The Sacred Fire

The Sacred Fire

Pentecost 131

On a continent that contains two of the largest and most heavily populated countries of India and China, it is easy to forget Japan.  All too often, Far Easterners get lumped into one category, much like those on the continent of Africa where we will go next in our Pentecostal theme of mythology, studying the spirits man has believed in throughout time.

Like any country, Japan has its indigenous people.  The Ainu are often called the indigenous people of Japan but they actually lived on the Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and Kuril Islands.  There are distinct cultural and physical differences between the Ainu and the Jomon culture, a culture that describes the earliest known people of Japan who date back to 10,500 to 8000 BCE.  The word “Jomon” refers to the pottery found from this era, and literally translates as “corded”.  The clay for the pottery was rolled into long cords that were then wrapped around the object being made to produce vessels.  Why this was done is not hard to imagine.  Pottery breaks and grasping it is essential.  The cording provided a surface to grip and strengthened the cup, class, or vase in ways that a smoother surface could not.

Japan has four main islands and it is as important to their mythologies to learn the history of this country as it is to a student of general history.  The Jomon culture boasted gatherers, fishermen, and hunters.  The Ainu, awarded the distinction of being Japan’s aboriginal population by law in 1899, were mostly hunters.  They too are said to be an amalgamation of two even older cultures, the Okhotsk and the Satsumon.  Ainu translates as “human”.

The word Ainu which means human is an important part of their culture and mythology.  To the Ainu, a god or “kamuy” was anything useful or beyond their control.  They therefore had animal gods, nature gods, plant gods, object gods, and then the usual deities for protection of things such as houses, mountains, and lakes.  They saw themselves as being separate from these gods or deities, thus the term “human”.

The word “human” has an interesting etymology.  The French word “humain” and the Latin “humanus” both mean man.  The modern English word “bridegroom” is the closest word we have to the original Old English “guma”.  The Hebrew “adamah” which means ground gave us the name of the first human, according to Abrahamic mythology – Adam or man.  It is the Lithuanian “zmua or zmuni” which means man or male person that seems closest to this ancient word from Japan for human – Ainu.

These etymologies may seem to have no purpose but when tracing them back through time and then comparing them to the culture of this ancient civilization, some very interesting things become apparent.  Ten thousand years before the birth of the man known as Jesus as Nazareth, these people who lived off of the land distinguished themselves from the natural world, the world in which they lived and depended upon for life.

The Ainu prayed to their “kamuy” and performed various rituals to them.  They did not see themselves as owners of the world.  They simply inhabited it.  It was through music that the Ainu spoke to their deities.  The kamuy yukar or songs of the gods were sung and celebrated so that the humans could continue to live.  These were sung in the first person, as if by the gods themselves.  This is a practice particular to the Ainu and found nowhere else in ancient mythology.  The Ainu also were the first culture to have female shamans.

You may think this ancient culture with its mythologies about such things as the Kimum Kamuy, a mountain god, and their “Song of the Bear’, a mythology which gave rise to a winter festival and sacrifice of a bear cub, is greatly removed from our modern life.  Many churches, temples, and other religious worship services, however, carry on some of the ancient Ainu traditions.

Fuchi was the Ainu god of fire.  Her festival was one of the most important for it was believed that her fire carried prayers to the gods.  The fires for Fuchi were sprinkled with wine in order to have them burn longer.  One mythology tells of a battle between Fuchi and the goddess of water who apparently stole Fuchi’s husband.  Fuchi wins the magical battle and her husband returns to her.  This myth tells of how fire with such an additive cannot be easily battles with water and even today, candles are lit when many say prayers, strengthening and continuing the connection between fire and religious ceremony.

I really like the concept of being human, of recognizing that we are not gods or goddesses but just ordinary people.  It also emphasizes that no one is better than another.  The Ainu were like many ancient and even modern day people.  They themselves invaded territory in China and their own culture is also one of assimilation.  Today many feel the designation in 1899 as aboriginal people furthered discrimination the Ainu faced and continue to face today within the Japanese nation.

We are easily led into believing that “our” way of doing things is the only way.  This leads to a feeling of superiority and discrimination.  Discrimination serves no purpose.  Even the Ainu knew that harmony was needed between themselves and the world in which they lived and depended upon for life.  We do not bolster ourselves by putting down another.  We all have a fire burning with us and discriminating acts and language serves only to squelch another’s fire.

Imagine yourself camping out on an island when it suddenly turns cold.  You have dropped your firewood into the water so you have nothing dry that will burn to provide you warmth or upon which to cook your meal.  On the other end of the island is another group camping and they have a large fire burning, a fire providing them with warmth and the ability cook their food.  What is your smartest course of action? To douse their fire serves no purpose.  The smartest thing is to go make friends with them and share their fire.

We live on one planet, many people with many different mythologies which have very similar bases of belief.  As human beings, we share many things in common, all but two thousand of our eighty-eight thousand chromosomes, in fact.  We need to nurture the fire burning inside each of us rather than live discriminating others.

I leave you and the month of September with these closing lines from a most talented Indian poet, Geetha Jayakumar, and her poem “Keep the Fire Burning Within”.  Please google this prolific poet and check out her poems.  They are most lovely!

“There is no one who can stop us doing anything Especially something constructive But we ourselves are the barriers Which stop ourselves from going forward. Keep the Fire Burning Within!”

During September we have dipped our toe into barely a paragraph of the multitudes of mythologies from the Far East – India, China, and Japan.  I hope you will seek out the thousands of others for they are the richest and most imaginative of all mythologies.  They also are present today in the various spiritualities of the Eastern world which now are found throughout the world.  In October we will explore the wonderful volumes of mythology of the cultures on the continent of Africa but first we will go to Egypt.  Some of the best known mythologies are from Egypt but you might be surprised that what you think could be misleading.  Ponder this…When is a pyramid not a pyramid but an observatory?  Tune in tomorrow!

Then and Now

Then and Now

Pentecost 130

Probably the simplest reason the mythologies of the past are still stories that are retold today is that mankind has changed very little.  We certainly live in different conditions, most of us.  While there are some cultures that remain much as they were hundreds of centuries ago, much of the world lives with modern conveniences such as electricity, which provides comfortable environments that include heating and cooling.  We now prepare out foods with fancy gas or electric stoves and ovens and even those who cook their food over a grill do so with intricate barbecue systems.  The mixing of milled grains with water and then cooked over a hot stone as bread once first prepared has become gourmet fire-baked pizza.  The smoking of meats to preserve them has led to worldwide grill master competitions.  And yet, our basic human condition remains unchanged.  We still feel pain and joy, are overly concerned with appearances, become angry and jealous, and fail to realize our blessings when we receive them.

The Ramayana is one of two Hindu epic mythologies and it contains approximately fifty thousand lines of verse written in Sanskrit.  It is thought to be the compilation of both written and oral traditions gathered by the poet Valmiki somewhere around 200 BCE.  The central character is the seventh avatar of the god Vishnu, Rama.  I listed these avatars two days ago and, if you remember, there are a total of nine.  While the legends in each of the seven books of the Ramayana are about Rama and his earthly life, the core narrative is about Rama’s love for Sita, a very beautiful and virtuous princess.

Rama might have been the earthly presence of the god Vishnu but he had some very human characteristics.  His purpose is virtue and yet, he was flawed.  Like many who find themselves attached to the dream mate, their ideal here on earth, Rama suffered from jealousy.  Jealousy is much more about the person who has it than the object which has caused it.  It says that the jealous person has little confidence in their own worth.  Rama’s jealousy, as does most, is illustrated by many serious suspicions.

Rama is also more concerned with appearances than happiness – his or Sita’s.  Many arguments ensued and resulted in the couple being banished to a forest where Sita is captured while Rama is on a hunt.  Here the story introduces a much-loved character in Hindu mythology, Hanuman.  Hanuman is called the monkey general and is both trickster and magician.  Sita had been captured by a demon so Rama enlists the aid of Hanuman to find her.  The army of monkeys throw themselves across the sea to form a bridge which results in Rama being able to rescue Sita.

Once home, Rama hears rumors that Sita was unfaithful to him during her captivity.  Concerned about his image, he sends her into exile.  It is while in exile that Sita supposedly meets the author of the Ramayana, Valmiki.  Unknown to him, though, Sita is pregnant and while in exile delivers twin boys.  Years pass and Sita remains in exile.  One day Rama has a chance encounter (or is it?) with the boys and recognizes them as his sons.  He allows Sita to return from exile but, in her misery, she calls upon Mother Earth to take her.  The ground opened beneath her and she threw herself in.  It is only then that Rama realizes his own doing in killing his beloved and jumps in after her.  They are reunited in heaven and have an eternal happily ever after.

The tale of Rama may seem very disconnected from our living but it really is not.  We may not have a monkey general to aid us but we certainly are surrounded by tricksters who would lead us astray if we let them.  Mankind still suffers from pangs of jealousy and concern about appearance.  While the field of plastic surgery was once all about restoring misconfigurations of physical growth and repairing after injuries, it has become a cottage industry based upon vanity and appearance.  More plastic surgery is done in the name of vanity and from jealousy than for any other reason.

The mythology of ancient culture still has relevance today and that is why we read the stories and delight in their movie and television portrayals.  In his “Myths to Live By”, Joseph Campbell wrote: “The old differences separating one system from another now are becoming less and less important, less and less easy to define. And what, on the contrary, is become more and more important is that we should learn to see through all the differences to the common themes that have been there all the while.”

There are over eighty-eight thousand chromosomes in the human body.  According to the National Institutes of health, “In the nucleus of each cell, the DNA molecule is packaged into thread-like structures called chromosomes. Each chromosome is made up of DNA tightly coiled many times around proteins called histones that support its structure.”   These chromosomes contain our history, our present, and our future.  They also contain chromosomes that portray our ethnicity, the physical characteristics that define whether we are Caucasian, African, Oriental, Hispanic, South Pacific Islander, or American Indian.  Hair type and color, eye shape and color, and skin hue as well as nose configurations and height are often the most obvious of these characteristics.  Yet, out of all those eighty-eight thousand chromosomes, only less than two thousand determine those ethnic markers.

Wars have been fought based upon those less than two thousand ethnic markers.  Hitler condemned over six million people to death based upon his assumption of what someone of the Jewish faith looked like.  He determined what physical characteristics would lead to a superior race of Caucasians and he named it after the name given to all Europeans and invaders.  He misappropriated an American Indian symbol and made it symbolic of greed, jealousy, envy, and death.  Like Rama, he turned his back on his own because Hitler was, in fact, of Jewish heritage and ethnicity.  And like Rama, history says Hitler also took his own life, flaws overriding any virtue that might once have been.

Today leaders of the Taliban are doing the same thing.  Their followers are blindly going wherever told without conscious thought on their own.  They hide behind religion without living that religion.  Their motivation is greed and power and they sacrifice any and everyone except themselves.  They sit in a Mount Olympus of their own ego while orchestrating the demise of others.  They are not leaders following a divine spirit but greedy, villains who, one day, will find their own deaths written and carried out.  Hopefully, few others will perish before that mythology concludes.

Joseph Campbell himself passed away before his most famous book was published.  He did leave us with some great advice about how to write some new mythologies instead of simply living the old ones over, making the same mistakes over and over.  “It doesn’t help to try to change [an imposed system] to accord with your system of thought. The momentum of history behind it is too great for anything really significant to evolve from that kind of action. The thing to do is learn to live in your period of history as a human being. That’s something else, and it can be done.”  Both then and now, the answer was and is to live as a human being…with humanity and compassion for all.

To Know Thy Enemy

To Know Thy Enemy

Pentecost 129

In every myth there is a protagonist and an antagonist.  That is to say there is a hero or heroine and a villain.  The relationship between these two characters creates the conflict that results in the action of the story.  After all, every story must have a plot and if that story is a mythological story, there is usually a moral or lesson to be learned.

Cicero once said “Man is his own worst enemy.”  While many stories pf both ancient and modern man bear witness to this, it is the collection of stories told about the goddess Durga that best illustrate this.  We’ve discussed previously that all Hindu gods are considered to be aspects of one ultimate truth known as Brahman.  In the same manner, all goddesses are considered to be facets of the Great Goddess Devi.  AS a warrior, Devi was known as Durga, the names translating as “the unapproachable”.  Although usually quite calm, Durga possessed all the power of the universe and had the ability to change her shape, the knowledge of how to use any weapon and could present herself as a large and powerful army when combatting demons.

Interestingly enough, Durga’s biggest enemy was a demon king also named Durga.  The demon Durga had conquered the universe and cosmos, throwing all the gods and goddesses out of their palaces.  The disposed deities sought assistance from the warrior Durga.  She defeated his many armies of all types of soldiers and animals and finally, in a one-to-one battle with the demon Durga, grew many arms and conquered him, stabbing him to death.

We are indeed our own worst enemy at times.  It begins with our internal voice, that constant dialogue with have with ourselves.  You know what I mean.  “I look fat in this.”  “I completed that project the boss asked for but I bet he doesn’t like it.”  We might blame others but really, we often put ourselves down more times in a day than anyone else might do in a month.

Communication is a vital tool.  It is how we talk to the world but it is also how we talk to ourselves.  Learning to gain control over how we talk to others takes time and talent but we seldom devote the same amount of time and talent to learning to talk to ourselves.

The first step in any dialogue is to listen.  Otherwise, it becomes a monologue and the problem with that is that very few people listen.  So next time you start talking to yourself, listen.  Is it courteous chatter or are you too busy condemning yourself?  If the answer is the latter, then revise what you are saying.  Never have any negative self-talk?  Bah humbug.  I don’t mean to call you a liar but seriously…go back to step one and listen.  Then maybe you need to write down your self-talk.  I really doubt your internal voice is all sunshine, roses, and compliments.  Once you have recorded on paper your thoughts, you might discover they are not all positive.  If they are, then stop reading right now and treat yourself to a latte or ice cream cone.

If you are one of the rest of the million, billion people in the world who do have negative self-talk, think about how you might say what you are thinking to someone else.  We quickly look at our own reflection and think “You look ugly!”  We seldom would be so blunt with a friend.  Instead, we might offer “I am not certain that color highlights your gorgeous skin tones; try this color.”  Practice makes perfect so practice your positive self-talk.  Don’t go overboard on it.  Being arrogant can be an enemy as well.

We may not be able to convert our bodies into an army like Durga but we do have the ability to create positive change in our personality.  No one needs to be negative nor blaming others all the time.  Certainly there are things beyond our control.  What is in our control is how we respond.  We need to make sure that we act and not only react.  When it comes to our own lives, we need to be our own warriors.  Then we become the protagonist of our own story and that will be a myth with a happy ending.

Living Versus Dead

Living Versus Dead

Pentecost 128

Gaston Bachelard once wrote: “Every myth is a condensation of human drama.  That is why every myth can so easily be used as a symbol for an actual dramatic situation.”  Nancy Hathaway said: “Heracles was widely worshipped as a hero and as a god.  The religion of the ancient Greeks is no longer living and perhaps for that reasons, we think of him only as a Disneyfied hero, not as a god.  Krishna also became a god, but since Hinduism is entirely alive. The divine identification has stuck.”

Krishna is said to be one of the four incarnations of Vishnu, a blue-skinned, four-armed deity of Far Eastern mythology.  Vishnu was called the Preserver and was known as a god of many names.  Krishna was his eighth avatar.  First came Matsya the Fish who, according to the legend, saved mankind from a great flood.  (Remember, I told you every culture has a flood myth.)  Next was Kurma, a tortoise, who reportedly assisted the gods in obtaining soma, said to be an elixir of immortality.  Then there was Varaha, a boar responsible for the creation of the earth; Narasimha, a half man/half lion who once killed a demon; Vamana, a dwarf who sent all the demons to hell and then created the world from his belly; and Rama-with-an-Ax, not surprisingly known for using said ax to behead his mother and kill everyone in the working class.  Just before Krishna, Vishnu appeared as Rama and, after Krishna, as Buddha and the finally Kalki, the avatar of the future.

Krishna is unique, though, because a great deal is known about his childhood.  He was mischievous, loud, and known for playing tricks on people.  “I am the taste of living waters and the light of the sun and the moon.  I am OM, the sacred word of the Vedas, sound in silence, heroism in men…I am the Father of this universe, and even the source of the Father.  I am the Mother of this universe, and the Creator of all….I am the Way.”  This excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita might sound similar to you as it echoes various passages in the Bible.

That is not the only similarity Krishna has with other deities among the mythologies of mankind.  Remember his blue skin?  He is probably the best known of all such blue-hued deities but there are others.  Here are just a few: the Greek Poseidon, god of the Sea; the Sumerian Nanna, a moon god with the body of a bull and a beautiful blue beard; the Scottish blue-faced goddess of winter, Cailleach Bheur; the “master of the headband”, the Egyptian god Amun, a blue-skinned deity who wore two feathers on his head.  There is also the Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli and the Brazilian Curupira, as well as the Navajo Blue God.

Hindu mythology is supported by a vast amount of literature which might even surpass those of the Greeks.  While the Greek literature has fallen from being considered religious to simply literary, the Hindu works are still considered religious texts today.  Faith is nothing more than words until it is put into action.  As we begin the work week, perhaps we should pause to plan our spiritual or faith week.

What will I do today to illustrate my beliefs?  How will my behavior reflect that which I hold to be true?  What is apparent as my moral compass when viewed through the reflection of my actions?  It takes courage and guts to be a believer – of most anything except ego.  Our humanness often gets in the way of our humanity.  When that happens, then our faith dies a little.

Krishna, like any hero, did meet his eventual end, his death.  One day he was resting, having laid down in a field near a stream.  A hunter approached, a hunter named “Jaras”, who mistook the soles of Krishna’s feet for the ears of an antelope.  He raises his bow and lets his arrow fly straight, straight into the Achilles heel of Krishna which caused his instant death.  While the story is somewhat reminiscent of a Greek tale we discussed, it also offers a word of warning to us all.  You see, Jaras translates as “Old Age”.

The Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese Zodiac

Pentecost 127

One of the great things about eating in a Chinese restaurant was the placemat.  It illustrated the Chinese Zodiac and everyone at the table had to find the year of their birth and then read about their corresponding animal and traits.  (You might have guessed from yesterday’s post and my rather nice treatment of dragons that I was born in the year of the Dragon!)

This year is the Year of the Goat.  Many people consider astrology to be a science while science generally considers it to be a myth.  Chinese mythology has long believed that certain astrological phenomena exerted great influence over one’s personality.  In ancient Chinese cultures, the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac were also used to denote the time of day in two-hour periods.

Those born this year in the Year of the Goat are considered to be creative people.  Those born twelve years ago, also in a Year of the Goat are thought to have similar personalities, as are those born in 1994, 1979, 1967, 1955, etc.  This creativity often results in their mind wandering of topic but that make excellent thinkers and philosophers.  Chinese wisdom also paints them as needing reassurance and disposed to insecurity and great anxiety.

Goats are actually one of the oldest animals and have been utilized in various cultures quite efficiently.  Their wool was woven into fibers for cloth.  Their milk was used for food and makes excellent cheese, highly prized in our modern times.  Goats are very efficient in helping maintain one’s environment by eating useless grains and grasses.  Their hair was also used for a variety of purposes and yes, their meat was consumed for food.  Almost every aspect of the goat was utilized and the goat was instrumental in many cultures since they adapt to various climates.

I love watching baby goats or kids and have had friends who had goat farms.  Still, I don’t think I have ever looked at one and been inspired philosophically.  I will confess to wondering how the animals on the Chinese Zodiac were selected.  What did some ancient wise seer see in looking at a goat that made him or her include it on the Zodiac?  There is a constellation called the Ram so perhaps there is a connection.

The great thing about these mythologies is that they did indeed come from the mind of someone.  Imagine yourself sitting under a tree on a pleasant day.  You have no worries and nothing hectic on your schedule.  You have the time, you are comfortable, and your mind is free to imagine….anything.  What story do you create in your mind?

Few of us live a life of leisure.  Yesterday, today, and tomorrow I am posting in the evening because someone asked me to do in a comment.  [If you have a preferred time, please feel to let me know.]  While the posts remain on the website and can be accessed at a later date, for some reason, several people asked I post about twelve hours later than I usually post.  I wonder if they are busy imagining a new myth and that is why they need to later posting time?  Probably not but still….you never know.

The fact is that we write our own story every day.  Ours most likely does not include snake women, fire-breathing dragons, or even the occasional goat.  What story sis you write today?  Was it a story of great work or restful relaxation?  Did you make someone laugh today or share a smile?  Perhaps you served meals to a hospice patient or helped raise funds for a local school.  Maybe you did the best you possibly could with what you had on hand.  Even when we have “one of those days”, we write our story.  The important thing to remember during “one of those days” is that the bad day is just part of a chapter.  It is not the entire story.

We may not feel like we have great power and perhaps you don’t.  You do, however, have the ability to control your actions and reactions.  After all, those are what make a great story.  We can make a difference.  We simply need to live that which we hope to find, that which we hope to experience.  We cannot expect peace and forgiveness if we ourselves do not live it.  Live each moment and write a story you will want to read in later years.  Then your personal zodiac will have memories instead of animals to represent the years.  That’s a placemat I would be happy to have!

Snake or Serpent

Snake or Serpent

Pentecost 126

We discussed in our study and conversations about Norse mythology the characters that made their way from ancient legends to modern day movies and comic books.  The subject of countless Chinese plays, novels, operas, movies, and yes, even computer games, the myth of the Bai She Zhuan is just as popular.

The Bai She Zhuan or the White Snake Woman is really the story of two spirits – the spirits of a white snake and a green snake.  Bai She Zhuan, the white snake, and Xiaoqing, the green snake both were practitioners of Taoist magic.  The desperately sought immortality and gained enough power to transform themselves into beautiful women.  Bai She Zhuan fell in love but her husband only knew her as a woman and when told of her true identity by a Buddhist monk, he gives her a poison and she reverts back to a snake.  The husband Xu Xian falls down dead but is revived, only to find himself locked inside a temple.  A great flood appears and Bai She Zhuan tries to rescue the imprisoned Xu Xian.  With the help of Xiaoqing, Xu Xian is rescued and until she gives birth to their son, the two lovers are reunited.  Upon giving birth, the Buddhist monk captures Bai She Zhuan and lock s her away.  Many years later, Xiaoqing helps her escape.  The story has various endings but the moral is always the same.  The white snake woman achieved immortality but was forever separated from her husband and beloved son.

One might say that snakes have always gotten the wrong end of the character representation in mythologies.  In the Abrahamic tradition of Adam and Eve, it is a snake that is held responsible for their exile from the Garden of Eden.  The snake has a different meaning in Chinese culture.  Closely aligned with the dragon which is the symbol of China, the snake represents intelligence, happiness, and prosperity.  Literally the word snake means winding or meander.  In China the snake has many nicknames such as “the black dragon”, “dragon in heaven” or “celestial being”.  The Year of the Dragon is followed in the Chinese calendar by the Year of the Snake.

Some of the oldest culture in China dates back to the Xia people who lived in the northern regions of China from 2000 to 1500 BCE.  It is believed that the very first dragon was actually a large snake.  With imagination and hyperbole, the story about a very big snake became the legend of a dragon, a symbol which even todays represents the Chinese people and plays a prominent role in many of their celebrations.

We all are taught many things but we also become caught by society and its trends.  While it may seem odd that the story of a snake could become the eternal dragon, we also fall prey to the very same things.  The children’s game where someone whispers in a neighbor’s ear who in turns whispers in another ear, etc. illustrates how things can easily become twisted.  Seldom is the word the last person heard the word actually first whispered.

Another way to think of how we absorb what we hear is through osmosis.  It is a basic science experiment.  You place two beakers of liquid side by side and place a tube or flexible straw from one to another.  Elevate one beaker and the water is will start to move from the higher beaker to the lower one.  Another similar example is to add an antacid seltzer tablet to the water.  When the antacid seltzer tablet is dropped into the water, it begins to fizz and then some interesting action starts to occur.

Someone tells a story and it will slowly be retold.  When a great many people tell the story, it is like the seltzer tablet and much belief in the story occurs.  It no longer is about fact but the movement of the story.  Perhaps that is why so many of these mythologies are still around.  They are told and retold and their action continues.

What gives those stories validity is how we believe them and what we do with those beliefs created.  An ancient Chinese proverb states:  “I hear; I forget.  I see; I remember.  I do; I understand.”  Dr. Edward de Bono believes research shows that “Eighty-three percent of what we learn in through seeing and doing.”  We cannot simply say we believe something.  We must live it.  Peace is a noble belief but unless we are actively doing things to make it a reality for all people, the belief has not meaning and just meanders about the clouds.

We often think of the word “serpent” as a synonym for “snake.  In truth, the two words have different meanings.  A serpent is a schemer or liar, someone who twists the truth for the purpose of defrauding.  The Chinese snake or dragon became a protector and a mighty power.  We, too, can each make a difference and become a force for peace and justice.  We simply must live it.

Offering, Bribe, or Excuse?

Offering, Bribe, or Excuse?

Pentecost 125

Most children and all teachers soon become aware of the need to give a reason instead of an excuse.  Although sometimes used as synonyms, there is a difference between the two words.  Stating a reason for an action implies a sense of purpose.  Giving an excuse means one is attempting to avoid consequences.

Someone asked why I had not spent time discussing the sacrifices almost all mythologies included.  The reason is that I think we can find meaning and learn from even the most fantastical and ancient of mythologies.  The sacrifices were almost always a means of people showing their interest and, to be quite honest, if someone has taken the time to read my blog, they have already shown some interest.

Today people are asked to attend their religious services instead of doing something else.  There are plays and/or concerts to attend, television programs to view, footballs to go crazy over in attendance or by watching at home with your own private tailgating party.  Today, the sacrifice of time is perhaps the most difficult sacrifice of all.  In some instances the pilgrimages of olden times which could take almost half a year to complete were better attended than the local church service which takes less than thirty minutes driving time and an hour of attendance.

In 1725, The Reverence Frederick Lewis Donaldson gave a sermon during a service in Westminster Abbey in England.  He described what he called the “Seven Social Sins” as “wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle.”  I agree with Rev Donaldson’s assessment, especially the “worship without sacrifice” line item.  I believe that there is a difference between having a belief and putting that belief into action which is the purpose of worship.

Sacrifice has indeed been considered universally to be a facet of religion.  It is closely aligned with a great many mythologies of mankind.  Such offerings included literal objects such as food or animals or figurative as in the cultures and spiritualities we studied last Advent, cultures that use representational objects, statues, or even water that has been blessed.  These sacrifices are mentioned in all three Abrahamic religions and were intricately woven throughout Asian myths and history.

Chinese emperors often made sacrifices on the winter solstice representing their subjects and sacrifice is an integral part of the Zoroastrian fire ritual.  Sacrifice is a focal point of Hindu tradition since life and the world both represent sacrifice, a sacrifice illustrated by the continual process of life and rebirth.  Correct and continual ritual sacrifices are thought to ensure life.

G. K. Chesterton took sacrifice out of the temples, mosques, and churches and placed it in our everyday lives. “Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense, every act is an act of self-sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else.” Self-sacrifice is a touchy subject is our modern world where the emphasis is on “me” and less on community and the world.  How we live and what we do, though, illustrate what we are willing to sacrifice.  What may seem like a valid excuse to you when you say “I just did not have time!” becomes just another excuse to the person who interprets your comment as “You were not worth my time.”

Lao Tsu is noted for his disciplines and teachings which, to some, have become more spiritual tenets than life teachings.  (And yes, I’d love to hear if you believe those two things are the same or different!)  He famously offered this bit of wisdom:  “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”  In other words, if we do not make the sacrifice of time to consider and make necessary changes, we will not flourish and nothing will really change.

A current philosopher, noted for his marketing strategies that have become quotes about living, Zig Ziglar puts things in basic analogies.  “Motivation and bathing are not permanent.  That’s why we need both every day.”  We need to sacrifice our busy lives in order to gain motivation and wisdom to further those lives.  We also need to value that which we have and care for it in order to have it flourish.  Change is the essence of life and we must be willing to sacrifice without excuse and make an offering of our time, our energies, and our abilities.  We must surrender today to gain tomorrow. We must surrender who we are in order to become who we might be.  It is the ultimate sacrifice with the ultimate prize.

A Legend and the Equinox

A Legend, a Cartoon Figure, and the Equinox

Pentecost 124

In 1956 the only perfect game ever in baseball’s World Series ended with the catcher jumping into the pitcher’s arms.  The moment became iconic but not as iconic as some of the catcher’s sayings.  One cannot talk about Lawrence Peter Berra, better known as Yogi< without first acknowledging his baseball ability.  Yogi Berra was not just a legend on the field in his nineteen years of consecutively playing for the New York Yankees (still me favorite team because of Mr. Berra) and considered one of the greatest catcher’s ever to have played the game, he became a legend off the field.

A “yogi” is someone who practices the eastern spirituality and exercise known as yoga.  Regardless of how you define yoga, whether it is a religion, a spirituality, or a philosophy, I think we might be able to agree that above all, yoga is a discipline.  Those who practice it and teach it are often referred to as a yogi.  Lawrence Berra and a few of his ball-playing friends went to a movie one night and Berra made a comment about the yogi.  From that night on, his teammates gave him the nickname “Yogi” and it remained his entire life.

Often proclaiming “I didn’t really say everything I said”, Yogi Berra quickly became famous for his words as well as his catches.  Berra was born in St. Louis, Missouri and lived on the same block as his childhood friends, another baseball legend Joe Garagiola.  He dropped out of school in the eighth grade and later served aboard a navy vessel supporting the D-Day invasion.  After World War II ended, he played minor league baseball and worked his way to the big leagues.  Playing on a team with other legends such as Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra led to the in runs batted in for seven consecutive years.  His philosophy of life was illustrated as he explained when asked about his swinging at bad pitches, “If I can hit it, it’s a good pitch.”

Berra also coached the team he played on and once when asked about a season that wasn’t going so great, Yogi Berra replied: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  Yesterday, at the age of ninety years full, Yogi Berra passed away in his sleep.  Once someone approached Yogi and told him he looked cool. Berra responded: “Thanks, you don’t look so hot yourself.”  To many, his lack of a formal education was reflected in his speech patterns and the often misplaced participles.  He one expressed concern about having the sun in his eyes playing a “night” game in California, “night game” meaning a starting time for 7 P.M. on the east coast but 4 P.M. in California by explaining “It gets late early out there.”

Like the yogi from which his nickname originated, Yogi Berra could also teach us a thing or two about living.  “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting, I just blame the bat and if it keeps up I change bats. After all, if I know it’s not my fault that I’m not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?”  All too often we spend far too much time getting mad at ourselves for things beyond our control.  And sometimes, we waste time being mad at ourselves when we really should spend that time making better decisions.

Today many will not only mourn the passing of the great Yogi Berra, so popular that the cartoon figure Yogi was named after him, but also the passing of a season.  AS I write this, the autumnal equinox was reached.  It is one of two times in which the earth tilts neither towards nor away from the sun.   In Japan this day is called “Higan”, meaning “other shore”.   The Buddhist’s “Higan” is a time to remember and pay homage to ancestors.  Graves are visited and cleaned and sutras are recited.  The Chinese Moon Festival will celebrate the coming harvest and for Christians, Michaelmas will celebrate having a “strong will”.

For others like my dog, this day is a promise of cooler weather, a change in the seasons which my puppy welcomes.  For all of us, though, baseball fans, spiritualists, theologians, followers, and perhaps those who will attempt yoga today, the day is a new beginning.

“You better cut that pizza into four pieces because I’m not that hungry enough for six pieces.”  Yogi Berra’s famous quote may seem funny but it offers us some good advice about living today.  We need to realize that life is life but we get to choose how we live it and we need to choose wisely.  Don’t take on more that you can successfully accomplish.  Consider what you can do and then give it your best effort.  You can make a difference and change the world and it can start today.  After all, “it ain’t over till it’s over” and who’s to say what “over” really is?

Sunshine

Sunshine

Pentecost 123

It is said that children are the sunshine of a parent’s life.  I understand the saying but from a scientific standpoint, children would be the blossoms and the parent the sun.  After all, it is the sun that provides warmth which in turns provides water.  The variances on earth with which locations receive the heat of the sun create weather patterns and these in turn create rain and other forms of precipitation.  So, yes, the sun not only shines brightly on us at times, it also is responsible for those rainy days.

Egyptian mythology believed the sun god Re or Ra created the universe and the tears of Re/Ra fell upon the earth and became human beings.  This is a different take on the sun and parenting; instead of children being the sunshine, parents are the offspring of the sun and children, of course, the offspring of the parents.  Instead of sun worshipping being harmful and leading to skin cancer when taken to the extreme as is often the case in our modern world, the ancient Greeks made Apollo the god of son, logic, and reason.

Celtic mythology viewed the sun’s journey across the skies, a fallacy of belief since it is the earth that travels and not the sun, as reflecting cycles of life and death.  Their sun god was Beltanus and the Gaelic celebration known as Beltane was held in May to celebrate the beginning of summer.

Today our myths about the sun are more about appearance – ours.  When sunlight hits a human’s skin it affects it and causes it to darken.  Based upon the hue of the skin, this can occur within fifteen minutes or take up to two hours.  Sunscreen helps divert the harmful rays of the sun’s light but it must be applied every ninety minutes to be effective and seldom is that done.

The sun helps in many other ways, however, besides just giving one a tan that is so popular today.  Several studies regarding conditions such as Seasonal Affective Disorder and Alzheimer’s have shown the benefits of sunlight on the patient.  Even sitting inside in a room filled with sunlight can provide beneficial results.  The sun also helps regulate our melatonin levels and tells the body when it is time to go to sleep.

The people in Togo, Benin, and Ghana also had a sun deity.  Their moon god Mawu was a twin to the sun god Lisa.  Seen also as creators of the universe, it was the moon or Mawu that represented birth and motherhood while the sun or Lisa characterized work, heat, and strength.  We will study more about both Egyptian mythology and African mythology next month but traces of the various Chinese myths about the sun are evident in other cultures… and vice versa.

Earlier in this posting I discussed Beltanus, a Celtic sun god.  He was not the only Celtic sun deity; Lugus or Lugh was another such deity.  Indian mythology also had multiple sun deities with Surya, the Hindu sun god, being one of the more prominent ones.  In fact, many shop owners today have a sun carved into their doorframes at the top to pay homage to this deity of their ancient mythology.

Chinese mythology is replete with sun gods.  One single legend tells of ten sun gods, children of the goddess Xihe and Dijun, their father.  The story tells of one fateful day when all ten sun gods elected to appear in the sky at the same time.  Creating a heat too intense, they were ordered to behave by their father.  Being children, they did not and so Dijun sent an archer known as Yi to shoot the suns away.  Yi killed nine of the sun gods which left the one that is in our sky today.

One of the most ancient of all Chinese myths is the story of Kua Fu and the sun.  The leader of a group of giants, Kua Fu vowed to chase the sun, capture it, and tame it.  The land was in the middle of a drought and the giants were suffering; they held the sun responsible.  The legend tells that Kua Fu ran as fast as he could along the terrain for nine days and nine nights.  As he ran, he brushed sand from his shoes which created hills.  Mountains were created from the three stones that held his cooking pot each night.

Eventually Kua Fu does catch up to the sun but its heat is too strong for him.  He drinks from various rivers but cannot quench his thirst and dies.  The story of a leader or hero who perishes when getting too close to the sun is also the story of the Greek myth about Icarus.  Both stories are told to illustrate humility and the dangers of arrogance.  They are another example of the diffusion and parallel plot lines the mythologies of the world contain.

The sun shines on us all, regardless of our nationality, location, creeds, or status.  We are all recipients of both its beneficial qualities as well as the folly that can come from indulging in it.  Whether children are the sunshine or the sunbeams, it is our responsibility to give them a safe, healthy world, one that allows for beneficial living and not corruption of natural life.

I hope today you are able to feel the warmth of life-giving rays, whether in the form of a hug from a loved one or by opening a curtain and letting the sun into a room.  I believe we all have the warmth of the sun within us and should let it shine on others.  We may not be able to make flowers bloom but we can make another person smile.  We can provide food for another through preparation and donation.  We can vote into office those who will not become slaves to their own arrogance but work for the good of all, justice and peace which will allow our universe to flourish.  Today we will write our own mythologies.  Today we have the chance to be the sunshine for another.

Prepositions and Miracles

Prepositions and Miracles

Pentecost 122

As you know I love feedback from you guys, my readers and followers.  It is, after all the purpose of this blog – to engage in conversation as we engage in our living.  I do not identify the responder unless they request it due to privacy concerns and respect but I do value each of you deeply.  Over the weekend I was asked a really interesting question:  Aren’t these myths out of date?

I mentioned several days ago that a family member had been in an automobile accident and was in a coma.  She remains in a coma and while some progress has been seen, the outlook is still up in the air.  In other words, we are hoping and praying for a miracle.  Tomorrow her youngest will celebrate her second birthday so while it has become the new “normal” to visit her in the hospital, this celebration of life is also reminding us of the fragility of life.

The mythologies of mankind also served to remind us about the fragility of life.  While they seldom called the endings of their tales of colorful characters, fantastic exploits, and incredible out-of-this-world powers “miracles”, that is how other writings would classify them.  More importantly, they were guidelines for living and, since we are all still living, then I don’t believe them to be out of date.

Depending on the culture, the purpose of the myths varied while many of the characters and deeds were strikingly similar.  While there seems to have been a “parallel development” as Carl Jung phrased it in the development of similar stories, some simply choose to believe that these commonalities are the result of travel.  They believe that, like the trade winds that carried the trading vessels to all parts of the world, exploration and travel carried the stories that were then altered to fit the culture.  I choose to believe there is a much simpler answer: We are all human.

In the throes of tragedy or great confusion, we need to make order out of the chaos.  It is how our brains function and the mind works.  Our eyes see everything as it is but how our brain interprets those visions is not always accurate.  Place a large rectangle in a room identified to us as a bedroom and the rectangle is first thought to be a bed because it makes sense.  That is why fifty eye witnesses can all be telling what they perceive to be the truth and yet none of them tell the same story.

Mythology is the collection of man’s attempt to make order from the chaos that life sometimes throws our way.  The stories may seem unbelievable to those of us living in the twenty-first century but that is just because we have become egotistical.  We think, with all our technology, that we know all the answers.  We don’t even know all the questions so how can we possible know all the answers?

One of my favorite parts of speech is the lowly preposition.  Like the myths of old and even those newer ones, prepositions give us direction.  Place the candle…where?  On the table.  Run…where?  Up the hill.  Where is she hiding?  Around the corner.    Often overlooked, the importance of the preposition is found in its definition:  “a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause”; “a relationship between other words in a sentence”.

Mythologies, those weird stories about even weirder deities that can’t have possibly defied the laws of gravity to accomplish what they allegedly achieved, are all about our relationships – to nature, to each other, to ourselves, and to the universe.  A simple word such as “in” or “after” or “on” may seem insignificant or meaningless but really, without them we would be lost.  We would be left with only “here” or “there”.  We would have no relationship with our living.

I cannot prove that miracle have ever occurred but to an ancient Greek or aborigine, I think the lifting of a space ship that then circles the planet while men and women live within it might just qualify.  What we consider science today was once an imaginary story, the dream of someone many considered crazy.  The miraculous cures that saved many from plagues and viral epidemics are science but they are also answered prayers.

In December we will discuss prayers for all cultures have some sort of them, regardless of what they are called.  Today, though, think about the prepositions in your speech and your actions.  I picked the cup of tea up off the table.  I pushed the vacuum across the floor.  I placed my hand on the puppy’s head.  I also petted the cat but anyone who is owned by a cat knows the cat places their head under your hand!  I raise my spirits and prayers to the supreme being of my beliefs.  It may be neither here nor there but the fact is we are here and, for my at least, mythologies still hold meaning.  And I will continue to have hope that my family member will experience the miracle of science and faith in her recovery.