Moving Beyond Literalism: Myth, Lent, & The Resurrection

The Bible is an anthology. It is a collection of books; not a single book as it is often thought to be. 

Furthermore, the Bible did not fall from the sky in its completed form. The books that comprise the Bible were penned over the course of approximately 900 years. Therefore, the books of the Bible were written by many different authors, each of which had their own worldview, interests, and agendas. As a result, the Bible narrative unfolds on several different levels. In it we see the curiosity of pre-scientific man musing over the origins of life and the cosmos. We see the ruling class advancing their socio-political agenda. We also see the voice of the oppressed and marginalized pushing back--pressing the issues of morality and social justice. And as the Biblical narrative advances, it becomes increasingly concerned with human spirituality.

The Bible records an evolving worldview, which is simply incompatible with the idea that it was dictated to a series of stenographers by an all-knowing anthropomorphic God. With every act of divine retribution, flood, exile, and with each emerging prophet, and every time the words "you have heard it said, but I say unto you" are uttered, the Bible ushers in a new vision, a new covenant. It is a record of mankind's wrestling with God, as well as an invitation for each successive generation to continue wrestling with the indwelling presence of the divine.

The Bible records mankind's unending exploration of the human soul. In it are snapshots of those remarkable moments from the inner-story of mankind. This record of mankind's inner history is known as mythology. Carl Jung wrote,

"The coming of consciousness was probably the most tremendous experience of primeval times, for with it a world came into being whose existence no one had suspected before. "And God said, 'Let there be light"' is the projection of that immemorial experience of the separation of consciousness from the unconscious."

From there the Bible poetically communicates mankind's longing to return from exile and reconnect with the unconscious wisdom of the body. It captures that moment when a people suddenly realized that God's will is realized, not by making the right sacrifice at the temple, but by consenting to the divine image within them. As the Biblical narrative unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that the body is the temple: "Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your center?"

Myth is mankind's on-going dialog with the divine. But the record is not closed.  It is our job to continue the dialog. We have to enter the myth. 

To understand myth you must involve yourself in the motif. You cannot stand back and read it like a newspaper. A literal reading of the Bible will lead you to the unintelligible conclusion that an all-knowing, all-powerful anthropomorphic God created a world with which he was so displeased that he had to offer up his son as a blood sacrifice to pacify his own wrath. This is nonsense.

Myth is a practice that you must immerse yourself in. When you realize that the path of the central figure (the hero) is presented to you as your way, your truth, and your life because their journey is a metaphor for your journey, the story dissolves into the immediacy of your own adventure. "The big question," says Joseph Campbell, "is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure."

Mythology invites us on a journey. "I am looking for someone to share in an adventure," Gandalf said to Bilbo Baggins. The Hobbit is not a story about an adventure. The Hobbit is an invitation to adventure. Likewise, the Bible does not tell us about God; it invites us to wrestle with God. It invites us onto a path of spiritual practice that leads to union with God.

The liturgy invites us to act out the myth. 

For example, advent, in the Christian calendar, is the liturgical period leading up to Christmas. It is a process of preparation--of readying ourselves for the arrival of an important person or significant event. In this case, we are preparing ourselves for the birth of God into the world. But God does not live in the clouds, nor is he the exclusive property of another person. God dwells within us. So advent is a process of preparing ourselves to birth God into the world through our actions and Christmas is a celebration of this event as the meaning of our life. This is our adventure.

If God lives within us as our inmost Self and the central meaning of life is to birth God into the world, then it is not a blood sacrifice or even a ritualistic sacrifice that is required of us. Before our True Self can be realized, our false-self must be crucified: To put on the new self, created after the likeness of God, we must put off our old self,which belongs to our former manner of life.

The old self or the false-self is a self-centered habit of consciousness and behavior that revolves around the pacification of our fears and the immediate gratification of our desires. Being a habit, it is superfluous to our true nature. In fact, one could call it our second nature. The path of preparation or the act of putting off our second nature is called kenosis. Lent is the liturgical cycle that invites us onto the kenotic path outlined by Jesus. Lent anticipates the Easter miracle. It encourages us to empty ourselves of the false-self system, so that God maybe resurrected in our body.

Of course, spiritual practice is not reserved for liturgical observances. Everyday is a day where we must prepare ourselves for the resurrection of God in our body. We must empty ourselves so that the light of God may shine out through every thought, word, and deed.

Every time we look within ourselves for the causes and conditions of suffering, instead of looking for fault in others, we throw off the false-self. When we pray for those we resent, rather than lashing out, we move beyond our former manner of life, enabling the presence of God to pour out through our actions. When we let go of what we think, allowing the mind to relax into the truth of silence, our True Self is resurrected from the rubble of our disembodied life. This is the practice of contemplative prayer. Every time we set aside the strategies of the false-self system and turn into our life, armed only with an honest desire to be present and helpful, we are practicing lent. We are preparing ourselves for the Easter miracle.  

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