My Dear One,
Note: After a bit of a break, this week following The Way launches a brand new chapter for 2020 and I am very excited about what’s ahead for us. following The Way at its core has always been about guiding people through an intentional, transformative spiritual journey, leaning into my work as a priest, teacher, spiritual director and fellow pilgrim. Our next chapter gets us back to those roots. As always, thank you for joining me on this journey. I pray it is a blessing to you as well. Rich
“The multitude of men and women choose the less adventurous way of the comparatively unconscious civic and tribal routines … The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul is to be read, not as contradiction, but as transcendence of the universal tragedy of [humankind].”
Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 17, 21.
At the heart of nearly every epic story of transformation, be it religious or mythological, a novel or a movie, lies a strikingly similar pattern. Whether it be the historical stories of people like Moses, Buddha, or Jesus or the fictional tales of Dorothy in Oz, Luke Skywalker, or Harry Potter, the basic structure of the story … the stages they each take that leads them from one way of being on an adventure into another way of being, with trials both external and internal along the way, and a transformative event that redefines them and changes not only their reality but the realities of those around them … that pattern is almost universally the same.
This basic structure was first articulated in a coherent fashion by author, scholar and mythologist Joseph Campbell in his seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (editions published in 1949, 1968, and 2008). Perhaps no work from the 20th Century has had a more profound impact on so many different fields: from literature, to theatre, to film, to psychology, to sociology, to religion. Campbell’s work has helped countless authors and analysts identify the necessary steps that over and over again lead people, both real and imagined, through the process of facing their dragons, demons, and Darth Vaders and emerging a new person on the other side, ushering in a new reality with before-unimaginable liberation for themselves and others.
The truly amazing thing to me is that this process can be used not only to craft a compelling story, it can also be followed to lead individuals and groups through their own journey of transformation and transfiguration, death and resurrection, renewal and release. It has done so for me and it can do the same for you.
Is there something in your life you wish was transformed? Do you sense a need to step out of your comfort zone and face something you’ve been avoiding for a while? Is there a new version of your story you want to live, something deep within yearning to come forth, an alternate ending to the drama you seem to be playing out? Then I think you will find these next several weeks’ WayPosts incredibly helpful. (And if you know someone else who could use some spiritual direction along these lines, you might share this post with them as well.)
Over the next three months, leading up to Jesus’ resurrection and our own at Eastertide, I will guide you through the twelve stages of what I call “The Universal Transformative Journey.” Joseph Campbell called it “The Monomyth” and identified it as a process with 17 stages. More recently, writer and analyst Chris Vogler gave it the more popularly known moniker “The Hero’s Journey,” distilling it into 12 stages, the pattern that we will be using. Whatever you choose to call it, the fact that it appears across time, cultures, genders and religions speaks to the depth of its presence in the human experience.
From now through the season of Lent and leading us through Easter, we will work to take honest appraisal of where you are in the narrative of your life’s journey and discern where you want to go or where God might be calling you. If there is something blocking your spiritual progress, you will be supported as you identify and face it. In the end, we will work our way towards resurrection and the Sacred Center of The Way, that place where we meet Christ and simultaneously meet our truest self. We will be drawing from the depths of wisdom of Campbell and Vogler, as well as others who see the richness of The Universal Transformative Journey.
There are four phases of the journey, as adapted from the work of Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Chris Vogler and my own, which are:
The Departure: Separation
The Journey - Part A: Descent
The Journey - Part B: Initiation, and
The Return: The Way
Here’s how those will appear over the next few weeks in following The Way:
1/26 1:The Ordinary - an honest appraisal of life as it is and has been
2/2 2:The Call - a sense of something deeper, the pull towards transformation
2/9 3:The Refusal - all that argues for the status quo
2/16 4:The Mentor - encounters that disrupt our equilibrium
2/23 5:The Crossing - taking the first step of the journey beyond
The Journey: Descent
3/1 6:The Test - what is it that I must face, who is helping, who is hurting
3/8 7:The Approach - going towards the innermost cave
Interlude: Pilgrimage to Iona
3/15 This week I will be leading a pilgrimage to Iona in Scotland. If I am able to post a WayPost it will be a reflection on the pilgrimage.
The Journey: Initiation
3/22 8:The Ordeal - facing the dragon
3/29 9:The Reward - gaining the pearl of great cost
The Return: The Way
4/5 10:The Return - bringing the gift home (Palm Sunday)
4/12 11:The Resurrection - returning in a new form (Easter)
4/19 12:The Way - living a life of freedom in and as Christ
Ultimately, what I find so compelling about this process is that it helps us do what Jesus so clearly calls us to do: to be willing to die so we can be reborn, to repent and live a new way, to go to the cross with him so we can be resurrected with him. It is the pattern I will be using to guide people on the two pilgrimages I am leading to Iona this year. It is the pattern that I use in spiritual direction with people who come to me for help walking their life’s path. It is part of a book I am writing (these posts are previews of what is to come). And I am looking forward to offering it to you here and now through
following The Way,
A few poems by Joseph Campbell for reflection this week as you prepare to begin your journey:
The goal of the hero trip
down to the jewel point
is to find the levels in the psyche
that open, open, open
and finally open to the mystery
of your Self being
or the Christ.
That’s the journey.
It is all about finding
that still point in your mind
where commitment drops away.
A Joseph Campbell Companion, p. 23
is a dimension
of here and now.
The divine lives within you.
Live from your own center.
Your real duty
is to go away from the community
and find your bliss.
The society is the enemy
when it imposes its structures
on the individual.
On the dragon there are many scales.
Every one of them says “Thou Shalt.”
Kill the dragon “Thou Shalt.”
When one has killed that dragon,
one has become The Child.
is following your bliss pattern,
quitting the old place,
starting your hero journey,
following your bliss.
You throw off yesterday
as the snake sheds its skin.
A Joseph Campbell Companion, p. 21
The warrior’s approach
is to say “yes” to life:
“yea” to it all.
in the sorrows of the world.
We cannot cure the world of sorrows,
but we can choose to live in joy.
When we talk about
settling the world’s problems,
we’re barking up the wrong tree.
The world is perfect. It’s a mess.
It has always been a mess.
We are not going to change it.
Our job is to straighten out
our own lives.
A Joseph Campbell Companion, p. 17
Campbell’s thinking runs parallel to that of Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung, who wrote about the archetypes: constantly repeating characters or energies which occur in the dreams of all people and the myths of all cultures. Jung suggested that these archetypes reflect different aspects of the human mind - that our personalities divide themselves into these characters to play out the drama of our lives. He noticed a strong correspondence between his patients’ dream figures and the common archetypes of mythology. He suggested that both were coming from a deeper source, in the collective unconscious of the human race.
Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, p. 4
Years ago, PBS’ Bill Moyers did a popular series with Joseph Campbell called “The Power of Myth.” Here is a clip that helps you get a sense of who Campbell was and why he was such a compelling teacher: