Hello again. A month ago I wrote the following:
What deep driven piles do I see in the Christian Tradition? Love. Fidelity. Compassion. Truth. Grace. Welcome. Hospitality. Creativity. Integrity. Hope. What kind of a flexible, dancing Spirit-willed choreography could arise from those deep values?
Some of those significant words are one of which myths are made. We have just commemorated ANZAC Day in NZ. We have chosen a massive defeat around which to remember those who died in war. Go figure!
It seems some choose to make Anzac their meaning-making myth rather than that equally difficult death on the first ‘Good Friday’. See the relative numbers at Good Friday services compared with Anzac commemorations. See the willingness of garden centres to flout rules about trading on Good Friday compared with trading on Anzac Day.
Myth underpins the sense we make of the world. It can be thought of as a stream flowing beneath all our lives. We tap down into that aquifer when our souls need refreshing. We tap into that stream on Anzac Day. How does the death of a young Anzac on Turkish soil feed our souls? It’s something about the ideal of that death contributing to present freedom. It is not that he died for us, but that, (theoretically) his life was given. He made a sacrifice of life as part of a cause.
This ignores of course all the other unknowns – why did young men enlist, how good were the command decisions, how good was the support, did bad timing play a part, how strong was community and country pressure to serve etc., etc. Do we use myth sometimes to protect ourselves from the horror and waste of young life? Or, does it give meaning to what otherwise would be waste unless interpreted by myth?
Is this Anzac myth-making of the same order of those myths woven around religious observance for millennia – about the apparent spiritual giants – Abraham and Sarah, the ‘father and mother’ of three major world faiths, Moses and Miriam, ‘deliverer and dancer’ of the Exodus, Jesus the ‘saviour’, Mary Magdalene the enigmatic ‘disciple’, Paul the tireless ‘missionary’. Also those great myths about deliverance, reconciliation and forgiveness; about creation and the arrival of consciousness.
A definition of the Jungian view of myth is:
Myths express characters and stories that are encoded into the human species in prehistory, and therefore express universal concerns.
If myths and dreams are expressions of the collective unconscious, as Jung believed, they will therefore express ideas core to the whole human species. These ideas are ‘encoded’ within the human being. If they have a common origin, such as the collective unconscious, then it stands to reason that myths, as they are expressed in different societies, will have many acute similarities.
This means that as Christians we need not be surprised that there are many flood stories, or stories about people being saved in different ways. It simply means Judeo-Christian stories have elements of these collective myths within. Perhaps the collective myths are the ever flowing stream, the Christian story a manifestation of that stream in a certain period of time. The collective myth however never dies, even if Christianity seems to be on the wane.
Looking for objective and empirical truth within a myth is where we post-Enlightenment people have gone wrong. While some parts of a myth have their foundation in a real event or part of a real event, the myth is much more – definitely not a frivolous fairy tale – but a strong story, tested over millennia to be significant to the well-being of the human being’s understanding of ourselves. Of the words quoted last month I can think of myths from different eras which encapsulate and explain those concepts:
Love. Romeo and Juliet
Fidelity. Ruth and Naomi
Compassion. The Good Samaritan
Truth. Jesus and Pilate
Grace. Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa Welcome. ‘I am a Muslim too’ demonstrations
Hospitality. Mother Teresa
Creativity. Development within the art of Pablo Picasso
Integrity. John the Baptist’s challenge to Roman Authority
Hope. The Ideals of the Olympic Games (not always the reality!)
Look for the myths you align your life with – whether you are religious or not. You will be surprised what you find.