In Hindu teachings, a fish/God ordered up a boat. The hero delivered, the flood came, humanity was saved and the boat came to rest on a mountaintop.
In Greek mythology, Zeus ordered up a boat. The hero delivered, the flood came, humanity was saved and the boat came to rest on a mountaintop.
Still a good story.
In the Quran, Allah ordered up a boat. The hero (the same Noah of Hebrew scriptures fame, by the way) the hero delivered, the flood came, humanity was saved and the boat came to rest on a mountaintop.
And of course, in Hebrew scriptures, God ordered up a boat. Noah delivered, the flood came, humanity was saved and the boat came to rest on a mountaintop.
And variations on this epic myth can be found across cultures, generations and traditions of planet earth, including variations passed by the first peoples of both North and South Americas.
In a sense the flood mythology joins ranks with the likes of the Golden Rule in terms of its easy sweep into the consciousness of humanity.
Now, many of the narratives include an angry god. Many of the narratives include a deficient humanity. Many of the narratives include ritual sacrifice. And so forth.
Most seem to depart at the rather delicate matter of the repopulation. After all, the survivors were usually family members and incest carried at least some taboo across those same cultures, generations and traditions of planet earth.
In one version, the repopulation is handled this way: the surviving brother and sister throw stones over their shoulders. When the brother throws a stone over his shoulder, it becomes a man. When the sister throws a stone over her shoulder, it becomes a woman.
What a tidy way to circumvent that awkward moment in our narrative, don’t you think?
In the Epic of Gilgamesh (recorded on stone tablets, by the way), our hero receives proportions for the construction of the boat itself. He takes pairs of animals aboard the boat, the flood comes, the boat lands on a mountaintop and our hero releases birds to search for dry land.
Sound familiar? Well, it should. And yet this Epic of Gilgamesh predates our Genesis narrative by some thousands of years.
I tell you this to shake loose any lingering remnant of belief that truth can belong to people of any single tradition, geography or era.
And let me say, as I’ve said so many times before, that one of the most dangerous tendencies among post-enlightenment folk (and that’s you, by the way) is to impose our post-enlightenment mindsets onto pre-enlightenment narratives.
Said another way, one of the most dangerous tendencies among post-enlightenment folk is to seek measurable factuality where none was intended in the first place; more directly, to literalize mythology.
And I say it’s one of the most dangerous tendencies because to do so places us in tension with common sense. To do so places us in tension with modern science. To do so places us in tension with other people.
That’s why I’ve been known to say (quite boldly) that if you haven’t read the Bible, don’t do it until you’ve read at least a couple really good, scholarly books about the Bible. To read the Bible without some grasp of context – without some grasp of the circumstances from which its books arose, the culture from which its books arose, the languages in which its books arose, the translations through which its books arose – even the technologies by which its books arose – to read the Bible without some grasp of context is to compromise it at best and to weaponize it at worst.
And I tell you this to shake loose any lingering remnant of the belief that a myth’s truths are dependent upon its facts. Sometimes, I like to say it this way: the planet’s epic teaching myths are narratives which never were, but always are.
And it’s in such a spirit that I invite you to revisit this epic myth – a myth offering something so compelling, something so universal, something so alive that it continues to travel across the entirety of human consciousness with ease.
Now, I have a favorite moment in the epic myth as detailed in the Hebrew scriptures. It’s a version that seems to combine materials from at least a couple sources. So yes, there are conflicts. And no, they don’t matter.
We tend to encourage people beyond an anthropomorphized God – usually a male complete with arms and legs, bearing an uncanny resemblance to humanity’s prevailing moods, prejudices, limitations, and tendencies. We tend to encourage people into an awareness of God as the ground of all being.
So, even though it can certainly seem like life is something that happens to us, rendering us as hapless victims (or that even though it can certainly seem like God gets mad), we don’t really teach a humanized God who gets mad like we do.
So that’s not my favorite moment.
And it’s not when God ordered up a boat, even though this might be my second favorite.
After all, how many of us can relate to what we might call a divine knowing? How many of us can relate to getting a gut feeling, a bodily sensation, a cautionary shock, a psychic forewarning that would seem to redirect us from the paths we’ve been traveling?
And how many of us have some rich stories about paying attention to that divine knowing And how many of us have even richer stories about turning away from that divine knowing? It was the great Religious Science theologian Kennedy Schultz who said it something like this, “Our problems don’t arise because we don’t know what to do. Our problems arise because we know exactly what to do and we refuse to do it.”
So that might be my second favorite. But it’s still not my favorite.
And it’s certainly not when the flood came. And it’s not even when humanity was saved. God as an interventionist is a wildly problematic conversation. I mean, there’s so much depth to this story (excuse the pun) that any of its points could be an entire lesson.
But in the end, my favorite moment is recorded in the following: after forty days Noah opened a window he had made and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth. Then he sent out a dove. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over the earth; so it returned and he reached out his hand and brought it back.
Ah! Now that’s my favorite moment.
That’s my favorite moment because I think it speaks to those of us involved in any program of meaningful change – whether spiritual or secular – because there comes a point at which we’ve done everything we were inspired to do – we were obedient and faithful, bold and daring – and so we send forth the first bird (I like to imagine his name was Curiosity) we send forth the bird of Curiosity as if to ask, “Is my good ready yet, God?”
“Is my love ready? I’ve been doing affirmations all week!”
“Is my joy ready? I’ve been forgiving people all month.”
“What about my prosperity? Is my prosperity ready? I’ve been donating money all year.”
We send forth the bird of Curiosity as if to ask, “Is my good ready yet, God?” only to have the bird return without so much as a shred of evidence of new life.
And so we send forth the second bird (I like to imagine his name was Impatience) we send forth the bird of Impatience as if to ask, “What about now, God?”
“Is my love ready now? I’ve been meditating for weeks!”
“Is my joy ready now? I’ve been visualizing for months!”
“Is my prosperity ready now? I’ve been hanging out at the local Mercedes-Benz dealership all year and I’m no longer allowed on the property.”
We send forth the bird of Impatience as if to ask, “What about now, God?” only to have the bird return without so much as a shred of evidence of new life.
Here’s how it shows up for me. I’m about contributing to an awakening world by supporting an awakening people. I admit it. I want life on the planet to somehow be bettered for the work we do together.
I mean, in a most general way, I think we can do better. Much like the state of the world in our myth, I think we can do better.
I consider the erosion of truth-telling as a value among modern people and I think, we can do better.
I consider the cruelty afforded by systems that would keep modern people blissfully blind to the effects of the simplest of daily choices and I think, we can do better.
I consider the selfishness of individuals for whom integrity of character would seem to be for sale to the highest bidder and I think, we can do better.
I consider the injustice of systems which would subtly give favor, sew division, instill mistrust, perpetuate limitation and I think, we can do better.