a sense of something deeper, the pull towards transformation
My Dear One,
In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell’s chapter on “The Call” tells the beginning of two different stories about two different girls as illustrations of the call to transformative journey.
The first story is about the daughter of a king. Her favorite plaything is a golden globe. One day, standing near a deep spring, she drops the globe and it rolls down into the spring. Distraught she wails and a frog appears, asking her why she is crying. He offers to go down into the spring to retrieve her globe if, in return, she will keep him forever as her companion. She agrees and he brings the globe back. But upon its return, she runs away with the globe leaving the frog behind.
The second story is a tale of an Arapaho girl who becomes enamored with the quills of a porcupine. Chasing it, the porcupine runs up a tree and the girl begins to climb, determined not to stop even if she must climb all the way to the top to reach her heart’s desire. But when the porcupine reaches the top of the tree, the tree magically grows taller still. Afraid of descending, the girl continues to climb until both she and the porcupine reach the sky.
What happens next in each of these stories is left untold. But there is a real sense that something is about to change. Something has BEGUN. Will the frog chase after the princess? What will happen when they meet? Will the frog now trick her into something to get back at her for breaking her promise? And will the other girl catch the porcupine? Will she be able to retrieve a quill from it and will that injure her? Will she then return to the earth with her treasure or now choose or be forced to live in the sky?
We don’t know. And neither do the characters in these stories. Something has begun but we don’t know where it leads. We can’t know without being willing to go along on the story’s adventure ourselves.
This is true in life as well as myth. Often something will happen that BEGINS something else, something new. And we can choose to follow that and see where it leads … or not. But what form the journey will take, what its destination might be, what sacrifices we might have to make along the way, and what rewards we might gain if we do … are all unknown at the outset.
Will Frodo get the ring? What then? Will Luke defeat Darth Vader? What then? Will Dorothy return home from Oz? What then? Will Scarlett win over Rhett? What then? We won’t know until the adventure plays out. As Campbell puts it, “The first stage of the mythological journey - which we have designated the ‘call to adventure’ - signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of society to a zone unknown.” The Hero With a Thousand Faces, p. 48.
This transfer of our center of gravity is what pulls us out of the Ordinary World into the unknown, and in this case into the Universal Transformative Journey. Why else should our status quo be disrupted except that we feel as if something inside of us has already moved? Our heart or our soul has already relocated. The question before us is will our minds and our bodies follow? If they won’t, will our heart and soul return to us? Or will we be left rent for eternity with half of us clamoring toward the past and the other half always yearning forward into the future? This question, often unwanted at the time, presents itself to us in the form of the lost globe, the porcupine quill, the job offer, the opportunity to travel, a new love interest, an invitation to church, the list goes on and on. But the choice whether to pursue it or not is always our own.
Can anything external to us truly transform us? External events can affect us, they can push us towards movement, but they cannot transform us without our conscious (or at least subconscious) consent. I have known far too many people who grew to old age refusing to change, stubbornly retreating into their old ways, to illustrate how it is entirely possible and common to attempt to refuse The Call. This of course changes them regardless as they become sad shadows of something that once was haunting a life that should be lived here and now. We always have the choice to ignore invitations to adventure and transformation and continue on as if nothing really happened: to refuse to change and hold ever more tightly to who we think we firmly are, only inhabit the Ordinary World we think we know, cling the things we used to have, stick to the path we think leads us somewhere we can predict. We always have the option to try to remain exactly where we are. The sad thing is that we fail to realize that even if we don’t move forward, the world still does, and it won’t give a second thought to leaving us behind.
And really this is where most people live most of the time. We work hard to create a stable, steady, predictable life for ourselves. We think we can fashion a place that will protect us from all the dangerous unknowns. This is only natural and of course some stability is necessary for us to thrive. If we were constantly in a state of disequilibrium we could never step forward with any confidence. There are seasons for stability and predictability for sure. But the wholesale refusal to change, to move forward, is also a refusal of Jesus’ invitation to “Come, follow me.”
We cannot follow if we will not move.
Let us examine a couple of examples of “The Call” stage of the Universal Transformative Journey, one from movies and one from Judaism:
Movie Example: Star Wars
At the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope we find a young man (or an old boy?), Luke Skywalker, living with his uncle and aunt. Luke’s uncle has worked hard to create a simple but stable life and he pushes back hard against Luke’s suggestions to go explore something more. There’s always another thing that needs done around the place, another droid to fix, another harvest to see through, another year of studies to complete, etc. Luke chafes at his uncle’s life and its practical stability. There is something bigger going on somewhere out there and Luke knows it. Now Obi-wan Kenobi has invited Luke to go with him to meet it. But even when faced with this opportunity, Luke balks. His uncle’s life is already becoming his own. And his poor aunt stands in the middle of the two, trying to find a way to balance both the desire for stability and the call to exploration. Still, Luke feels the call upon his soul. And the death of his aunt and uncle by the powerful forces he already sensed existed beyond the three of them leaves Luke with no real choice but to go meet it.
Biblical Example: The Call of Samuel
One of the best call stories in the Bible is found in First Samuel, Chapter 3:
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
What will happen next? Will Samuel hear the call a fourth time? What will the Lord ask of him? We don’t yet know at this point in the story but it is clear the Lord is about to begin something new. Samuel is being called into his future and it begins with being willing to listen for the voice of God and reply, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
In our own lives, are we able to keep our ears open to the voice of God? Or, like Samuel, do we simply chalk it up to the more familiar voices around us that exist within a grand cacophony of voices all demanding our attention and response? When we hear the call, who do we respond to, those already in authority over us or the deeper authority of God that has the power to redirect, release, renew and resurrect?
Think back to times in your life when you have heard “The Call.” What was it about those pivotal moments that helped you rise up from where you were seated and venture out into the unknown? Where did you find the courage and will to do so? What sustained you on that journey?
Think also of times when you have heard “The Call” and chose not to rise. What kept you planted where you were? Was it fear? Was it uncertainty in your own ability to meet the challenge? Did voices around you saying you weren’t up to it overrule the inclinations of your heart and soul?
Life is a series of taken and missed opportunities. But God has a way of bringing things back around. Even when we refuse a call, God can always find another way to present it anew, to find another route to the journey God is calling us to make. Another name for this is grace, and grace abounds.
Your Journey this week
Last week, we spent time writing a scene to help us depict what lies at the heart of our Ordinary World. Our task was to identify one event or one conversation that could encapsulate in a nutshell the central question that is before you.
This week, we will move to the present. Spend some time reflecting and writing about where it is you are hearing a call in your life. Don’t be concerned if it isn’t a fully articulated or developed call. They seldom start that way. Focus instead on the gentle nudges of your soul. What voice or voices, internal or external, seem to be presenting to you? You may not fully be aware of what the call is towards, or where it is coming from, or where it will lead you. Do not worry. Leave all of that work for a later time. It is enough for now to remain focused on simply noticing the call itself.
Write down what feelings this genesis of a call evokes within you. Does it make you hopeful, fearful, concerned, uprooted, eager, confused, excited? Or is it something more subtle and gentle than any one of these emotions? Do you wonder if the call is coming from within your own soul? From God? From external sources that wish you good .. or ill?
It is not necessary to judge this in any way right now. Simply notice it. Listen to it. Allow it room to speak. Hold it gently. And for now, let it be.
Write about all of this, again in the way you wrote last week’s reflection. Describe as fully as you can this sense of call, what is presenting it to you, and how you feel about that. There will often be a feeling of tension or even repulsion that comes with The Call to transformation. This is necessary and normal. We will address that next week when we look at the healthy and sometimes necessary step of facing The Refusal.
following The Way,