My dear one,
I remember where I first felt a call to the priesthood. It was in Wyoming, at the cathedral in Laramie, where I was an awkward, loner, acne scarred teenage boy. And I was an acolyte, an altar boy. Each Sunday the other acolytes, the eucharistic minister, the priest and I would robe up in a room just off from the sanctuary, pulling white robes that symbolized our common baptism over our Sunday clothes and tying a rope around our waists. Then the priest would reach for his stole, a long strip of fabric he would drape over his neck. It was a symbol of servanthood. It is intended to recall Jesus picking up a towel at the Last Supper:
And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. … After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. John 13:2b-5, 12-15
I wanted to serve. I wanted that symbol of service. It looked like a knight putting on his armor to go to battle, only this was the spiritual battle not the battle of war. We would then walk behind the cross and go to the back of the church, walk in behind it, bow to the altar, sometimes with incense in hand, and prepare to celebrate the great mystery of the Holy Eucharist: that God should become human and that same presence should now be present here in bread and wine, given for us.
Here is where I heard the call, the call to something bigger than myself that Joseph Campbell says is the required first step in the Hero’s Journey. It is a call all of us receive in one form or another, to live a life of bold and daring service and sacrifice on behalf of others. Jesus did it. Buddha did it. Moses did it. Mohammed did it. St. Francis did it. Dorothy Day did it. Martin Luther King did it. And if I looked up to people like them, then I wanted to do it too.
And thus began the journey for me. It would take years before I would get there. The path was not always clear. There were many challenges. Real sacrifices were required by me and by other people I loved. People got hurt. I succeeded. I failed. And in the end, it has cost me more than I ever imagined it would.
Talk to most clergy and you will hear a similar story if they are willing to share it. The details will differ but the arc is common. They heard a call. They resisted the call. God pursued them relentlessly. They accepted the call. And then the real work began and it was never easy or simple. It was as confusing as it was clarifying. It cost them much. They came out of it blessed but walking with a limp.
The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Genesis 32:22-31
What is your story? Where did you hear a call to live a life for something bigger than yourself? Are you hearing that call in some way now? How did you respond to it? How will you?
following The Way is for those of us on the hero’s journey, seeking to live an authentic, faithful life. Maybe we are doing that through the Christian faith. Maybe it’s through another faith tradition. Maybe it’s on our own apart from any particular faith tradition, or even apart from faith.
But I know you’ve heard it like me. I know you’ve heard the call. God is always calling. And God calls each one of us to a life of service and sacrifice for the sake of others. It is the only kind of life worth living. It’s the only kind of life worthy of even being called “living."
following The Way is my way of telling you that you aren’t alone. That there really are other people out there that are on this journey with you. That we are stronger when we know that we are in this together. And that together we can and will do great things.
The journey of faith is not easy. You might rather stay home instead. But for those who are up for the challenge, who are up for an adventure, let us set out together, following The Way.
This Week's Spiritual Elder: Joseph Campbell
Along The Way I will be introducing you (or reintroducing you) to the spiritual elders of our generation. Every mythic journey includes encountering the sages, the mystics, and the elders who will help show us The Way. So each week, there’s a new “Elder,” someone with insight and wisdom you will benefit from. This week, it is Joseph Campbell. He is recognized as one of the greatest scholars and writers of the mythic and mystic traditions.
Here’s what he said about life in the first episode of his legendary Power of Myth video series with PBS’ Bill Moyers:
“And all of life is a meditation, most of it unintentional. A lot of people spend most of it in meditating on where their money’s coming from and where it’s going to go, but that’s a level of meditation. Or, if you have a family to bring up, you’re concerned for the family. These are all perfectly, very important concerns, but they have to do with physical conditions, mostly, and spiritual conditions of the children, of course. But how are you going to communicate spiritual consciousness to the children if you don’t have it yourself? So how do you get that?”
following The Way is about seeking to experience this spiritual consciousness so that our children and those who follow after us will have a well to draw from. It is about the most important work I can think to do at a time when the world seems to be sliding backwards into lower and lower states of consciousness.
Here’s a clip of that episode where he talks about the importance of each of us going on the hero’s journey:
You can also read a transcript of the whole episode here https://billmoyers.com/content/ep-1-joseph-campbell-and-the-power-of-myth-the-hero’s-adventure-audio/
The Power of Myth video series
A Hero With A Thousand Faces
This is Joseph Campbell's collected works in book form. It is a must read for anyone interested in the hero's journey and how the stories of our world's religions and mythic traditions draw from a common core. You can purchase it here.
Note: If you purchase any of these resources from these links, Amazon will give a portion of the proceeds to support following The Way. Thanks.
Question of the Week
When did you hear a "call" in your life to live for something greater than yourself? Would you share a part of that story? Let us know in the comments below.