On the twenty-ninth day of September 2013 we had a wonderful, spirit-filled afternoon at Good Shepherd Church in Hayesville, N. C. We gathered at 4 pm for the installation of our new rector, Father Bill Breedlove, and to confirm and receive new members into our faith community. We are blessed to have Father Bill as our rector and pastor.
On this beautiful fall afternoon with the green-blue mountains and bright blue cloud-filled sky framed in the windows behind the altar it was not difficult to feel the presence of the Spirit of the Risen Christ in our midst. A grand liturgy with a wonderful anthem by the choir was followed by a reception replete with gourmet finger food.
Bishop G. Porter Taylor presided over the liturgy and delivered a challenging sermon. Attributing the statement “I think about God and God thinks about me” to Simone Weil, he reminded us that our primary purpose in life is to think about God. We are called to live and act in God’s presence as God flares forth in the cosmos and in our lives. It is our new rector’s role to remind us to think about God. (So as not to be putting words in the bishop’s mouth, let me say that this is my interpretation of what he said.)
At times, God gets a little out of focus. At other times, God falls completely off our radar screens as we fly through our daily lives. Yet, we know we are created in the very image and likeness of God and that life is about becoming what we are in Christ—divinized, Spirit-filled human beings.
Three weeks ago we had a break in a supply line in the main bathroom and had water damage in two upstairs rooms and the bathroom, two downstairs rooms and the crawlspace. Not a pleasant experience. At first it was easy to sing “Halleluia” with Leonard Cohen. But as time wears on and slow step by step restoration takes place over time it is easy to let God drop off the radar screen; however, God refuses to vanish into obscurity. Patience comes from patior which means to suffer through. While suffering through the inconvenience of the flooding, God refuses to get out of the picture. God keeps tapping me on the shoulder and nudging me onward. Is this house really all that important? It can be and is being restored. God is pestering me especially when I am busy packing boxes, mainly books to prepare for the carpet work and ceiling repair. Sunday’s Gospel reading about Lazarus at the gate of the rich man put God back in focus.
I have too much stuff! I found chargers for many I do not know what they go to machines. I unshelved books I did not know I had. (I have been having success selling books on Amazon since May and plan to sell more and give the remainder to the library at Young Harris College or to the Friends of the library. Stuff gets in the way of thinking about God. The cleanup and restoration will give me the opportunity to get rid of a lot of “stuff!” I took three bags of pants and shirts to the S.A.F.E. Again Thrift Store yesterday. I am going to get “unstuffed”!
Flooding events and other accidents never seem to happen at a convenient time. This flooding occurred just when I was beginning to teach six classes over three weeks in the Institute for Continuing Learning at Young Harris College. I am having a great time teaching “The Hero’s Journey: Odysseus, Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter.” Nothing like a flood to help me think about Odysseus’ descent into the underworld, Skywalker’s fall into the garbage dump complete with trash compactor, and Harry’s descent into the tentacle filled pit.
I am just getting acquainted with Harry Potter. Why all the wizard stuff? Harry has ventured into Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry after a painful childhood. Having had his parents killed by the arch villain Voldemort, Harry escapes only to be treated like less than human by his aunt and uncle and their nerdy kid. In fact, Harry could have charged Vernon, Petunia, and Dudley Dursely with child abuse. As the Potter saga unfolds, Harry has been protected from Voldemort because of the love and courage of his mother. Voldemort continues to pursue Harry; however, this is the hero story with a higher consciousness twist. Harry, unlike the vengeful Odysseus who slaughters all his wife’s suitors and the maids who cavorted with them, seeks the redemption of Voldemort. In the final book, love is the answer to violence. Thus, the courageous love of Harry’s mother, who gave her life to save him, becomes the driving force in the Potter saga. What a welcome relief from the death arrows of Odysseus and the light swords of Star Wars.
Both Freud and Jung ventured into mythology because of their clients’ experiences with dreams. In the wake of Joseph Campbell’s monumental work on the monomyth of the hero, I have noticed a marked tendency to psychologize the myths. This is helpful. On our life’s journey we follow the pattern of the hero’s journey as some event(s) challenge(s) us to leave our comfort zones , cross the scary threshold and venture forth into the adventures of the unknown before we return home once again. When we finally return with the boon, we are not the same person we were when we began the journey. Life may well be a series of journeys where we have the opportunity to come to new levels of consciousness, where we rediscover our face before we were born. Life is a constant homecoming to our true selves created in the image and likeness of God. The Eastern Church calls this divinization. We are ever becoming more than we are.
Enter the bishop’s sermon once again. One of the liturgical readings was about slaying the dragon in the Book of Revelation. When the bishops began to speak about the dragons in our lives, a light bulb went on. The dragons and demons in Odysseus, Star Wars, and Harry Potter often morph into internal dragons from our dark side.
We shove our painful experiences and memories into our dark shadow side where they will have a life of their own until we confront them or until they disrupt our life. Like the hero, we must encounter these dragons or we will implode ourselves and/or others. This is the true power of myth and I really like the bishop’s definition of myth—something that probably never happened but is true nonetheless.
Myth helps us identify and live with our dark side. Thomas Keating, a Cistercian monk from Snowmass, Colorado, teaches centering prayer and instructs us to let the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and memories which emerge as our monkey-mind works overtime simply float by like boats on a river. Often, the Divine Physician brings healing as these thoughts, memories, feelings and perceptions emerge from our dark, shadow side. These are the interior demons in search of release. When we let go, a healing balm soothes our troubled souls.
On our Christian journey, we are not orphans like Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker. The Force is with us. We are the children of Jesus’ Abba and brothers and sisters of the Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We think about God and God thinks about us. We are connected to THE Cosmic Force, the energy and matter of the God-filled cosmos. Poseidons, Darth Vaders, and Voldemorts cannot separate us from the Cosmic Force that is the Love of God flaring forth.
Thomas Merton, another Cistercian monk, reminds us that the inner journey is what really counts:
History would show the fatality and doom that would attend on the external pilgrimage with no interior spiritual integration, a divisive and disintegrated wandering, without understanding and without the fulfillment of any humble inner quest. In such a pilgrimage no blessing is found within, and so the outward journey is cursed with alienation. Historically, we find a progressive ‘interiorization’ of the pilgrimage theme, until in monastic literature the ‘perigrinatio’ of the monk is entirely spiritual and is in fact synonymous with monastic stability. Thomas Merton. “From Pilgrimage to Crusade.” Mystics & Zen Masters. NY: Dell Paperback, 1961. 90-112.
As you follow your bliss, pursue your odyssey, engage in your pilgrimage, keeps your focus on true north—the Cosmic Risen Christ. “Think” about God. However, you “think” about God, God is “thinking” about you. As I wrote this, it struck me that “thinking” is a metaphor for dwelling in the presence of the Divine. Abide in the Force of God’s Love. We live, now not us, but the Risen Cosmic Christ dwells deep–deep within us.