Bump in the Night

Bump in the Night

Pentecost 54

We’ve all heard them. Those mysterious sounds that go “bump in the night” and frighten us. IN an anthology of poems, Walter de la Mare published an old Scottish saying: “”From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, good Lord deliver us.”

The poets of the past are the ones who have fed us the mythologies of our ancestors. Homer with his “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, Virgil with “The Aeneid” and Ovid with his “Metamorphoses” and “Fasti” all left a legacy of Greek and Roman deities which still delight us today and continue the immortality of these characters.

It should be noted, however, that what was once a deity has, in some instances, become something else. Today the phoenix is no longer a self-eating monster but a symbol of resurrection. The phoenix dined on the very things used to preserve the dead. It would nest high atop the mountains at the highest point of a tree and, in time, be consumed by the sun. Allegorical interpretation was that the phoenix illustrated the sin of gluttony.

Perhaps the phoenix should represent to us that which we like that often becomes an all-consuming love. One small ounce of wine or other alcohol seldom harms anyone. Try purchasing two ounces of wine – one for you and one for a companion. It simply is not sold that way. Once home with the bottle, it is easy to justify drinking it…and drinking more…and purchasing more… and the cycle of drinking has begun.

One elusive beast of antiquity was the prized one-horned quadruped, perhaps a distant relative of the rhinoceros or giraffe. This animal, long sought after by hunters throughout time, was described by Pliny the Roman naturalist in ancient texts as “a very ferocious beast, similar in the rest of its body to a horse, with the head of a deer, the feet of an elephant, the tail of a boar, a deep bellowing voice, and a single black horn, two cubits in length, standing out in the middle of its forehead.” Others believed that if an attempt to capture it ensued, the creature simply leapt from tall cliffs, using its horn to propel itself from rock to rock, much like a pole vaulter uses his/her pole to cross the high bar. It doesn’t really sound like the cute, sweet-faced unicorn of fairy tales, does it?

We all have fears and psychologists advise four basic ways in dealing with them. The first is to analyze your fears and mythology is a great way to do this. The next step is to control your fears. Story telling is a great tool in doing this as it allows us to put someone else in the main character’s role and gives us a vantage point from the outside. The third way to is change the way we think about the specific fear. Someone afraid of heights, for instance, might change their thinking from the perilous perch of an upper rock plateau to imagining it the palace of a lovely god or goddess. The last way to manage fear is to acknowledge it and give it a place in your life.

Mythology gives fear a place in our life and goes one step further by giving it a purpose. Some fears are beneficial. A fear of snakes means you probably will not try to kiss a rattler on the face and get bitten. Others are debilitating and need professional guidance to overcome.

It is important that with each day we live, we write the story of our own lives. Former US President Franklin D Roosevelt is famous for having said: “There only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” With one sentence he summarized the mythologies of most of the world. A more modern update to that quote might be: “The only thing we have to fear is ourselves.”

Living our beliefs takes courage. It means standing up for the unpopular at times. It means not being fashionable or realizing that different is not something to fear but to respect. Today I hope you face your fears instead of running from them. Use them as our ancestors used their myths and learn from those things that can bump in our minds. Follow the words of Plato in facing today and writing a great story of your life today: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”


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