Yearning for God, Trying to Love My Neighbor, Making Theatre and Beauty, Building a Life...

Friday, July 19, 2013

True Myths: Mythopoiea and the Collective Unconscious

Zion Theatre Company’s production of “Prometheus Unbound.” Photo by Greg Deakins.
As evidenced by the upcoming production of my play Prometheus Unbound, I’m a big lover of mythology. As a child I remember delightedly pouring over a book of myths about Hercules I found in my elementary school’s library. The mythology units in my high school English classes were always some of my favorite. In recent years, I’ve expanded my interests to all sorts of world mythologies, from the Egyptian to the Australian Aboriginal to the Norse to the Native American. All cultures, at their heart, have some splendidly interesting myths, legends, and stories. However, as time went on it became more than an imaginative interest fueled by escapism. Before too long studying mythology became a spiritual journey for me.

It’s easy to fall into the habit of finding patterns. Some may say that it is coincidental, that our mind tries to find meaning in a meaningless world. However, I for one am with psychologist Carl Jung in the opposing belief: “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order” (Jung, “Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious”). In addition to Jung’s idea of a collective consciousness, additional scholars like Joseph Campbell (not to mention pop culture icons like George Lucas, who uses such archetypes extensively in his Star Wars films) have argued for just such a patterning that seems to spill out in human myths, fairy tales, and stories. So as I read and find corollaries between Osiris and Christ, Pandora and Eve, Iphigenia and Isaac, Loki and Lucifer, when I look at the universal flood myths, I am always fascinated.

But, historically, there have been many who have found this phenomenon to be more suspicious than faith promoting, finding basis to think that later stories, such as the Johnny-come-lately Christianity, were steeped in mythological plagiarism. This, in part, was C.S. Lewis’s objection to Christianity during his atheist stage before his conversion to Christianity made him one of greatest “defenders of the faith” of the 20th century. But, despite C.S. Lewis’s deep love of mythology (the Norse myth about Balder, a particular favorite of his, caused him deep yearnings when he was younger), the similarities seemed too blatant to Lewis. Christianity may have had many things going for it…originality was not one of them. He called such myths “lies…breathed through silver” (Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings, p. 43).

On Saturday September 19th, 1931, C.S. Lewis had two of his friends over. One was Hugo Dyson, a Shakespearean scholar you probably have never heard of. The other, who you almost certainly have heard of, was J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien and Hugo, unlike Lewis, were deeply religious, which was a sore point in an otherwise very fruitful friendship. Lewis was in the middle of his conversion, having already had some spiritual experiences after the death of his father that he had difficulty explaining. But he still resisted against that final leap from theism to Christianity.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Desperate Prayers: Keeping the Faith as Mormon Artists

Kathryn Laycock Little and Amos Omer in New Play Project’s production of “The Fading Flower.” Photo by Greg Deakins.


The lure is there. Always. As an artist, writer, scholar, academic, etc. you want to explore, to search, to find uncharted places, and make illuminating insights. Thus the cling of dogma or doctrine can feel like the weight of shackles rather than the truth that will make you free. It’s a rare thing to find an artist, a writer, a scholar, a reader, any human being, really, (whether carpenter, accountant, or freshman college student) who hasn’t had those desperate, so desperate, soulful prayers; who hasn’t felt those doubtful shadows closing in; who hasn’t felt the conflict between the vivid memory of very real spiritual experiences and the world shifting nature of new information, or the fresh conflict of political and social and personal upheavals.

We try to hide it, to show that we’re strong, to show that nothing can shake a faith so monumental as ours, a mind so well informed as ours, a life so supposedly faithful as ours. That in a world of disaffected artists and cynical academics, we are the exception, that we can withstand the pressure that others couldn’t. That we can be that light on a dark hill, to shine as an example that others can draw strength from. But, really, all of that is a bluff, it’s whistling in the dark. When the lights are off and no one is looking, we feel like little children who wake up to realize the threat in last night’s nightmare is, indeed, still very real. That this Thing is targeting us just as expertly and painfully as the next person. That we, too, are vulnerable.

Thinking is a dangerous, explosive, beautiful, necessary thing, and it is not something that God just wants us to turn off. Pondering and soul searching is part of the process that leads to sanctification. In his own crucible of affliction and desperate prayers, that hell hole called “Liberty” Jail, the 19th century Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith wrote these words:
The things of God 
are of deep import, and time and experience and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only 
find them out. Thy mind, O Man, if thou wilt lead a soul 
unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost Heavens, and search into and contemplate the 
lowest considerations of the darkest abyss, and expand upon the broad considerations of eternal 
expanse; he must commune with God. How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God, 
than the vain imaginations of the human heart, none but fools will trifle with the souls of 
men (History of the Church, vol. 3, p. 295).