By Ellen Nimmo
Do you believe in signs?
Of course you do!
But maybe you hesitated. Maybe even now you are twisting up your face, recoiling at the term, annoyed with me for making so blanketed a statement. Offended at the very nature of what it suggests. Still. I push. I persist. You, friend, believe in signs.
Perhaps our hang-up with the term comes from being, in our western capitalistic, scientific, rational ways, a bit alarmed at the thought of outside forces being in any way active or functional (certainly not influential) in today’s world. We are too grown up for that. Too educated. Perhaps that’s true. Nevertheless, I push and persist, I must insist. You believe in signs. Even the most capitalistic, scientific, rational people do. It’s true!
Are you googling the definition of sign . . .? I’ll save you the time and distraction. Anything, any object or event, any essence, quality, or feeling, any occurrence which is indicating, pointing to the plausible presence of something in the future, something that can or should be expected, that’s a sign.
Whoa Whoa Whoa. Hold your horses, Ellen! – a dear handful of readers exclaim.
Ok, well, we don’t have to gallop, but shall we trot along?
Let’s start with the pragmatic example of capitalism. We can agree, central features of capitalism include the existence of price systems and competitive markets. Which, work off of a system of signs. You knew I was going there. Producers and consumers in a cycle of produce-and-consume, which inevitably leads to fluctuations, surprises, signs. No big surprise there, right? Certainly, that is what many a broker’s day looks like: eyes peeled and ready to spot the sign. A signal, a plausible presence of some coming shift or some staying steadiness in future days. The horserace is on, the bets are down. Revelations come as things unfold, but you better believe folks are spending energy, time, money, and heartbeats to distinguish the mighty signs of capitalism.
Sound about right? Let’s keep trotting.
Another ready and expedient example, our temporal enemy and forever friend, science. It means, at its root, knowledge. And science is all about signs. It is, at its core, the systematic initiative to build, organize and test predictions about the universe and all that’s within it. Sounds like looking for signs to me. Told you I push. Nevertheless, one could hardly refute that science loves signs. In truth, the scientific method itself is taking an idea, a hypothesis and testing it to the point where observation meets prediction. The series of refining steps to help grow understanding, explain and predict is often slow and ever evolving. Still, the searching for signs persists, as do I.
Rationality? Bring it on. Here’s why: Our reason, our ability to think, understand, form judgments, and assess situations and events, according to processes and principals of validity are all based on signs. Markedly so. Our rational is only as good as our information and if you’re still googling definitions, the words reason and sign have eerily similar ones. It seems humans are constantly in pursuit of signs, it is what informs our logic.
Was that a good decision or a bad one? Let’s look at the results. Now, let’s look back further. Were there any clues (signs) that we picked up on or ignored that would have changed the result?
Is there an indication (any signs) that things will change or stay the same? For how long?
What is likely to happen, based on what we know now? Keeping in mind, things could shift, what do we need to be aware of, what things (signs) do we need to be looking for as we move along?
Now, you may be asking with some impatience: What about when signs are wrong?
Also, what about spiritual signs?
Take my unnamed friend, for example. She and I share common viewpoints on a lot of things, tons really. But, when I used the word sign the other day, she balked. She frowned. She lovingly shook her head at me. All good. The fact is, she was wrong and I was right and it helps that she’s not here to defend herself, haha! Just kidding. But, we did get to talking a little more in depth about signs, signs of the spiritual nature. What’s neat about talking with someone who is on a different end of a spectrum than you are is that you get to learn from one another. It refines our thoughts, challenging one another’s reason.
It was a great conversation, but my friend’s reluctance to concede to the claim – signs are more prevalent that we think – gave me pause. Firstly, because she listened. And secondly, because she’s right to be cautious. The low fruit is there so I’ll pick it: we mess up signs a lot. Sure do. We contrive and twist and make up stories to suit our own ends, stamping our own insignia on events, objects and feelings, giving them power, surrendering to our own desires and delights. This happens in our economics, in our science, it happens with our ability to reason, and in regards to our faith. We mess up signs. We hunt and peck, we scavenge and search for ways to make our prices right, our cloudy hypothesis truth.
Still, signs persist. As do I.
Yes, we believe in signs. We seek them out and, God help us, we even contrive them.
Whether you believe in Jesus or not is another matter entirely, but it is tough to talk about signs without thinking of him. Wouldn’t you say? After all, the guy is credited by countless followers throughout the ages as having preformed unforgettable signs and wonders which stunned many into faith while staunchly warning against the seeking after such things. According to Jesus’s thinking, signs could be either an evidence, a testament to faith or a toxic devotion bent on doubt.
Amidst the paradox of these realities, I’ll push: we live in a world teeming with signs.
So, what about you, dear reader? Are the signs out there awaiting your scrutiny or your observation? How do you read the signs?