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Archive for November 26th, 2013

religion

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning of life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really looking for. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. (Joseph Campbell)

I find myself engaged in frequent conversation these days with very earnest and thoughtful people who struggle, as sons and daughters of post-modernity, with the religious notions handed down from antiquity. I struggle right along with them. The struggle is meaningful in itself. I too feel the tension between the call of scientific consciousness that seeks to understand how things work and the deep need to know why there is anything at all which science can not address.

As one dedicated to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, I must navigate between their import and the traditions and rituals that have wrapped themselves around them. Should I, as one keen to know through the lens of science, dispense with all the myth that has no basis in historical fact and rededicate myself, in all aspects of my life, to only the verifiable and objective? If I did, what would I miss other than the comforting blanket of forms that surrounded my early years that were taught with such seeming authority:  a virgin birth,  a star of Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus in December after a long journey for Mary & Joseph from Nazareth on a camel, three wise men, etc.

None of these are rooted in fact. None of these are history. They are either stories that can elevate our sights or provide quaint and dispensable legends. 

Mythos means story or fabrication. In what sense are myths true or are they simply fictions designed to avoid facing what we don’t know? As Joseph Campbell expresses so well, they actually make it possible for us to be more fully alive. They are  lenses through which we can discern meaningful movement and detail, texture and color that would otherwise be lost to us. Myths bring the banal and ordinary to a heightened level and call us to deeper presence in relating to the world. 

Far from works of mere fiction, myth is another form of sight. Like an astronomer using different lenses to reveal subtler detail of studied planets, or a photographers use of lenses to extend seeing, myth serves to examine teachings in the form of story that engage our whole being ( head, heart and spirit). Entering the story makes it possible to journey deeper into the truths at which the teachings are pointing. Even in science, metaphor is used to capture the realities under study in ways that tell a story so we can enter into physical mysteries more deeply: black holes, white holes, warping of the fabric of space-time, the curvature of space, quarks ( never seen but evidence suggests they are real), dark matter, dark energy, etc.

So, how might we make right use of the myths of Christianity to experience its teachings more deeply and fully. I offer merely one set of possibilities born of my own meditations choosing three of those mysteries:

  • a Virgin birth: I imagine Mary’s full “Yes” to the Spirit delivering such news regardless of the social awkwardness of that revelation. I envision her fear giving way to joy in accepting even the seemingly impossible – a lesson in what it means to take a leap of faith into the unknown guided by gut instinct and a personal epiphany. Mary’s “Magnificat” calls me to examine the boundaries of my own surrender to the real and cynicism in response to hope and possibility. All births are miraculous! All births are arrivals from the unknown? One life can change us all! Where is the impossible happening in spite of my disbelief and what are the self-imposed limits by which I restrict my sense of what’s real?
  • a star shining brightly over the manger in Bethlehem: Three Kings of the Orient came bearing gifts and I imagine their dedicated search for the One foretold in scripture journeying over the desert in the “bleak mid-Winter”. I see their joy at coming upon the scene marked by portents in the Heavens and adoring the Child whose life would change the world. What lies beneath such a story that communicates enduring truth? In childhood, we see things animated by fantastical purposes and then, as we age, life’s challenges weaken our hold on hope and a sense of possibilities. Are the stars so separate? Are we not made of the same stuff?Are we not children of the stars? Are there not many seeming coincidences that nonetheless strike us as meaningful and that enrich our experiences? About what am I so passionate and so alive that I will journey long and hard to search it out? Where is the dedication to revelation that this story expresses? Do I see the miracles embedded in the events that too often go unappreciated?
  • Resurrection: A Soter, a bearer of Light, dies and then rises again as prefigured in the myth of Osiris and Persephone’s rise from Hades in the Spring; a Presence too great to be snuffed out who achieves a consciousness about which we can only imagine. Is death the end? Do we live on in another condition? Is our personal consciousness dead once the brain stops? Where are we going? Do we merely become dust once more? This is the central myth of Christianity. In the universe, matter and energy is neither created nor destroyed. Carl Jung spoke of the objective psyche, independent of any one of us, that draws us toward certain constellations of thought and ultimately story. I can leap into the arms of mystery and believe that, like matter and energy, consciousness too rejoins a process that, like all things in the Cosmos, is complexifying and moving toward completion. To posit an abrupt end to consciousness would stand in contrast to everything else we know about the universe. I leap into the arms of mystery, suspend my disbelief and open my heart to what mind can never grasp. I can imagine it beyond the limits my reason would impose.

Myth is a form of poetry. Without the humanities, science is cold, impersonal and can lead to destruction ( e.g., we made the atom bomb because we could). The arts are not optional. Without the aesthetic sense and literature, all things lose their deeper essence and rootedness in the mysteries. We loose the soul in the machine. Science too is written in myth like the Myth of Objectivity. We know that our tools of study affect the phenomena that we study. Mind is structured in terms of story and stripping story of metaphor is to make it hollow.

Hegel reasoned late in life that poetry was the only language that can carry us farther than simple logic. Indeed, I could say to you: ” As I age, I see that I, like everything, am on the move propelled by the same forces”, or we can read the poetry of Dylan Thomas:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower 
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees 
Is my destroyer. 
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose 
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The poem carries us deeper and speaks to mind, heart and soul and from the imagery we are perpetually edified.

Myth is the process by which we see into ourselves and the mysteries and are a critical part of knowing.

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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