Tuesday, February 28th. The 7th day of Lent.
This post is a follow up to some things I wrote about on Saturday.
If the mythic framework of your childhood world no longer satisfies, you can hit the highway and seek your metaphysical fortune in the wide world. These days, with the internet and global news, people are less isolated and provincial. The worldview highways are, therefore, filled with lost children.
You may have had secular parents with a strong empirical outlook. They may have been victims of close-minded religious abuse and left their own childhood myth years ago. Or perhaps the classic myths of religion just didn’t appeal to them. So you were raised with a healthy skepticism and a suspicion of all things religious. But then one day you wandered into a church and saw the ancient rites and heard the archetypal stories. Your heart was filled with joy, and you do not know why.
The ancients say that the Holy Spirit somehow chose you and gave you a mystical encounter. Or maybe you have the so-called religious gene, it having skipped a generation in your family. What does it matter? This thing happened and now you find yourself seeking God.
Or you may have been raised by religious people who had a shallow understanding of their faith to begin with and made matters worse by applying it like a cudgel to the backs of their children. You could hardly wait to escape that culture, and now you are free and feeling happy. The world is yours. You plan to seek meaning whereever you can find it.
The particulars of your story really don’t matter. However it happened, you have freed yourself – at least you think you have – from mother culture and are out to find a new way to live and think and be. There are many ways to approach this journey. Here are a few that I have tried:
You can denounce mother culture in anger, place a mark on your forehead – like Cain – and wander the earth defining yourself by what you are not. You can tell the stories of how mother culture let you down and abused you. But the happiness you gain from each telling will lessen until your stories bring you only unhappiness. But still you will tell the stories, because somewhere along the way your pain has become your identity.
You can go to a far country and enter another tribe, embracing their myths. At some point you may discover that the only way to find peace is to become a true believer in your new tribe, which was something you could not do before. Or perhaps you are a true believer at heart and will settle quite nicely into your new culture. Only time will tell.
You can become a tourist and a collector of experiences. This year you may fall in love with the Dalai Lama. Next year it will be Reiki. The year after you will go through a Jungian phase. You enjoy true believers of myths with a kind of spiritual voyeurism, but you remain detached and set apart.
You can proclaim yourself immune to all myths, hold them in contempt, and live like a hermit in a little worldview shack that you built yourself. Your shack will be a small, rickety, mean affair, for no one can possibly constuct a beautiful myth themselves. But it will be your own place, and you can growl at people through your dirty windows when they pass by.
You may wander the earth for a time with no real understanding of why you are on the road and where you are going. When you realize how essential a myth is to a human being, you may grieve for what you have lost. But then you may learn to treasure true believers and people of honest hearts and real convictions. In time you may find a way to exist in peace with a community of one sort or another.
I’m sure there are hundreds of ways to take this journey. Perhaps it is good news that you are not alone.
And further good news that if you stay humble and always open minded, the journey itself may make you into a more peaceful, gentle, and loving human being.
Gordon Atkinson – fellow pilgrim