For the last six weeks, I have been spending my late evenings watching archive footage of lectures given by Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell was an American author, editor, and educator who examined mythology and the universal functions of myth in several cultures around the world. He is probably most famous for his work “The Hero’s Journey”. Interestingly enough, TC and I gave a joint sermon in the chapel about “The Hero’s Journey” in the early spring of 2013.
I often talk about mental and emotional time travel. Well, this is one of those examples. Watching Campbell’s lectures has literally taken me back in time, seven years, to a topic that I found fascinating and for whatever reason, discontinued pursuing. Like electricity trying to find the pathways through a circuit board, a seven-year-old memory has found a pathway to the present and a new connection has been made.
One component to Campbell’s lectures that I find attractive is his emphasis on humankind’s similarities. While most categorize and separate based on differences, these lectures are framed through the lens of unity. Interesting enough, one of the areas that drives us to focus on our differences, according to Campbell, is when a symbol and the meaning behind the symbol are out of balance. To put it another way, when we lose the meaning behind the symbol, and the symbol becomes our sole focus, the differences mean more to us than the similarities.
The fascinating part to this notion is that we can apply it to almost any situation. Lots of things can be symbols. Our sheltering in place is a symbol, and because it is such a new sensation for all of us, it feels like we have been doing it for a long time. So long in fact that some are beginning to lose the meaning behind the symbol. Our moment of unity is beginning to dissolve as individuals focus more on the differences than the similarities.
I bring all of this up because I think an awareness of this phenomenon is crucial, especially during times like these. I also think it provides a sense of peace, giving way to the removal of anxieties that might be present. As we continue to shelter in place, I want us to think about what we are doing to pass the time, the activities and routines we are keeping up with. Could any of these activities be viewed through the lens of being a symbol of something? Have we lost the meaning behind any of these symbols? So, we are clear, I am not talking about anything related to our faith or First Pres! First Pres has always been a symbol of hope to me. A church where faith and action walk hand in hand.
I am framing all of this with the hope that it will help us move beyond our anxieties as we continue to disseminate the dizzying array of news that keeps coming at us about a grand number of topics. Look for the use of symbolism. Look to see if the symbolism is being used appropriately because when it is not, and the meaning behind the symbol has been lost, differences are highlighted, the ties that bind are weakened, and anxiety over the unknown is heightened.
“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). May the Peace of God be with you all. Amen.