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The Truth in Mythology

Mythology isn’t untruth.  Mythology is a way of communicating ideas and concepts so broad that we’re required to stretch beyond the limits of the linear mind.  For something to be delivered in the language of mythology isn’t to reduce that thing at all, you see.  It’s to elevate that thing – to acknowledge that the thing is really too big for words alone.

We need only look to our geography and era to realize that we cloak noble and broad ideas such as generosity and possibility and grace in the mythological clothing (if you will) of Santa Claus that our youngest souls might have a way to grasp them.  We use music to do the same.  Who among us doesn’t touch something of that mystical spirit of Christmas – a spirit that defies the logic of our daily lives when we sing the lyrics, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright?” That’s why we also sing, “Oh that we could only see such spirit through the year.”

So, while modern people tend to ask ridiculous questions such as, “Is Santa Claus real or a myth?” I would have us grasp that the only good answer is, “Yes.”

And if you don’t think this applies to you, just think about old great uncle so-and-so-twice-removed.  Think about his funeral – mere days after his passing; and how you sat in that pew and heard stories of a person you don’t think you ever met.  “Am I at the right church?” you found yourself thinking.  “Did these people know the same guy?”  So, was old great uncle so-and-so-twice-removed real or a myth?  Even mere days after his passing, the only good answer is, “Yes.”

And these ways of mythology, used to describe noble and broad ideas and yes – epic and important lives – these ways permeate our religious traditions so much so that our religious traditions (having been recorded in written form a few seconds ago, by the way – basically earlier this morning, cosmically speaking) our religious traditions are brimming with elephant gods and epic floods and armpit births and angelic hosts and guiding stars.

And while modern people tend to ask ridiculous questions such as, “Are elephant gods and epic flood and armpit births real or myths?” I would have us grasp that the only good answer is, “Yes.”

And the encouragement is that we learn to treat our wisdom teachings in the same way we treat Santa Claus.  As we grow up, let us learn to abandon the mythological clothing but hold the deeper ideas close.

There are few richer contexts for this practice than the Hebrew Bible.  And in the primal narrative of our Jewish siblings – the narrative of that plight from Egypt to Canaan, from enslavement to freedom, through the parting of the sea, through the arrival at Mount Sinai, through Moses’ climb to realize those ten commandments (think Charlton Heston here) and through his return to find the Israelites worshiping a golden calf.

Now, it was during the escape that some of the emancipated people got uncomfortable.  In fact, they got so uncomfortable that they suggested it might be better to turn back to their lives of enslavement-but-at-least-it’s-predictable-enslavement rather than pressing forward.  And I find myself thinking, “I could draw a teaching from that.”  For I don’t imagine there’s anyone listening today who can’t relate to starting a journey, getting uncomfortable, and thinking about turning back for mediocrity-but-at-least-it’s predictable-mediocrity rather than pressing forward.

Yeah, I could draw a teaching from that but it’s that golden calf I want to talk about for a few weeks.  For when I ask the question, “Is the golden calf real or a myth?” my only good answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

And while there are many meanings which can be drawn from this real myth, the one I’ll suggest goes something like this: we are either idolizing the divine or we are idolizing the ordinary.  That font-ever-lasting that exists at the very heart of you.  And for our purposes, let’s use that metaphor.  For our purposes, let’s consider God to be a font-ever-lasting at the very heart of you; a font-ever-lasting of wisdom, inspiration, guidance, purpose and so forth.

And perhaps that’s a good affirmation: There’s a font-ever-lasting at the very heart of me.

And this is important because when we idolize the ordinary, we close to the divine.  Said another way, when we idolize our comforts, when we idolize our limitations, when we idolize our fears, we close to the limitless potentials of a limitless universe.

One morning when I was on vacation, I was drinking coffee on the balcony of my condo, watching for humpback whales, and I noticed that I had to train my eyes to see the whales.  I know that sounds strange, but before my eyes knew what to seek, they struggled to find.  And I wonder if that’s not the way of consciousness.  The whales were present all along but it was only when my eyes – shall we say – opened to them that I became able to see them.

I think this real myth speaks to such a tendency because when we idolize the many shiny temptations of the sensory world, we remain blind to the limitless beauties which were present all along.  We are either idolizing the divine or we are idolizing the ordinary.  This teaching, then, doesn’t encourage us to play some big game so much as it encourages us just to stop playing a small game.  It doesn’t encourage us to reach for some star so much as it encourages us just to stop dallying in the mud.

It was Unity Co-founder Charles Fillmore who said something similar when he wrote, “Every [one] who accomplishes first sees in mind.”

From my lived experience, golden calves include comforts and limitations.  All-too-often, we’re like the emancipated Israelites who would idolize a mediocre predictability over a daring possibility.  They include habits and assumptions.  Without something to jolt us awake, we seldom lift our eyes long enough to see a better way to work, much less to see a better way to live.  If you don’t believe we idolize habits and assumptions, ask yourself this: do you arrive at church to find “your chair?”

And then there’s the shiniest golden calf of all!  See if you can relate.  From my lived experience, I can quite assure you that there’s a bovine bully sitting in the cosmic courtyard shared by religious organizations of all sorts, and she wears a giant nametag that reads, "the way it’s always been done."

We are either idolizing the divine or we are idolizing the ordinary.  And the divine is that endless font of perceiving and intuiting and imagining and believing and being that resides at the very heart of you.  And the ordinary is everything else. 

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