Crossing the Threshold
Joseph Campbell wrote about the hero’s journey, which has consistent qualities across all cultures and times. The call has three basic elements – departure, initiation, and return. For our purposes, I will break it into seven additional parts.
The individual exists in a particular environment, but is (1) called to a new life. Terrified, the person (2) refuses the call. Life is comfortable and the voices of convention are strong. But a mentor or guide (3) enters the person’s life and gives him or her the courage to act. The individual now (4) crosses the threshold into uncharted territory. They enter the (5) road of trials or the long dark night. They have an encounter with the father in which the ego is defeated and they gain the prize, such as the Holy Grail, or great wisdom. The person must now (6) bring the prize back home for the good of the people, before he or she has (7) the freedom to move on.
I loved the work of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the head writers and showrunners of my favorite television series of all time, LOST. The series dealt with all the great themes of the hero’s journey, and in captivating fashion. Though it ended five years ago, legions of LOST fans remain.
A cathartic moment in my own life came from the final season of LOST. The protagonist, Jack, who has steadfastly refused the call, finally comes to see he has indeed been called to cross the threshold. He must lose his life to find it. He goes through the road of trials and eventually, through a fascinating twist of plot, gains the freedom to move on. When I saw the episode in which Jack gains the strength to cross the threshold, I knew that in my own developing story I had been called to cross the threshold in a profoundly life altering way. I cried and sobbed and screamed at God for hours, evoking language more typical of a longshoreman than a pastor. I was terrified, but I knew I had been called. I knew what I knew.
The road of trials has been everything I feared it might be, full of obstacles and plot twists and monsters, many of whom reside within me. It has been the most difficult and perilous journey of my life. Earlier in life I feared I might not be a person of courage. I no longer have that fear.
Every week there is a reminder of something I have lost. This is the week of the national convention I attended for 33 straight years. I was on the program 20 or 25 of those years. This week I lectured to a class at the University of Colorado, hung out with a couple of good friends, and road my mountain bike a lot. When pictures of the conference popped up on Facebook, I quickly moved past them. The pain is still palpable. But as Richard Rohr reminds us, some of the decisions we make in the second half of life feel as though they are demanded of us. So we accept the losses and move on. When you cross the threshold, part of your old life is left behind.
With great fascination I have watched each of my three children grapple with the hero’s journey. Their stories are theirs alone to tell, but I could not be more proud of all three. They are people of great character and courage. Cathy too, but again, that is not my story to tell.
As I continue on my journey, the road of trials is leading toward the prize. I believe it is wisdom, and the ability to love with greater empathy and humility. I already know the land to which I must return. It is the church. And if my experience last Sunday (about which I will write later – when I find the right words) is any indication, I will be able to say with T.S. Eliot, “we arrived where we started and know the place for the first time.”
And so it goes.