The Hero’s Journey
We have been seeing how the Science Fiction writers have most often presented a look at the issues that we face daily – greed, homelessness, inequality, hunger…and more often than not, they give us a look at what we can become, a look at who we truly are if we just let our love shine through.
Last week we used the episode from Star Trek, The Next Generation called “The Measure of a Man”
This week we’ll take a look at The Hero’s Journey.
In 1949 Joseph Campbell made a big splash in the field of mythology with his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. This book built on the pioneering work of German anthropologist Adolph Bastian, who first proposed the idea that myths from all over the world seem to be built from the same “elementary ideas.”
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung named these elementary ideas “archetypes,” which he believed to be the building blocks not only of the unconscious mind, but of a collective unconscious.
In other words, Jung believed that everyone in the world is born with the same basic subconscious model of what a “hero” is, or a “mentor” or a “quest,” and that’s why people who don’t even speak the same language can enjoy the same stories.
Campbell’s contribution was to take this idea of archetypes and use it to map out the common underlying structure behind religion and myth. He proposed this idea in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, which provides examples from cultures throughout history and all over the world. Campbell argues that all stories are fundamentally the same story, which he named the “Hero’s Journey.”
This sounds like a simple idea, but it suggests something incredible, which Campbell summed up with his adage, “All religions are true, but none are literal.” That is, he concluded that all religions are really containers for the same essential truth, and the trick is to avoid mistaking the wrappings for the diamond.
Think about that for a minute….first: All religions are true, but none are literal, and then; the trick is to avoid mistaking the wrappings for the diamond.
That has to get your thinking caps on….
This week we are using Star Wars for our inspiration into the human psyche.
George Lucas had already written two drafts of Star Wars when he rediscovered Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” in 1975. This blueprint for “The Hero’s Journey” gave Lucas the focus he needed to draw his amazing imagination into a single story with many chapters.
Joseph Campbell often noted that while mythic structure is universal, myth itself must be kept fresh through reinterpretation. Every generation must look at the myths within their own context to suit their times, to create their own road map for how to fit best into the world.
After the release of Star Wars, Campbell and Lucas became friends. Campbell credited Lucas with reinvigorating the mythic force in the modern world. In return Lucas reignited worldwide interest in Campbell’s ideas, which have had profound repercussions on world culture in general and Hollywood in particular. Lucas once called Campbell “my Yoda.”
Our hero’s journey begins in Star Wars: A New Hope. We first meet Luke Skywalker as he and his uncle are buying two new droids, R2D2 and C3PO. Luke is a brash, impatient and immature young man, who bemoans his lot in life on a regular basis. “It just isn’t fair. I’m never going to get out of here.”
Can any of you relate to Luke?
Luke is working on his uncle’s farm on a remote and dry planet called Tatoine. He dreams of going to the Academy and becoming a pilot in the fleet.
AS fate would have it, Luke meets up with Obi-Wan Kenobi, formerly a Jedi knight that knew Luke’s father. Obi-Wan introduces Luke to the Force.
“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together.”
Sounds like Divine energy, doesn’t Charles define LOVE as that force that binds everything together?
In response to a distress signal sent by Princess Leia, Obi-Wan tells Luke that he needs his help and tells him that he “must learn the ways of the Force.”
Initially, Luke resists, but when his aunt and uncle are killed by Imperial stormtroopers, he joins Obi Wan in the rebellion against the Empire and agrees to learn the ways of the Jedi. When Luke boasts to Obi-Wan that “I’m ready for anything,” we once again see the arrogance of the young Luke.
As our story continues, Obi-Wan begins Luke’s training aboard the ship of Han Solo, the Millenium Falcon. They are journeying to save Princess Leia, who’s home planet has been destroyed by the evil Darth Vader. Luke is practicing with his light saber against mechanical challengers, relying on what he’s done before, relying on what he can see.
Obi-Wan reminds him, “Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him.” Luke asks, “You mean it controls your actions?” Obi-Wan replies, “Partially, but it also obeys your commands.”
Obi-Wan continues to instruct Luke, by making him put on a helmet so he can’t see his challenger. “Let go of your conscious self and act on instinct. Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them. Stretch out with your feelings.”
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18
Your eyes can deceive you. What is real and what is illusion? Something we must ask ourselves daily…
Obi-Wan, Luke, Han, Chewbacha and the droids form a plan to rescue Princess Leia and escape from the Death Star. Again, Luke is impatient and questions Obi-Wan’s decision to separate. Not for the first time in the saga or the last, Luke is told, “Be patient, Luke. The Force will be with you always.”
Fast forward. Obi-Wan has disarmed the tractor beam that was placed on their ship, Luke and Han have freed Princess Leia, and our intrepid band is all moving back toward the Millenium Falcon. On the way, Obi-Wan is intercepted by his former student, Darth Vader and they begin a lightsaber battle. Vader taunts the older Jedi, accusing him of becoming weak in his skills. Obi-Wan admonishes Vader for his arrogance: “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can imagine.”
Isn’t that what happened with Jesus. He became more powerful than anyone at the time, would have imagined.
Obi-Wan’s is killed and his death devastates Luke, because he doesn’t understand that death has freed Obi-Wan. As Luke stands beside the Falcon, stunned, we hear Obi-Wan’s voice urging him to “Run!” and know, as does Luke, that Obi-Wan has not really left us.
Having planted a homing device on Han’s ship, Darth Vader follows our heroes to the rebel base. The young warriors of the rebellion prepare to destroy the Death Star, based on the plans supplied to them by R2D2.
The one disappointment at this point in the movie is the imminent departure of Han Solo. Luke berates Han for taking the reward money and running. Han, ever the cynic, tells him they’re all crazy for taking on the Empire and prepares to leave.
Through Han’s bravado, we see a real struggle taking place within him, between being right (after all, there is a real bounty on his head and he feels fully justified in leaving) and doing the right thing.
As ship after ship has been destroyed by Imperial flyers, Luke alone is left to deliver the final blow to the Death Star. As Darth Vader is about to blow his ship away, Han swoops in and rescues Luke… his struggle over and “doing the right thing” winning the internal struggle.
Meanwhile, Luke is having his own struggle. Trained to rely on the ship’s computer, he hears Obi-Wan telling him to, “Trust your feelings, Luke. Use the Force, Luke. Let go, Luke. Luke, trust me…” Luke surrenders to Obi Wan’s suggestion, turns off his computer and uses the Force to launch the missile… hitting the target dead on and destroying the Death Star. As the instrument of evil blows up, spectacularly, we hear the voice-over of Obi-Wan: “Remember, the Force will be with you always.”
Star Wars ends with an awards ceremony, and we had to wait over two years to find out what happened next.
What are the lessons here?
Let’s start with you must unlearn what you have learned. What have you learned? We have learned that if we don’t see it with our eyes, we can’t believe it. What would happen if, like Luke, we were willing to unlearn all of that?
Believe it to see it!
What if we are reminded, that we are so much more than we think we are? What if we were to remember that we truly are spiritual beings having a human experience?
Love your neighbor as yourself, forgive as often as it takes, and take care of those less fortunate than yourself.
Do you do those things? Then you’re a Christian.
Jesus taught that if you approach God’s altar carrying a grudge against a brother, to leave your sacrifice, reconcile with your brother (or your sister) and only then approach God.
Do you do that? Do you go direct, with compassion and respect, when you have a problem or an issue with someone? Then you’re a Christian. If you don’t, then you may want to re-examine what you have learned about being a “Christian.”
Quoting Jesus, or scripture in general, does not make you a good Christian. Following Jesus’ teachings makes you a good Christian. Coincidentally, it also makes you a good Taoist and a pretty decent Buddhist.
Unity is the school of practical Christianity. We are all about making what Jesus taught practical and relevant to our current experience. Are you willing to unlearn what Christianity has turned into? Are you willing to re-learn that we can experience what Jesus taught through books like Harry Potter and movies like Star Wars and Joseph Campbell and yes, even other religions?
Are you willing to let go of preconceptions and misconceptions about what we can accomplish? Jesus taught, “You will do greater things than these.” Do you believe that? As Obi-Wan taught, “Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”
Do you believe that the Force is everywhere, that God is everywhere?
Life is a Hero’s Journey. The Hero is that part of us that remains constant and courageous, regardless of what is happening around us. It is our authentic self—the essence of who we are, apart from our personality traits or the drama that sometimes surrounds our lives.
Rev Carla McClellan suggests: To rediscover the Hero within you and experience greater joy, fulfillment and satisfaction in your life, begin by simply asking yourself: Would it be alright if my life got easier? Asking yourself this question may even cause you to laugh. Laughter connects us with the Divine within. Asking certain questions allows us to begin our inward journey.
Next, ask yourself, Am I willing to be authentic? Find the qualities that have deepest meaning for you and affirm their importance in your life. An example might be: I am willing to be courageous and loving, creative and kind when I interact with people today.
Third, begin to observe rather than analyze your life. When we analyze, we remain engaged in the same conversation that stopped us from moving forward in the first place. But when we observe, we give ourselves the space to discern what is happening right before us and then to act from wisdom.
Fourth, be willing to say “yes” to what is, even those situations that are causing you discomfort. When you say “yes,” you are accepting the facts of the situation, but not its power over you. Acceptance opens us up to the field of possibilities, and we see there are many choices before us.
Dag Hammarskjöld, former head of the United Nations, once said, “To everything that has been, I say, ‘Thank you.’ To everything before me, I say, ‘Yes!’”
Yes changes the energy in our body and our courageous heart opens up to expressing something creative and different.
Through willingness, self-reflection, observation and acceptance, we are able to take authentic action and live lives filled with meaning, courage and possibilities.
We are on our own Hero’s Journey.