Spirit of Living
It is an often told story in one culture. They were a group united by their beliefs. Living under persecution, they had finally escaped and were fleeing to a new land. Without the organization of their normal lifestyle, though, chaos was beginning to erupt and human wants was overshadowing religious living. In the midst of their journey to find a new home, their unlikely leader says he talked to their deity. Moreover, he claims the deity gave him ten rules for living, answers to remind them of the questions that were threatening their very existence: Who are we? Why are we doing this? Is one better than another? These ten rules were seen as commandments and the day to celebrate their being given from their god was called Shavuot from an ancient word in their dialect meaning “to listen”.
Centuries later from the first story came another often repeated tale, a similar story of culture and beliefs. A group representing all of mankind, different races, genders, ages, and at different levels of believing are gathered together in one place. Suddenly a wind is felt to blow through the gathering. They believe it is the spirit of the one they knew as a teacher, a prophet, a friend, and for one, a son. He had been captured and tortured and then left to die in a public venue. There was danger in their simply being together but they needed each other to move on in their grief. They felt not just the movement of air in their wind but the spirit of love of which their teacher and friend had spoken. It was as if he was still with them, giving them comfort and strength, guiding them in their future walks of life. Moving forward fifty days earlier had seemed impossible as they watched him die but this wind, this spirit gave them strength and courage on this, the fiftieth day, this Pentecost after his death.
If you are Jewish or Christian, the above stories are very familiar to you. If you are not, they are merely historic myths, cultural tales told to children to explain their history, their faith, and their ways of living. Every religion has such tales. Today we think of the twelve god and goddesses of the Greek tales who sat on Mount Olympus as bedtime stories. For the ancient Greeks, they were as real as the news of today.
The writer Joseph Campbell once claimed “Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths.” The mythologies of mankind are the collected stories of groups of people. Their veracity has been the subject of debates for as long as there has been mankind. Campbell explains: “Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.”
During this period of Pentecost we will explore the mythologies of mankind. From the earliest dating back to the Ice Age to more current ones, man/woman is still writing them. For many a myth is a story of someone else’s life and faith. For some, a myth is just a fairy tale but, like most fairy tales, they do have a basis in faith. Philosophy began with asking a simple question. Myths begin with the purpose of answering that and other questions. Joseph Campbell saw mythological stories as one way of exploring the potential of humanity and the human experience of living.
Storytelling began most likely the first time two or more gathered together to explain the day’s events. Throughout time, storytelling has gathered people together and provided them with a sense of unity. The myths of antiquity did much the same thing. We may read them and marvel at their imaginative spirit but to those who heard them, they were a scrapbook of their culture.
We will explore many myths during the next few months, almost two hundred of them. Some will seem amazing and many have been made into books and movies. Others will seem ridiculous and outlandish and may test our ability to show respect for that which we do not believe. Myths are like the flowers that grow uninvited at times. What might be a weed to one person is seen as natural beauty to another. I ask that you join this trip into the stories of our histories, the myths of man, and that you remember that they deserve the same respect we want for our own beliefs and stories of faith.
Some cultures believe their religion is only for a chosen few and most have guidelines for determining who is a “believer” and who is not. Until one hears and believes, all are non-believers. Once believing, though, one must still show respect for others. The beauty of Pentecost and the ancient Hebrew Shavuot is that we are asked to listen and be open to the spirit of living.
It is through storytelling, the sharing of myths, that we preserved the histories of mankind and developed a sense of community. Today we have e-books, television programs, and movies but the purpose is still the same. We tell stories to be connected. The threads of the many cultures of man and woman are like the threads of our own DNA, interwoven and different and yet, very much the same.
Listen to the world today as you go through your living. Look at the many colors of mankind and revel in its diversity. We will find the true meaning of life when we fully live it. I hope you will join me on this journey through time as we vacation among the mythologies of the world. They can serve the same purpose today for us as they did many centuries ago for their first listeners. I agree with Joseph Campbell: ““Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry; it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words, beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told. … We save the world by being alive ourselves.”