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Posts Tagged ‘myth’

religion

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning of life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really looking for. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. (Joseph Campbell)

I find myself engaged in frequent conversation these days with very earnest and thoughtful people who struggle, as sons and daughters of post-modernity, with the religious notions handed down from antiquity. I struggle right along with them. The struggle is meaningful in itself. I too feel the tension between the call of scientific consciousness that seeks to understand how things work and the deep need to know why there is anything at all which science can not address.

As one dedicated to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, I must navigate between their import and the traditions and rituals that have wrapped themselves around them. Should I, as one keen to know through the lens of science, dispense with all the myth that has no basis in historical fact and rededicate myself, in all aspects of my life, to only the verifiable and objective? If I did, what would I miss other than the comforting blanket of forms that surrounded my early years that were taught with such seeming authority:  a virgin birth, raising people from the dead, resurrection, an ascension, a star of Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus in December after a long journey for Mary & Joseph from Nazareth on a camel, three wise men, etc.

None of these are rooted in fact. None of these are history. They are either stories that can elevate our sights or provide quaint and dispensable legends. 

Mythos means story or fabrication. In what sense are myths true or are they simply fictions designed to avoid facing what we don’t know? As Joseph Campbell expresses so well, they actually make it possible for us to be more fully alive. They are  lenses through which we can discern meaningful movement and detail, texture and color that would otherwise be lost to us. Myths bring the banal and ordinary to a heightened level and call us to deeper presence in relating to the world. 

Myth is another form of sight. Like an astronomer using different lenses to reveal subtler detail of studied planets or a photographers use of lenses to extend seeing, myth serves to examine teachings in the form of story that engage our whole being ( head, heart and spirit). Entering the story makes it possible to journey deeper into the truths at which the teachings are pointing. Even in science, metaphor is used to capture the realities under study in ways that tell a story so we can enter into physical mysteries more deeply: black holes, white holes, warping of the fabric of space-time, the curvature of space, quarks ( never seen but evidence suggests they are real), dark matter, dark energy, etc.

So, how might we make right use of the myths of Christianity to experience its teachings more deeply and fully. I offer merely one set of possibilities born of my own meditations choosing three of those mysteries/ myths mentioned earlier:

  • a Virgin birth: I imagine Mary’s full “Yes” to the Spirit delivering such news regardless of the social awkwardness of that revelation. I envision her fear giving way to joy in accepting even the seemingly impossible – a lesson in what it means to take a leap of faith into the unknown guided by gut instinct and a personal epiphany. Mary’s “Magnificat” calls me to examine the boundaries of my own surrender to the real and cynicism in response to hope and possibility. All births are miraculous! All births are arrivals from the unknown? One life can change us all! Where is the impossible happening in spite of my disbelief and what are the self-imposed limits by which I restrict my sense of what’s real?
  • a star shining brightly over the manger in Bethlehem: Three Kings of the Orient came bearing gifts and I imagine their dedicated search for the One foretold in scripture journeying over the desert in the “bleak mid-Winter”. I see their joy at coming upon the scene marked by portents in the Heavens and adoring the Child whose life would change the world. What lies beneath such a story that communicates enduring truth? In childhood, we see things animated by fantastical purposes and then, as we age, life’s challenges weaken our hold on hope and a sense of possibilities. Are the stars so separate? Are we not made of the same stuff?Are we not children of the stars? Are there not many seeming coincidences that nonetheless strike us as meaningful and that enrich our experiences? About what am I so passionate and so alive that I will journey long and hard to search it out? Where is the dedication to revelation that this story expresses? Do I see the miracles embedded in the events that too often go unappreciated?
  • Resurrection: A Soter, a bearer of Light, dies and then rises again as prefigured in the myth of Osiris and Persephone’s rise from Hades in the Spring; a Presence too great to be snuffed out who achieves a consciousness about which we can only imagine. Is death the end? Do we live on in another condition? Is our personal consciousness dead once the brain stops? Where are we going? Do we merely become dust once more? This is the central myth of Christianity. In the universe, matter and energy is neither created nor destroyed. Carl Jung spoke of the objective psyche, independent of any one of us, that draws us toward certain constellations of thought and ultimately story. I can leap into the arms of mystery and believe that, like matter and energy, consciousness too rejoins a process that, like all things in the Cosmos, is complexifying and moving toward completion. To posit an abrupt end to consciousness would stand in contrast to everything else we know about the universe. I leap into the arms of mystery, suspend my disbelief and open my heart to what mind can never grasp. I can imagine it beyond the limits my reason would impose.

Myth is a form of poetry. Without the humanities, science is cold, impersonal and can lead to destruction ( e.g., we made the atom bomb because we could). The arts are not optional. Without the aesthetic sense and literature, all things lose their deeper essence and rootedness in the mysteries. We loose the soul in the machine. Science too is written in myth like the Myth of Objectivity. We know that our tools of study affect the phenomena that we study. Mind is structured in terms of story and stripping story of metaphor is to make it hollow.

Hegel reasoned late in life that poetry was the only language that can carry us farther than simple logic. Indeed, I could say to you: ” As I age, I see that I, like everything, am on the move propelled by the same forces”, or we can read the poetry of Dylan Thomas:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower 
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees 
Is my destroyer. 
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose 
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The poem carries us deeper and speaks to mind, heart and soul and from the imagery we are perpetually edified.

Myth is the process by which we see into ourselves and the mysteries and are a critical part of knowing.

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Great ( Holy) Wednesday, March 31, 2010

This day is also called “Spy Wednesday,” the day designated by the Western Church, as the one on which we recall the first betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot in his collusion with the Sanhedrin, while Jesus was himself at Bethany where he was anointed by Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. The spikenard oil she used was expensive, and so a controversy broke out among the apostles over what seemed to them an extravagance, and frivolous behavior on Mary’s part, especially given the fact that the oil would have fetched a good price at market and the proceeds could have been better applied to feeding the poor.

The power of this day is in the parallel themes of betrayal/ second-guessing, and a costly, unhesitating generosity.

On the theme of betrayal, we can all painfully recall moments when those close to us have acted without  forethought in ways that hurt us. Maybe they revealed a confidence, or chose to openly criticize us in front of others, perhaps making use of knowledge that they could only have had because they were so close. Much in the news these days, and far more serious, are the stories of flagrant infidelities; promises broken that wound whole families and tarnish reputations.

Very often, the one committing the act of betrayal is well-intentioned if misguided. In the case of Judas, he was the dupe of the Sanhedrin. He envisioned a rapprochement between Jesus and the Sanhedrin. His real sin was in being so blinded by his own egoistic vision of how things should evolve ( and his inflated sense of himself as more politically astute) that he failed to accurately read the motivations of shadowy and secret alliances, and the deeper vision of the one he truly had hoped to serve.

When we let people draw very close, they become the most dangerous people in our lives. They have intimate details of our habits and usual whereabouts and our soft spots and vulnerabilities. The old cliché “you hurt the ones you love” is all too true. We are given a treasure to hold when people offer themselves to us in deeply personal ways. Our faithful stewardship of that gift is a spiritual imperative. In acting, we must always ask: In whose interests am I acting? To what degree is it mostly about my needs, agendas, priorities and beliefs, and not theirs?

There are certainly betrayers among us, and those who one day can become so. One only need look at the depth of enmity expressed between once trusting but now estranged partners in a marital breakup to see the tragic miscarriages of love. More important on this day, however, is the “spy” (or betrayer) within. It is a day on which to think back to the moments when our own better judgment was absent, and when we acted so foolishly as to cause someone dear to us to suffer through our words, deeds, or sins of omission.

There are also those times when we feign friendship in cultivating a politically valuable relationship. In those moments, we deceive and are disingenuine,  using the other person for our own ends. (We have all been there either dramatically or in more subtle and nuanced ways). The Gospel calls us to a very high standard of conduct. It demands so much more from us by way of fidelity and follow-through on our commitments and vows. It also demands that we move swiftly to forgive those who wrong us through a thoughtless word or deed for there, by the grace of G-d, go we.

We live in a time when vows seem anachronistic. This is the age, after all, of the pre-nuptial agreement, and the so-called “trial periods” of living together. We suffer cultural paranoia and so risk losing the joy attached to firm and unshakeable vows in which our fidelity, though surely to be tested, is proven resilient and robust. In achieving such relationships, we move, as Teilhard de Chardin captured in his writing, toward the “Pleroma,”  or the Fullness of the Christic vision.

What are the vows that I have taken? Today is a good day to renew them and consider the history of my faithfulness to them and where, when, and why I fell short.

On the matter of the anointing with precious oil by Mary at Bethany, I can certainly appreciate the frugality expressed in the Apostles’ objections. The act seemed wasteful and careless. Of course, this is the epitome of homo economicus, a strong feature of the current zeitgeist. But there are other considerations. In Mary’s gracious act of expending the precious oil, she, in one movement, foreshadows the Chosen One, the death on the Cross, and the later anointing of Jesus’ crucified body  with the precious oils as mandated by Jewish custom of those times. Her intent, in the moment, spontaneously and without calculation, was to signify, viscerally and sensually, the deep personal meaning of her vow to Jesus, her devotion, and Christ’s unshakeable vow to the World; to be its Light!

My daughter has her best friend joining her in our home this week for a few days. My wife and I are delighted to see her again and extend the warmth of our home to her. We have worked pretty hard over the last few weeks to make things ready. We wanted her to feel an important part of the family. We have (and would always) go the extra step to make the time and the space special, and invest the resources to do so.

Now, one can argue that the “budget” may not have a line item set aside for such an occasion, especially because they are usually not planned well in advance. In our case, we accelerated needed work on the room that would be offered to our friend and guest. We redecorated it (certainly with the longer term future in mind) but with principal focus on making her time with us very special and memorable.

There are times when we spend more than others might, who,  looking “in” at these times of constrained finances, might challenge the wisdom of  unflinching and unreserved hospitality. They might (and have) argued that doing less is more prudent, and that the extras are nice-to-have, but maybe ill-timed. These are well-meaning comments and articulate a reality I recognize, particularly since the economic crash of late 2008. They are offered from an objective and essentially economic vantage point.

Nevertheless, having acknowledged that, our choices are motivated not by objective criteria alone,  but more substantially, by a subjective “enthusmia;” our intent to create a place of relaxation and restoration, a sanctuary of warmth and friendship. In doing so, we extend our love for our daughter to all those that she calls “friend.” This is as it should be. This is spiritual practice ( and very much consonant with the spirit of Franciscan Spirituality).

While one can still be “economical,” life is too short to miss the small chances to add light and joy when given the opportunity to do so. Hospitality, as I wrote in an earlier post, is an advanced form of spiritual practice, and it warrants pulling out our finest linens, dishes, foods, and, yes, the precious oils by which to “anoint” in the names of Love and caring.

The Spirit of Holy Wednesday asks us to retake our vows, redouble our efforts to fulfill them, and recalibrate the sincerity of our loving so that it  transcends the vagaries of politics, economics, and all the many other temporal agendas.

Mark 14:10-12 (King James Version)

10And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.

11And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.

12And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?

The Hymn of Kassiani

[written by Kassiani the Nun in the 9th century]:

O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, sensing Your Divinity, takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer. With lamentations she brings you myrrh in anticipation of your entombment. “Woe to me!” she cries, “for me night has become a frenzy of licentiousness, a dark and moonless love of sin. Receive the fountain of my tears, O You who gathers into clouds the waters of the sea. Incline unto me, unto the sighings of my heart, O You who bowed the heavens by your ineffable condescension. I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and dry them again with the tresses of my hair; those very feet at whose sound Eve hid herself from in fear when she heard You walking in Paradise in the twilight of the day. As for the multitude of my sins and the depths of Your judgments, who can search them out, O Savior of souls, my Savior? Do not disdain me Your handmaiden, O You who are boundless in mercy.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Norman’s Woe is a coastal reef in Gloucester Massachusetts immortalized by the tragic poem ” The wreck of the Hesperus” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It tells of the captain of a ship, the Hesperus, who met a fierce storm off the Eastern coast of New England. His daughter was onboard. Other senior crewman offered their good counsel but the captain was filled with hubris and refused to hear it.

In trying to save his daughter from the ravaging seas, he had her strapped to the mast to avoid the threat of seeing her swept overboard by the tall and ferocious waves crashing on deck. Horribly, all perished, including the girl, who drowned as the ship capsized and, having been tied to the mast, was unable to free herself and possibly survive the calamity.

The tale of an innocent’s death and that of all crewman on the reef is a cautionary fable loosely based on a devastating blizzard that in fact did occur off the coast of New England in 1839. The story rings in my ears as I read the wonderful just published book, Breakfast with Socrates, by Robert Rowland Smith.

In this breezy and very accessible retelling of the legacy of philosophy, Smith places each of many of the great philosophers in the midst of our everyday experiences, and we get an opportunity to briefly “dine with them” and imagine conversation on the questions with which we struggle as we navigate the mysteries, triumphs, and travails of our lives. All of this got me to thinking about the enormous treasure trove that is the classics.

Each of the great books, treasures that have withstood the test of time, offer enlightened and ever fresh commentary on our condition. Each of the voices from the ancient choir of the lovers of wisdom offer free counsel to anyone with the courage and mental fortitude to embrace it. Yet, the overwhelming lack of interest, generally speaking, in the classical library remains an undeniable reality.

The cry for relevance, practical plug-and-play utility, and small-minded self-help prescriptions is deafening. It is as if two meals are served: One a banquet of culinary genius, gourmet foods and great wines, and all for free, and it is rejected; while the other,  a grease-stained bag of fast food burgers costing far more than it’s worth, offering unwholesome calories, and containing excessive undisclosed filler materials and meat shot full of antibiotics and hormones, is the one hastily chosen and enthusiastically consumed.

It is time to go back, all of us, regardless of how well versed we are in the classics in general and the writings of the great philosophers in particular, and set up a renewed daily diet of wholesome calories. Furthermore, here’s the irony, like the free gourmet meal, the classics can be downloaded for free.

It is time to learn the lesson of the Hesperus and listen to the counsel of elder sages who speak to us from the deep recesses of recorded history. We can still save the young girl,  the archetypal Sophia, who is the the very soul of Wisdom. We can still rescue her from drowning in the turbulent and vicious seas of postmodernity and 21st century egoism and spiritual consumerism. We can resuscitate her and so revel in the sweetness of her voice, the alertness of her sight, and youthful embrace of the real.

At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair,
Lashed close to a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the billows fall and rise.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman’s Woe!

Excerpted from the poem, The Wreck of the Hesperus, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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I marvel at human ingenuity and it assumes so many forms. Not the least demonstration of our creative prowess as a species is the invention of signs for every conceivable condition and situation under the sun. When I travel, I am always struck by the wide range of signs ( traffic, warnings, announcements, and designations). Around the world, there are the clever varieties of stick figures and cute expressions differentiating the men’s and women’s toilets. On flights, proof that classical conditioning is a powerful force, there is the tyranny of the red lit restroom light signifying an unwelcome delay to one’s own relief, and the sheer delight that comes over one when that light turns green.

Engaging our visual and sometimes auditory sense, signs awaken us to present or emerging realities. We are made aware. We are told to mind our way forward, alter our behavior, adjust our expectations, and do things that are judged more healthy and wholesome by the authorities that be. With the rampant fears attached to pandemics, there are notices posted in restrooms world-wide reminding us to wash our hands. Public service advertising reminds us to do the same and dispensing bottles of Purrell and  related antiseptic equivalents are popping up everywhere.

Signs are comforting. It accentuates the essentially social nature of our conduct as human beings. It reminds us that life entails obligations for the other and for the society in which we are a part. Signs are a check on individuality. They represent the boundaries of personal freedom and represent curbs on the otherwise unbridled appetites of the narcissistic and solipsistic.

There is a tension that exists always between signage and the personal individual spirit. This tension is itself a trigger for a meditation. It represents the truth that we are neither individual nor collective, but a hybrid species alive at the intersection.

Spiritually, taking time to nullify the two polar myths of life opens up extraordinary vistas: the myths of individuality and plurality. These two myths define poles of a central dilemma in our consciousness. As we ponder the tension they inspire we become aware of a third way forward: the way of the sojourner, voyager, and argonaut.

We cannot complete the journey alone. We are vitally and necessarily interdependent though what inspires us is deeply personal. We emerge as transpersonal beings. We live in-between these poles and, as captured so masterfully by Homer in the Odyssey, we must navigate between the two sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, and avoid being lured too close to either and crashing upon the rocks that lie there as we traverse a turbulent sea. We must chart our course, boldly, bravely, and mindfully, straight through between them.

When next you see a sign, consider it a meditative trigger on the true state of our being in the World and an invitation to explore the psychic geography of our true home in the Spiritual City.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Liminal consciousness is that odd state when we emerge from sleep but not fully. In this state, we cannot be sure if our experience was dream or reality. In a real way, this is the truest state that we can experience. The answer to the question: Did it happen or did I dream, is yes. Such is the story of our lives. The liminal state of mind is a perfect rendering of our existential dilemma. We are and yet we are not.

Mind creates moments of compelling and credible theater that are indistinguishable from “real” events. For mind, they are certainly real. We have all the emotions we would in the scenario conjured in the dream state. My wife dreamt yesterday that she heard mens voices somewhere in the house as she slept in it alone while I traveled. She awoke and listened and wasnt sure if she had imagined the voices, or if she had heard them. She locked the door and couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night.

I dreamt some time ago that I was falsely arrested and awoke to fear that criminal charges hung over me. On another occasion, I heard the voice of my mother, now deceased, calling my name. It was audible; clear as a bell. I experienced it as coming into my ears from outside my room. Dreaming or real?

The character of Segismundo in the play, “Life is A Dream” ( La Vida es Sueno) by Pedro Calderon de la Barca, says, at the close of the play:

I dream that I am here
of these imprisonments charged,
and I dreamed that in another state
happier I saw myself.
What is life? A frenzy.
What is life? An illusion,
A shadow, a fiction,
And the greatest profit is small;
For all of life is a dream,
And dreams, are nothing but dreams.

Each day, I imagine what people are thinking. I hear their thoughts and those thoughts are mine. Are they thinking these thoughts too, imagining mine? I interact with people who share my language, yet do I know if they hear what I say as I hear it?

On holidays, the air is different. Saturdays are very different from Sundays and most certainly both are different from Mondays and Fridays. Of course, they are all just days. The day doesn’t know that it’s Saturday. The day is the day, and yet it isn’t.

The diurnal cycle defines so much of life. Night follows day but that isn’t real either. The Sun always shines somewhere. Night is always present somewhere. The sun’s rising and setting are not real, but a mere convention. I approach my next birthday. I am a year older. Right? Meaning what? We enter our forties and we think differently about our lives. We hit the fifties and we say “more han half of my life is behind me.” Says who?

We dream ourselves alive. We dream ourselves happy. We dream ourselves sad. We dream ourselves into states of  anxiety. We dream of endings. What we prophesy comes true.

When am I dreaming and when am I wake? Maybe I am awake AND dreaming now.

Oh my! I am confused.

Or am I?

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Dry river bed of the Rio Grande, at Big Bend National Park, with the United States on the left and Mexico on right. Photo Credit: SCEhardt, available in the public domain

The moments of special dread for writers, composers, scientists, artists, and mathematicians are the mental “dry spells.” A fertile period of easy flow when, for the writer,  the words seem to come readily with a life all their own, are invariably followed by times when it looks as if s/he’s run out of ideas. These gaps can last for what seem interminable periods and are often experienced as deeply frustrating, frightening, lonely, and as occasions of depression and shaken confidence. In these desert times, with no oasis in sight, anxious hours of work bare little, if any, tangible fruit.

Many artists have talked about these lacunae in inspiration, but one came to mind tonight that puts it all together with unparalleled spiritual insight: poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who wrote in his poem, The Poet:

O hour of my muse: why do you leave me,
Wounding me by the wingbeats of your flight?
Alone: what shall I use my mouth to utter?

How shall I pass my days? And how my nights?

I have no one to love. I have no home.
There is no center to sustain my life.
All things to which I give myself grow rich
and leave me spent, impoverished, alone.

As only Rilke can, these few stanzas capture the sense of being abandoned by the inner voices of inspiration for protracted periods of seeming “emptiness.” However, the anxiety surrounding these dormant intervals are no less significant and pregnant with meaning as the bulbs planted late in the growing season that will surely rise in their full splendor come the Spring. These dry spells are zones of incubation. Consciousness doesn’t take a holiday, nor does inspiration leave us. Instead, the ground of inspiration for the next creative foray is being refreshed in the winter cycle. As the mythic Persephone must descend into the underworld until the following Spring, so too the depth of the later expression wholly depends on the fullness of the Winter’s descent.

The anguish that we experience when the muse goes silent betrays our narcissistic attachment to the times of fruitful expression. We see the words or the notes or the equations flowing through us and, after a time, we grow too fond of our reflection in the words, the musical phrase or the beautifully elegant mathematical expressions that never really belonged to us. We serve as the vessels.

We fall in love with our reflection in the “pool” of flowing ideas and sounds and images. It is our nature to become thus attached. When we do, we are actually breaking off our open channel to the collective unconscious. In that moment of ego ownership, the river becomes blocked upstream and so the waters begin to run shallow until they go dry altogether.

Rather than being a time for anguish, worry, and melancholic insecurity, the dry spells are gifts to be celebrated. Instead of loss, they are a corrective in the psyche for these attachments. The winter cycle forces  a time of incubation and relaxed opening to the root system of all ideas and images.

Much like sleep and dreaming, the dry times serve the important purpose of allowing ideas to settle in, self-organize, await the right moment when new combinations and synergies are sparked, and the springtime of the mind returns with all of its luscious diversity. As spiritual practice, replacing consternation with celebration when the well runs dry quickens the soul’s journey to penetrate ever deeper toward the Source.

In his poem, A Walk, Rilke alternatively captures the fullness of living in the time just before the inspiration and revelation, in the in-between, in the time of waiting in wonder:

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Here is the paradox of the creative soul. The greater the time spent in the desert is directly proportional to the depth of the revelations that will surely follow for the heart that remains fully opened. Isn’t it interesting that in the mythology of the church much is made of the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent in the desert where he was tempted. Only then, was he ready to assume the role of a soter. The writer’s priesthood ( and that of all creative artists) is purified and enriched in the crucible of those times when nothing seems worth writing about, the words won’t come, and the river runs shallow.

Then, suddenly, the skies open, and it rains again.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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I took in this  James Cameron film in the first week of its release and it was simply delightful. Avatar is a melange of mythic elements and powerful archetypes that speak to and from our depths. The 2 hours and 45 minutes went by almost too quickly. This is a testament to the film’s rich symbolism and conformance to the twelve stages of the hero’s journey as articulated by Dr. Joseph Campbell, and the extraordinary and captivating CGI iconography.

As a Jungian, Avatar was a cinematic tour du force leaving me with plenty to think about.

While the storyline itself is not especially remarkable, the images and the interdependence among them certainly are. Of the many things in the film worth reflecting on and talking about, three things were especially striking as I look back on the experience:

  1. The Home Tree World: The central place of community and family life of the Nav ‘i people.
  2. The Tree of Souls: The luminous tree that acted as a nexus of the planet Pandora’s neural network, and the physical signifier of the presence of the sacred and ancestral souls of the Nav’i.
  3. The Contrast of Capitalistic Greed and Pastoral Intimacy: the Military-Industrial mining of Pandora that acts as the reason to displace an indigenous people by force, coupled with the Nav’i’s strong connection to the planet, it’s feminine spirit, and their deep respect for all living things and resolve to defend them.

The Home Tree world of the Nav’i was an enormous living structure with towering branches that served as passageways through the Nav’i homeland. It was reminiscent of the Tree of Life and was filled with delightful creatures (like the spiral plant-like worms with beautiful plumes that would retract as soon as touched). There were also the Seeds of Eywa, the spirits of the Nav’i divinity: phosphorescent parasol-like creatures that are intimately connected to Eywa.

The Tree of Life appears in traditions throughout the globe. It connotes the interdependence of all life, and the common heritage (brotherhood and sisterhood) of all sentient beings. It symbolizes the mystical history of the Family of Humankind and the Family of All Creation. As I watched the film, I was impressed with the sense of filial feeling and accountability that the Nav’i express toward all life, including the life they take for food or in self-defense.

There was a clear allusion to Wisdom and Sophia in the characterization of Eywa, the divine presence. The Home Tree is a symbol of life before the “Fall,” an Eden of beauty and youthful exuberance, filled with an authentic sense of awe before the Sacred: a pristine and simpler world threatened by the harsh and violent intrusion of weapons of war and technologies of death.

(more…)

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