This is the second part of my writing project on spirituality and mythology...
In college, I discovered African myths, such as Anansi the Spider (a trickster archetype), Native American myths, and even 19th Century American myths, such as Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. The Biblical stories from my Catholic upbringing also fit into this world of mythic themes and characters that I loved so much.
In fact, the figure of Jesus Christ fits the model for the hero archetype quite perfectly. The whole life of Christ follows the arc of an epic story. He was a king who was born under difficult conditions. His family goes into hiding. He has tests and helpers along the way, accomplishes great feats during middle age, and finally dies, alone, surrounded by enemies on a hilltop. It's the classic model of the heroic journey.
One of the reasons that Christ is considered one of the greatest heroes of all time is that he offers mankind something that no other hero could offer: Eternal Life. Sure, Beowulf could kill Grendel, and Robin Hood could redistribute wealth, but only Christ could bring Eternal Life to those who believe. Powerful stuff which had a profound impact on the collective human psyche (a power that more than one Roman emporor exploited in expanding the Roman Empire, which is, by the way, alive and well and living in the United States as I type this entry).
Compare Christ to King Arthur, who was born mysteriously and then went into hiding. Like Moses, Arthur was born of royal blood yet raised humbly. Eventually, he pulls the sword from the stone, which is symbolic of entering manhood. He accomplishes great things and restores order, establishing single rule and uniting the kingdom.
This pattern, identified by Campbell on page 245 of his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, occurs again and again in stories, art, and music.
All these instances point to a time in a person’s life which are considered rights of passage and they fit Campbell’s notion of the heroic journey perfectly. Now, this is not to say that these characters and events did not exist. There is plenty of evidence to suggest the Jesus Christ did, in fact, exist, just as a hero such as Beowulf once walked the earth. There is even evidence to suggest that there once was a King Arthur (in fact, the scholars believe that there were probably many King Arthurs).
What am I suggesting? I’m suggesting that we need to allow these heroes to live symbolically as well as literally. Only then will we be able to access the spiritual truths that they fought so hard to represent.
In contrast, if we get too caught up in locking these characters into a historical context, we begin to lose the symbolic and spiritual aspects of the personage and we, ourselves, remain locked into a particular historical context. In other words, we need to learn how to interpret myths.
We need to learn that myths serve as markers that point to the spirit world. We need to understand that all cultures have creation myths, and that one is not more "correct" than the others. In fact, they all point to the same God...who is the "force that through the green fuse drives the flower," "the everlasting yay," and "the eternal Is." It all points to the same force, the force that keeps our hearts beating, the force that causes us to procreate, the force that keeps the Earth in its orbit.
But let's get back to our persistent emphasis on demonstrating the historical validity of our myths. Under this approach, let me ask, how many times have you heard arguments about particular words in the Bible? Individual words.
For example, let's say I'm trying to find some guidance from the Bible on homosexuality and I find myself in Samuel. Here are some translations from 1 Samuel 20:41
"After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with is face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together - but David wept the most." (NIV)
Other translations have a different ending to the verse:
"...and they kissed one another and wept with one another, until David exceeded." (KJV)
"...and they kissed one another and wept with one another until David got control of himself." (Amplified Bible)
"and they sadly shook hands, tears running down their cheeks until David could weep no more." (Living Bible)
"They kissed each other and wept together until David got control of himself." (Modern Language)
"They kissed each other and wept aloud together." (New American Bible)
"Then David and Jonathan kissed each other. They cried together, but David cried the most." (New Century Version)
"Then they kissed one another and shed tears together, until David's grief was even greater than Jonathan's." (Revised English Bible)
"...and they kissed one another and wept with one another until David recovered himself." (Revised Standard Version)
So, which is it? If I'm going to develop a clear spiritual position on homosexuality, I need to have the actual words of God. But it's not that easy, is it? Some people believe that David and Jonathan were lovers, but it's not quite clear, is it? Is it implied? I don't know. Nobody does, although there are arguments on both sides (which will never be resolved, by the way, so the debate actually takes us nowhere).
So, do you see how arguing over versions of the myth doesn’t make any sense (outside of academic circles where they argue about these sorts of things)? It is an empty excerise. Add to this the fact that, lest we forget, the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic (and the New Testament was written in Greek). From there, it was translated into English and other languages. This only makes it more complicated.
Therefore, arguing about particular words-—unless you are a linguist or a theologian--is a waste of time from a spiritual standpoint. The spiritual lessons are not that specific. They are not hidden and they do not exist only for those special few who can know and interpret the Word of God. Instead, they exist and are readily available for all humanity. The guidance exists in works of art, theatrical performances, stories, rituals, and religions. In other words, the guidance is all around you and already in your heart. All you need to do is follow that guidance.
Christ said, for example, love God and love your Neighbor. But instead of following this simple spiritual instruction from The Man himself, we consult other areas of the Bible which enable us to promote our own worldy agenda—-even if that agenda leads us to actively hate people, such as pagans, gays, Mexicans, or Muslims.
Don’t you see? We become so caught up in arguing the tiny details that the larger spiritual message is lost. We come up with our conclusions and then seek evidence for those positions in the Bible. It's a silly game, in my opinion.
Why do we do this? Because it’s easier (and feels better) to hate with righteous indignation rather than examine our own feelings and try to live a life that is more Christ-like, or Buddha-like, or Mohammed-like, or Mother Theresa-like, as all of these great people have taught us to do.
This path leads people to do idiotic things like protest the recent funeral of a American serviceman, who dies in Iraq, who was supposedly gay. So let's see, I'm going to protest and dishonor the death of someone who has died as a direct result of his intention to defend his country from terrorism because I read something in the Bible that is going to enable me to hate someone else. Geez...I don't want to live in that world. Do you?
Okay. The other thing that bothers me about this subject is the notion that the Bible is the ONLY way to know God. I completely disagree. God is not dead. Not my God anyway. My God lives and inspires people—artists, musicians, authors, performers, and one who participates in a creative act—every day. I can feel the spirit of the creative force of the universe pulsing through my body each day.
I can also see God in art, music, rituals, and stories. God is everywhere. Therefore, to presume that the revelation of God is over and done with—that it occurred 2000 years ago and that’s all folks—seems to me to be incredibly short sighted. It’s like the forces of evil have won: They killed Christ for saying that He and the Father are One. They killed the yin yang of Christianity by eliminating the feminine from the divine, and then they said, “Okay, that’s it. The book is closed. Don’t bother coming around here with any contrary opinions.”
In effect, by taking this posture, they’ve killed God, or at least pushed him into outer space. And we wonder why so many people are depressed, addicted, unhappy. They’ve been kicked out of the Garden and have no way to re-enter.
Many (most?) of today’s priests have become officers of an institution, rather than mystics or shamans who have direct knowledge of the spirit world on their own terms. Therefore, they preach dogma. This is starting to change, with movements like Erie’s Cursillo movement, which encourages people to have their own experience of God, but it’s going to take a long time before this attitude fills the hearts of people across the U.S.
But is that what we want? Do we really want people to be in touch with their “inner God”? Do we want people to become “little Buddhas”? This, I submit, is a dangerous proposition, because it threatens those who would like to sustain the status quo. What happens when people no longer need alcohol? I shudder to think. What happens if people become so spiritually satisfied that they no longer feel the need to work 60 hours each week? This is not a desirable situation for Budweiser or Wall Street, is it?
So, what does it come down to? Why is the “God within” so may of us dead? Why does my friend tell me that “God is mad at me and I’m mad at him and I don’t ever see a way out”?
It’s because Christianity in the United States has too often been promoted and enforced as a means of social control...as a means of captivity rather than release. Be honest, when is the last time you had a unique and powerful spiritual experience? You were probably at some incredible outdoor spot, and that is, at least in part, no fair, because you were stealing spirit from the water or the trees or the rocks in order to achieve your spiritual peak.
When was the last time you had a unique and powerful spiritual experience in your own life? In your own church? I hope you can answer “all the time” However, I fear that it happens all to infrequently. That’s why so many people need televangelists to tell them who God is and what God wants.
So, can we at last begin to adopt the teaching of Christ and learn that the divine resides within each of us? That we are one with God? It seems to me that this ancient teaching—true to both Christianity and Buddhism—can lead American culture toward healing and happiness.
As for Wall Street, they will have to learn to worship new gods. And this is part of the problem. Even as Americans purport to worship Christ and the Christian God that lies beyond, we instead typically worship two more important gods: Money and Power.
God is left to Sunday mornings. Give God an hour on Sunday and you’re good to go for the rest of the week. And what happens during the rest of the week? We pursue Money and Power.
I don’t object to the pursuit of Money and Power. I’m just trying to clarify the debate. The way to worship is not an item on a “to do” list. Instead, it consists of how you live your life each day. If you build your life around the sacred, then the sacred will come into your life. Millions have found this to be true; many additional millions have not and they continue to pursue Money and Power with the hope that it will take them somewhere…that it will take them toward spirituality.
It might, I suppose, but once again we return to two great spiritual leaders: Christ and Buddha, and we learn that the way to heaven is not through wealth but through surrendering the material goods of the physical plane in order to prepare for life in the spirit realm.
And, make no mistake, preparation for life in the spirit realm begins in this world. You only need to open your heart and invite the spirit into your world.
Enough for now.