Except the One to Which We Belong
We are story-based creatures. My earliest memories are of my father lying in bed next to me, spinning yarns about Jim and Jiggles, cowboys on the western frontier. I told similar stories to my children, crafted as I went, the end as much a mystery to me as to my delighted children.
Whether Greek myth or Irish tale, all of the great stories have similar elements. There is a protagonist called to the difficult journey. Initially she rejects the call, until a wise sage gives her the strength to choose the road of trials. There is an antagonist, intent on stopping the hero from finding the Holy Grail. The hero is led into the depths of darkness, where the outcome is in doubt. Eventually there is a dread/hope axis, a climactic moment in which the audience dreads the protagonist will fail, and hopes she will succeed. When she does emerge triumphant, the hero has one remaining responsibility. She must return home, bearing gifts of wisdom. Only then does she gain the freedom to move on.
Most of the myths passed down in our civilization are stories about males. It is not that there have not been female heroes throughout history. It is just that men controlled pen and scroll. The few female heroes tended to be seen as more masculine. Think Joan of Arc, instead of the giant spiritual contemporaries of her era, Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Ávila.
I love the fiery heroines of the recent Disney princess movies. Even more powerful are the female characters in the Disney-produced television show, Once Upon A Time. They are all complicated characters, flawed and vulnerable, just like real heroes.
The universality of the great myths, with their consistent elements across cultures and times, tells us a lot about our species. We know we are a part of something greater than our own individual lives. We know our decisions have consequences, for our own lives and for generations to come. We know the courageous and brave will eventually choose the difficult path, and will be rewarded with both travail and blessing. We wonder if we will be among the courageous. For all of us face at least one great moment when we must choose either the path of safety, or the dangerous way through the long dark night. We know everything hangs in the balance.
These are the moments that define our lives. Have we learned to be vulnerable? Have we come to know that at some level we are both hero and villain? Do we realize our lives do matter, greatly, and our decisions have consequences far beyond anything we might imagine? Do we see our children watching, and their children after them, and their children after them? Do we know that God is with us, whether we find courage or not? Do we have the strength to truly believe the world was made to be free in?
If the answer is yes to all of these critically important questions, we are ready to give up all other roads except the one to which we belong. As we take our first tentative steps on that road, it is wise to remember the Via Dolorosa was a road to resurrection.