Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)

Yes, I know what it is to be hungry for him. To thirst for him. And I know my desire is his delight. It is his passion to fill me with his endless life. It’s the reason he died.

Jesus came willingly as the covenant sacrifice so he could fill me—so he could fill all of us—with his life. He was broken for us. He was poured out for us. The life he laid down is the life that now fills us up. This life consumes us. We are his.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Symbolic indeed.

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