A Hero’s Journey

Sep 20, 2010

Myths & fairy tales–these are not valued in our post-modern world; they are for children, we adults like the facts, real stories. We no longer believe in Cinderella, Snow White or any of the Greek or Roman myths. We are thinking people, rational, not guided by larger than life stories. We live in the real world. Hercules and St. George weren’t real people facing real life challenges. Who has dragons or Hydras in their lives?

Since the Enlightenment began the rational journey we’re on, we’ve lost something true in our lives, a guidepost, a path to follow, a commonality in all our stories. I think we’ve lost the essence of what life is all about—a hero(ine)’s journey. Who is the hero of our lives?  Is it Superman or Batman, someone with supernatural powers? Or are we the hero(ine)s of our own lives? I know there’s a danger in addressing this topic to religious people. It might be pagan, and that subject would be tabu.

But even Jesus lived out the hero’s journey starting with the initiation, if you will, of his baptism, encountered Satan in the desert whose tests he aced, started his ministry, escaped the overwhelming crowds sometimes who came to hear him and to be healed, collected his enemies on the way, a growing cadre of priests and scribes and Pharisees, went through the ordeal of his crucifixion, death and resurrection and certainly returned to confirm his victory over death.

What would happen to us if we began to entertain our stories as a mythic journey with its cycle of challenges, feats, enemies, ordeals, death and rebirth? Am I the heroine of my own story? Are you the hero of yours? Seeing our lives from this perspective, we would easily get beyond the “why me?” response to illness or job loss or death of a companion and other trials—it’s part of the journey. If we see our lives as some sort of training ground for the hero, it would change the way we think about them. We wouldn’t get bogged down in resistance to the challenges we face—although one of the stages in the hero’s journey is to refuse the call and later to embrace it–we’d get right down to how we’re going to handle this challenge or the next one.

We would cycle through that hero’s journey several times in our lives, as we face and overcome a challenge—die to that challenge, if you will, incorporate the learning—be reborn, celebrate our victories and anticipate the next one along the way.  The larger than life mythic characters—the Herculeses, the St. Georges and the Supermen—remind us that we do have to reach way down into our beings when facing other than normal challenges, to become mythic in stature if we are going to deal with cancer or a job loss or the death of someone close. We all have resources and resilience beyond the normal within us, and we have God to call upon for help to see us through.

What challenges have you faced that called out the hero(ine) in you? Was it a diagnosis of cancer? Sometimes cancer seems like the Hydra of Lerna, who grew two heads for every one that was lopped off. Have you lost your job at a critical point in your life and felt that you’re wandering in the Cretan Labyrinth with the Minotaur yet to face? Did you suffer your own Katrina disaster with its long road to recovery? What knowledge and skills did you gain in facing that challenge that stayed with you? What died in you and what was reborn?

These are the questions that a hero(ine) has to face. If our lives are a mythic journey then we know that there will be unanticipated and difficult challenges, we’ll know in advance that refusing the call doesn’t make it go away.  We’ll know there is a reason for what we face and for what we will learn, that nothing is lost and everything is gained by facing up to the task.

We all need hero(ine)es to look up to, maybe we should look up to ourselves more often, not in an egotistical way, but with compassion and admiration for all we’ve been through and how we survived the ordeals. We have all been through difficult trials; there will be others. Strengthened and encouraged by each one, the next one becomes less fearsome.

Jesus is our premier guide on our mythic journeys as we remember the elements that helped him through the difficult journey at the end of his life. He had, first and foremost, his close relationship with the Father, his Abba; he had companions along the way; he had a determination to see his challenges through; he did not flinch from the crucifixion and death, although he did momentarily ask God to take “this cup” from him at Gethsemane, and complained once to God on the cross “why have you forsaken me?” He remains the epitome of the hero. He is our companion and our exemplar for the hero’s journey. He is the Way. Follow him.

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