Outgrowing the Need
‘Who knows this truly, and who will now declare it, what paths lead together to the gods?” This quote from the Hindu scriptures known as the Rig-Veda (see last year’s Advent series for more on this) speaks to the core of many discussions together and, sadly, many episodes of discrimination and bullying.
It has often been said that the difference between myth and religion is one’s perception. If you believe the story, it is not a myth. When I began this series, it made sense to me since the season of Pentecost is the Christian calendar season to honor the Holy Spirit, the third leg of concept known as the Holy Trinity. Because when one writes 365 articles a year one needs some sort of organization, a filing system if you will, I elected to use a system known world-wide and used by many of my readers. I know a great deal about Hanukkah although I do not practice it as I also know about Ramadan, again without observing it and so I did not think I was insisting anyone convert to Christianity to simply follow my manner of organization. By the way, I still hold that belief and will defend it to anyone who’d like to start that conversation. And, as a preview, next year in 2016, I will use the Julian calendar. Not because I disliked using the Christian calendar but rather as a way to not let things became stale.
Pentecost is also known within the Episcopal Church and some others as the “Ordinary Time”. There are many interpretations of this designation but for me, personally, it was a time to live my somewhat extraordinary beliefs in a very ordinary way. I live in the northern hemisphere so Pentecost includes the summer. It is a time in which, as a child, I was not attending school every day. Many of my friends were on vacations or, like me, attending summer camps. Our regular church school education classes were on hiatus and time was mostly spent just having fun.
Sometimes, without the regimentation of a daily schedule, it is hard to live one’s faith. We can become lax or, worse, totally self-centered on our own enjoyment, forgetting that the world is still revolving and that there are still pressing needs and opportunities to witness our beliefs in our behaviors. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child. When I became an adult….”
The scripture from I Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 11 is well-known to many. The question is….What exactly do we live as witness when we do become that adult? Once reaching adulthood, do we lose our need for heroes, for deities, for the mythologies of mankind? Recent years would say that answer to that is no, based upon the popularity of movies and television programs about such. The behavior of mankind, however, might suggest otherwise. Translations of ancient tests have greatly shaped our beliefs. Today I’d like to discuss two today, although in the upcoming months we will discuss more.
I began this posting with a quote from the Rig-Veda. This ancient text, the earliest of Hindu religious writings, was translated by German scholar Max Muller in the mid-nineteenth century. Muller felt these writings referenced various aspects of nature, ideas that suffered when put into the confines of language. “Where we speak of the sun following the dawn, the ancient poets could only speak and think of the Sun loving and embracing the Dawn. What is with us a sunset was top them the Sun growing old, decaying, or dying.”
The comments I have received on this series I truly appreciate and I sincerely hope to receive more. Although most are not full of adoration, they do indicate thoughtful consideration. Can any writer ask for more? I don’t think so. I hope you read my humble offerings and begin a conversation internally and perhaps with others. Please continue to share your thoughts, pro and con. Your thoughts and mine on this subject are, in fact, nothing new.
The debate between myth and religion was fueled by the writing of Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer. Frazer believed myths were born in the cycle of life found in nature – birth, growth, decay, death, and rebirth. Collecting folk tales and mythologies from all over the world, he found a common theme in the direct or symbolic dying and reborn deity. His examples of such included the ancient Italian ritual known as the Golden Bough in which the King of the Woods is succeeded by a challenger who first must break off a golden bough from a sacred tree. Frazer emphasized other examples: Ishtar and Osiris from Mesopotamia; Isis and Osiris in Egypt. Frazer’s work is no longer considered vital but one could continue finding such examples like King Arthur of Camelot and, in more dramatic fashion, Jesus of Nazareth.
In her book “The History of God”, Karen Armstrong writes: “One of the reasons why religion seems irrelevant today is that many of us no longer have the sense that we are surrounded by the unseen. Our scientific culture educates us to focus our attention on the physical and material world in front of us. This method of looking at the world has achieved great result. One of its consequences, however, is that we have …edited out the sense of the “spiritual” or “holy” which pervades the lives of people in more traditional societies at every level and which was once an essential component of our human experience of the world.”
Regardless of what myths we believe or reject, regardless of what we call them, we continue to write our own stories. The steps we take are the words of our life’s prose. The choices we enact are the adjectives with which we will be remembered.
Who will you be today to the world, your neighbor, yourself?