The Hero's Journey
It seems to me that there are universal stories that are particularized by noble souls such as Dorothy from Oz and Frodo from the Shire and Rocky from Philadelphia and Luke Skywalker and Jesus from Nazareth alike. And because the stories are universal, it doesn’t matter whether the noble souls who particularize them are real or not. It doesn’t matter because there’s something within us that recognizes and relates to truth regardless of the factuality or non-factuality of the messenger.
And if you don’t believe me, I would ask you to reflect upon the impact Old Yeller, Nancy Drew, Dr. Seuss and Captain Kangaroo have had on the life you’re living today. There’s something within us that recognizes and relates to truth regardless of the factuality or non-factuality of the messenger.
I think that’s why we’re drawn to noble souls such as Dorothy and Frodo and Rocky and Luke and Jesus. I think we’re drawn to noble souls who remind us of truth.
And one such universal story goes something like this: when an emerging idea arrives to challenge an existing idea, something of an upheaval follows.
And this universal story can be found on the pages of our individual biographies.
I imagine everyone reading this can relate to an emerging idea arriving to challenge an existing idea.
Doing what I do for a living, I can quite promise you that when the simple suggestion that beauty and truth exist on all spiritual paths arrives to challenge the common perception that beauty and truth exists only on my spiritual path (whatever my spiritual path is), something of an upheaval follows.
When I (after some two hours of wonderful conversation during what otherwise would have been an afternoon of yardwork) gratefully accepted the preferred textbook of a couple drop-by missionaries and assured them not only would I would read it, but that I would give it an honored place on my library shelf right next to my Bhagavad Ghita, my Koran, my Judeo-Christian Bibles and my Course in Miracles Workbook; right next to my Jonathan Livingston Seagull and my Scott Joplin anthology, something of an upheaval followed.
Doing what I do for a living, I can quite promise you that when the simple suggestion that you cannot exist outside of the all-ness of God - that the is-ness or IAM-ness that sustains all of creation is the same is-ness or IAM-ness that sustains you; that being emanations, expressions, individuations of that singular ground of being we choose to call God, all of life is really inherently sacred and worthy of its place in our world – when that simple suggestion arrives to challenge the common perception that God is a male deity who writes books, has favorites and keeps scores from some distant cloud, something of an upheaval follows.
I can quite promise you that when the simple suggestion that you are a blessing, that the highest reality of you is divine, that you are made in the likeness of eternal life and limitless possibility, that you are so much more than you have believed to this point; that you are fully loved and wholly lovable, that you are enough; well, sometimes something of an upheaval follows.
And there’s an affirmation for you today. I am fully loved and wholly lovable. Let’s just be with that for a minute, shall we?
I remember the first time someone told me I was talented. And I’ve shared this before. And when I say I remember the first time someone told me I was talented, I imagine it’s more accurate to say that I remember the first time I was able to hear someone tell me I was talented.
I was in college and the comment was delivered in such a nonchalant manner, so casually, so beyond the reach of any expectation or manipulation; in fact, the comment was literally delivered from another student (a wildly talented student, by the way) as we passed each other in the hallway. The comment was literally delivered in passing.
And somehow that gave it credibility. After all, he had nothing to gain. There were no social points, no professional points, no material points to be scored. He meant it. And I was – seemingly at long last - able to hear it.
And while I don’t really remember what beliefs I carried prior to that otherwise nondescript moment, I remember having to negotiate the suggestion that I had talent. In other words, while I don’t really remember what beliefs I carried, it seems pretty clear that talent wasn’t among them and so it was uncomfortable.
I think it can be said that an emerging idea arrived to challenge an existing idea and something of an upheaval followed.
And this universal story can be found on the pages of our historical biographies as well.
I hope it surprises or stretches no one to say that the American south, generally speaking, has struggled with race issues, one well-documented example being the suppression of black votes in the years of Jim Crow.
And, of course, this resulted in a series of demonstrations and protests that ultimately turned deadly. And the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson prompted a march to the Alabama Capitol on March 7th, 1965.
And the history is that some 600 mostly-black marchers departed Selma for the 54-mile trek to Montgomery in memory of Jimmie Lee and in support of voting rights only to find themselves blocked on that iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge, a confrontation that would turn so violent that history would assign it the moniker “Bloody Sunday.”
This was followed by a second March, established by MLK for March 9th. Or, “Turnaround Tuesday” it was called. And this march included some 1,500 who found themselves, yet again, blocked on that iconic bridge, and while this body of demonstrators responded in prayer, there was no lack of bloodshed beyond the view of the media’s cameras.
And, as you likely know, a third march – larger still with an initial gathering of 4,000 – was scheduled with some judicial protections in place. And this five-day march found the group sleeping in makeshift campsites in fields until they arrived at the outskirts of Montgomery only to meet additional thousands eager to join the effort that would culminate with Dr. King’s iconic speech, “Our God is Marching On,” or as I prefer to remember it, “How Long? Not Long.”
So yes and yet again, when an emerging idea arrives to challenge an existing idea, something of an upheaval follows.
And this universal story can be found within the pages of our faith biographies.
What is Christianity’s Easter narrative if not another particularization of this universal tale - enacted by Jesus and Pilate - in which an emerging idea of equality and love arrives to challenge an existing idea of inequity and inhumanity? What is the Easter narrative if not another particularization of a universal tale in which an emerging idea arrives to challenge an existing idea resulting in an upheaval so significant that here we are – some 2,000 years later – still exploring its levels of meaning.
And let’s pause here. Let’s pause to be clear that the suggestion of the Palm Sunday collision isn’t Christianity arriving to challenge Judaism. Jesus was an observant Jew, operating within a Jewish paradigm, referencing a Jewish bible, teaching a Jewish following, attending a Jewish festival. The suggestion of Palm Sunday isn’t Christianity arriving to challenge Judaism; the suggestion is justice arriving to challenge injustice.
So, whether within the psyche of the individual, the records of history or the traditions of faith, this idea that when an emerging idea arrives to challenge an existing idea, something of an upheaval follows, seems to apply.
The term chemicalization is often credited to Dr. Emilie Cady but I’m not certain that the credit shouldn’t be given to Christian Science Founder, Mary Baker Eddy instead.
And basically, it refers to this dynamic: that when an emerging idea (or a new consciousness) arrives to challenges an existing idea (or an existing consciousness) it can seem as if the existing you and the emerging you find themselves locked in something of a battle for a time.
It’s as if the existing you has the emerging you by the neck saying, “Talent, huh? How sure are you?”
“Voting rights, huh? You certain about that?”
“Equality and love, huh? Really, now.”
It’s the story common to every New Year’s Day dieter.
It’s the story common to every addict new to recovery.
It’s the story common to every abusee who’s finally had enough.
I’m reminded of the example of a rocket that’s said to burn the majority of its fuel simply breaking the gravitational hold of the planet. Individually and collectively, we seem to be something like that rocket. There’s something of a gravitational hold to our existing ideas, our comfortable mediocrities, our known patterns, our low estimations, our limited beliefs, even our predictable dysfunctions that requires a lot of fuel when we first attempt to break into new life.
So, if there is, shall we say, an emerging you that’s struggling to break free from the hold of the existing you, I say give thanks. I say give thanks because spiritually speaking, this moment of upheaval seems to be part of the program. That an emerging you would encounter resistance from an existing you is a sign of progress, perhaps. I’ve heard it said that the ego thrives on the known and the knowable, so that an evolving, unfolding, expanding, growing, developing, reaching, stretching, dreaming, believing unfolding you would encounter resistance from an egoic you is a sign that you’re making progress.
So yes: if there is an emerging you that’s struggling to break free from the hold of an existing you, I say give thanks. And the encouragement of all such moments is to keep marching. You’re standing on that bridge between old life and new life and while the initial resistance is real, frightening, intimidating, and even painful, you will find yourself on the other side enjoying the applause of history itself.
Now, I don’t know about you. But growing up in Osawatomie, Kansas, I grew up in a model that seemed to imply that Palm Sunday’s collision was followed by Easter Sunday’s triumph – a triumph so grand that the fine china came out of the buffet and hot cross buns went into the oven.
I grew up in a model that seemed to imply that Palm Sunday’s collision was followed by Easter Sunday’s triumph with no consideration given to the accounts of the days between. And the accounts of the days between are important because they let us know that the journey from old life to new life may include dynamics such as decision and resistance and support and sacrifice, and even something of a spiritual void – a period of uncomfortable breath between the passing of the old life and the emergence of the new life.
I think the Easter narrative is really a retelling of every hero’s journey. I just grew up in a model that left out the journey. I grew up in a model that suggested Jesus was crucified and Jesus was resurrected. But that’s just not the whole story.
Yes, it seems to me that there are universal stories that are particularized by noble souls such as Dorothy from Oz and Frodo from the Shire and Rocky from Philadelphia and Luke from Tatooine and Jesus from Nazareth alike.
And I think they speak to us because there’s something in us that recognizes their truth as our truth. There’s something in us that recognizes a hero’s journey as a journey each of us must make; an inconvenient journey that would awaken each of us from moments of slumber; a courageous journey that would carry each of us into unfamiliar of lands; a triumphant journey that would elevate each of us into highest of selves.