Assumptions: To Be or To Be Told

Pentecost 16

A recent comment stated simply: “You are making an assumption.” Yes, I am. The commenter did not state the specific assumption to which they were referring but, generally speaking, any conversation requires an assumption for discussion on a topic to continue. I MAY OR MAY NOT BELIEVE THE STATED ASSUMPTION. This blog is not a personal diary of my journey. It has never been intended as such. It is a conversation about our journey, the journey of life that we all share. As English cleric and poet John Donne wrote in his 1624 “Meditations 17”: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesser, as well as if a Promontory were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee….”. [Spellings have been updated to current English standards.]

This is the Christian season of Pentecost. In John Donne’s time, it began with Whitsunday or White Sunday. It celebrated the Holy Spirit, just as Pentecost does but more emphasis was on the peaceful aspects rather than the passion. Often depicted by a dove, the Holy Spirit was a way of living the goodness that the faith required. Whitsunday was followed by Trinity Sunday, a time that celebrated the One-in-Three spiritual side of the faith. The color of the Trinity season was green, a color that depicted life. Also called the Ordinary Time, Trinity was a period of regular living, living that was considered possible only because of the Holy Spirit or, as it was called previously, the Holy Ghost.

The Episcopal Church in the United States changed their Book of Common Prayer in 1979 and in doing so, updated some of their observances. Whitsunday became what is always was – Pentecost Sunday, the hallmark of the season of Pentecost, a day previously celebrated not always on a Sunday but exactly fifty days after Easter. In a time where religion is considered more a trend than a belief, the passion and fire of the Holy Spirit was emphasized.

According to Dr. Robert Sweetland of Wayne State College, a myth has certain basic characteristics, regardless of the time in which it appeared or the culture for which it was told. The professor explains that myths are based upon gods or superheroes that can usually take our human form but are really immortal with supernatural powers. The stories take place in a culturally relevant setting with the timeframe being both past and present, something that may seem contradictory but in the myth makes sense. Every myth has a plot and every myth’s plot or storyline has action, suspense, and conflict.

A myth differs from a legend, though. Mythologies generally explained occurrences in the natural world and led to religious or spiritual customs that explored, explained, and sought to alleviate human strengths and weaknesses. Legends have a basis in fact and were often stories woven around a “real” person. While there may be evidence of a man named Jesus being from Nazareth, there is not the overwhelming body of evidence that he truly lived, preached, and walked the earth as there is about a man named Davy Crockett or the American female citizen living in the western part of the country known as Calamity Jane.

Is it an assumption to believe Jesus of Nazareth was the man that Christians call Jesus Christ? Perhaps. Was this Jesus who preached and traveled around with his twelve apostles merely a teacher like Plato and Socrates? Perhaps. I love that the commenter mentioned making an assumption because that is both how and why we live as well as how and why wars are started. If possible, I would give the commenter a standing ovation because truly, what we assume and how we then proceed makes all the difference.

Legends have some basis in truth although they are usually greatly exaggerated in the telling of strengths of the hero or heroine. Can a story by both myth and legend? How do we tell if it is a fable with talking animals, a folktale with the expected happy ending to the conflict of the story, a folktale that emphasizes and continues the culture of a region, a legend with some truth at its core, or a myth that seeks to helps explain the world and our place in it?

What we choose to believe is based upon an assumption. One of my favorite quotes is anonymous. “Faith is like Wi-Fi; it’s invisible but it has the power to connect you to what you need.” IF you are a Christian, then the story of Jesus is neither myth nor fairytale but real. The legendary aspects are miracles and not exaggerations. If you are not a Christian, then the story becomes a myth. If the man known as Jesus of Nazareth is a part but not the primary character of your beliefs, then some of his exploits might be considered a folktale or even a legend.

The French philosopher Voltaire wrote: “Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.”   We and we alone decide for ourselves what is an assumption and what is truth. It all begins with an assumption, though, and then what we do next explains what we believe. How we live portrays whether or not we take the story to be myth, legend, folktale, or truth.

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