If Jesus Rose from the Dead Why Doesn’t My Mom?

I’ve probably been to Catholic Mass as many times since my mom died as I’d gone with her since returning to Ohio from Seattle, several years ago. I always felt like an imposter when I went. Everyone worshipped so sincerely and I felt like I detracted from that energy, the way a non-participant in laughter therapy can ruin a session. I went a few times with her as her illness progressed because I felt like she wanted me to and I got something out of it, but I liked to stay home and write while she and her husband were at church and then have breakfast ready for them when they got home. Mom came to understand that represented me better and she respected that.

Now I’ve been to her funeral Mass, another bereavement service, Christmas, and Easter. I go so her husband doesn’t have to go alone, but I also go for me. Mom’s there. I drift in and out of paying attention. I’m mostly communing with the mystery, where Mom’s gone, to the mystery of being. Our presence proves the mystery of being. My conflict with religion is that it attempts to unravel the mystery by attaching specifics I don’t relate to. What Joseph Campbell taught me is that all religions are true. They’re metaphorical of something. What’s happening to Jesus should be happening in your life. Whether Jesus rose from the dead or didn’t, that was almost two-thousand years ago. I relate to it as a story. Jesus died and rose from the dead, as a metaphor. My mom died but I think of her sitting in her church with her husband, as I always think of her, but being in church brings me closer to the mystery of being, where she is now, and I commune with her. She has risen. It’s well known that that’s blasphemy, in some thinking, but in other thinking that is the point of religion to recognize that God is in you and your loved ones and everyone you meet. Joseph Campbell says, “Jesus ascended to heaven but what is heaven? Heaven is no place. He ascended to heaven through the inward space which is where you must go.” Sitting in church, I travel to the inward space and be with my mom. I enjoy that.

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Make America Becoming Again

I have a Trump theory that’s weirdly optimistic. Trump’s function is that of the trickster. Joseph Campbell says, “No matter what system of thought you have it cannot possibly include boundless thought, so just when you think you have it all figured out, here comes the trickster to show you it’s not quite that way, and then you get the becoming thing again.”

In the story, a trickster god walks through a town wearing a hat with different colors on each side. He walks through one way and then turns the hat around and walks back. So the townspeople are all talking about the god who walked through town but they argue about what color his hat was. After a big row, the trickster god comes forward and says, “It’s my fault. Spreading strife is my greatest joy.”

“Spreading strife is my greatest joy” would work as Donald Trump’s tagline. Not only is it his greatest joy, it’s his only play. He’s not playing the role of the trickster but as a nation we can allow him to perform that function. “Make America Becoming Again” would fit neatly on posters.

My Mother’s Simons

With permission, I’ve shared details of my mother’s journey through my own reflections, here’s another. My mom had a vision of Jesus carrying his cross and her following with a cross of her own. Jesus was giant-sized, she half his size. Helping her were tiny figures. She looked closely and saw that they were people who’ve sent cards or texts or otherwise offered encouragement. (That would include readers of my posts, as well.) The faces of Jesus and her are both blank.

My mom hopes it was a vision, not a dream or a hallucination. To me, the difference isn’t central. She’s accessing deep mythological themes that are comforting her. It’s bound to her specific religious beliefs but pushing deeper. She and Jesus are faceless. I interpret that as moving past the personification to that mystery beyond all human comprehension. The image of God is the final obstruction to the religious experience of interfacing with the transcendent.

We require models to show us how to die, which are really models to show us how to live knowing we’ll die. That’s the real human struggle. After all, dying’s no trouble. Dying isn’t even an action event. We have trouble with this concept, of course, and its inevitability isn’t necessarily comforting. In the Bible, Jesus died on the cross for our sins. What sins? The sin we’re born into the world with, well that makes no sense to me, personally. Considering the same story, I interpret the crucifixion, as I mention in Little Book of Thou, which I’ve excerpted here, as God becoming so immersed in the role of Jesus as a human being that Jesus didn’t know he was God and had to die a human life with only the same faith in what came next that every other human dies with. (What that is being unique to each individual)

We’re all on this journey but my mom is on it with a heightened awareness, because she’s terminally ill. She’s carrying her cross, now, and being helped by her Simons, but she’s also helping her Simons. She’s providing a beautiful, courageous model for accepting the passing of this life she knows and treasures. In some ways, it would be easier not to know what’s coming, but we’re all, those who love her, her Simons, following her lead and choosing to value the knowing and treat this ending leg of the journey as a gift.

What is Love? (Tristan and Isolde)

The Tristan and Isolde story as told by Joseph Campbell in my own words, from Little Book of Thou, chapter six: Social Order and Individuality

Tristan was the messenger of a king and was sent to Isolde, who was due to marry the king in one of these arranged marriages. The king and Isolde had never met. Well, Isolde’s mother had prepared a potion for Isolde and the king to drink, a magic potion that would make them fall in love. But Tristan and Isolde, mistaking the potion for wine, drank it together. They fell in love. Isolde’s nurse realized right away what happened and said to Tristan, “You have drunk your death.”

And Tristan said, “If by my death, you mean this agony of love that is my life. If you mean by my death, the punishment we are to suffer if discovered [which would have been a sentence of death], I accept that. But if by my death, you mean eternal punishment in the fires of hell, I accept that too.”

What do you think of that story?

An interesting hint in that story is that Isolde’s mother prepared a potion to make the king and Isolde share a love. That sounds like people were aware that arranged marriages, at least sometimes, resulted in partnerships where this special kind of love wasn’t present and that this special degree of love was hoped for in arranged marriages. Here was a mother making a potion so that her daughter would have a life with this love in it. But she drank it with Tristan and the two of them had the special love which was illicit, in these times. Tristan and Isolde really would have been killed, for this, if they existed in real life. But here we have Tristan’s declaration of this love being more important than society’s rule, society’s punishment for disobeying this rule, and even the punishment of enduring the pain of spending eternity in a literal hell, which people commonly believed in back in those days.

This view eventually prevailed, but change is scary to people. Change is hard. So it may have taken many real life Tristan and Isolde’s insisting on this new way to effect a change in the law of the state and of the church.

Did you notice Tristan called love a pain? Love is also referred to as an affliction. You’re probably familiar with Cupid, who we refer to playfully around Valentine’s Day. What did Cupid do? He shot arrows into people, right? Ouch! Love has also been called “the wound that only the one who delivered the wound can heal.” Joseph Campbell says, “Love itself is a pain, you might say, the pain of being truly alive.”

What he means by that, I think, isn’t that love is a bad thing, at all. Love is a wonderful thing, just that when finding someone or something to love, you are taking on an element of risk. Someone or something loved might be one day lost, which will cause pain, but that’s the nature of life. Life is a cycle of having experiences and having those experiences pass, wanting them back sometimes and feeling sad, feeling pain, but then realizing that those experiences, all your experiences, never truly do pass away. You carry them as memories and they will reside in you always. You may try to take one out and find it still causes you sadness or pain. Then one day you get out that same memory and it brings you that same joy again. That is love.

Ancient Moving Lights in the Sky

This is from The Little Book of Thou: Reflections on Ancient Myth and the Writings of Joseph Campbell, a book I wrote for my sisters’ kids as a Christmas present.

Excerpt from Chapter Six: Social Order and Individuality

You remember in an earlier chapter we talked about mimicry. Ancient humans mimicked plants they ate and the animals they ate. These influences didn’t go away but there was something else they observed about the world that they tried to mimic. Can you guess what? Look up. What do you see? If you’re outside, you’re likely to see either the sun or the moon, depending on if it’s day or night. Well, ancient humans observed the sky, a lot, particularly as farms made their food source more consistent and dependable. They found in the sky seven lights that moved against the fixed stars: the sun, the moon, and the five visible planets. These correspond to the days of our weeks, today, which shows how these influences continue to impact future generations. They noticed those lights moved in a consistent order. They thought this must have meant something important that they ought to mimic. How do you mimic lights in the sky?

They applied the consistent order of the lights’ motion. If you think of people first noticing the moon and other smaller lights and then recording how they move over time, you can imagine how profound it would be to discover they moved in a consistent pattern. Why? What did it mean? They decided it meant they should establish a similarly consistent social order. This is where the ruling court of feudal times comes from: the king as the moon or sun, the queen as Venus, and the other court members the other visible planets. They also formed social castes within their populations, a sort of ranking order of importance among people, to match these moving lights. Imagine how important they seemed!

Adam and Eve and Ng’ta

An excerpt from Chapter Seven, “Two Creation Stories,” from Little Book of Thou

In the Adam and Eve story, God created Adam and then Eve after deciding Adam needed a companion. He created them in His likeness and put them in charge of the animals. Snake tempted them to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, which God had decreed they shouldn’t. This act cast them out of the garden of paradise and into the world of pairs of opposites: good and evil, happiness and sorrow, life and death.

One interpretation is that Adam and Eve were disobedient and punished. Another interpretation is that they chose. Life begins with Adam and Eve eating from the apple of the Tree of Knowledge. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge introduced death into the world but at the same time life, because without death there wouldn’t be life as we know it. Remember in chapter six, the adventurers each entered the forest where it was darkest and there was no way or path? Adam and Eve might have wanted to live by venturing where there was no way or path. They chose to leave an existence of bliss to experience a journey through a life of pairs of opposites, good and evil, pain and pleasure, and then return and be welcomed back by God in heaven. Perhaps with a heightened appreciation for bliss?

A similar origin story comes from the Blackfoot, a tribe of Native Americans who lived in the area that later became the state of Montana. Ng’ta, which translates to “Old Man,” creates the world and then a woman. The woman asked what would happen to people, “would they live forever or would they die and that would be the end of them?” Old Man hadn’t thought of that, so he decided to throw a buffalo chip (buffalo poop) in a lake. “If it sinks people will die, if it floats they will live forever.” The buffalo chip floated. “There you go,” Old Man said. “No. Let’s use a stone, instead.” The woman threw in a stone which sunk meaning people would die. Old Man said, “Very well. You have chosen.”

So in both stories, a woman chose a world of life and death. Here the woman rejects the first option of people living forever after the buffalo chip floats and wants to use a stone. In the Adam and Eve story, Eve first eats the apple and convinces Adam to also eat. Why is it a woman?

Remember we talked about woman being symbolized by the moon, which disappears and returns? The goddess Nut who gives birth to the sun in the east and swallows it in the west? Woman is the symbol of the cycle of life, death and rebirth, just as plants die and rot and then new plants grow out of the rot the next year. So it is woman in the myths who brings us again into the world of life and death, as it is literally from woman that we come into the world. Remember, too, we talked about the Virgin Mother, who symbolically gives birth to the spirituality of mankind.

Caterpillar

Still open to requests for excerpts from Little Book of Thou, but I thought the introduction seemed like a logical place to begin. From the introduction: The Ancient World

People, humans, are natural storytellers, which relates directly to what wonderful listeners we are. We observe the world and listen to the stories being told all around us. Right now, you could stop reading this, go out into your yard or to the park, and find a caterpillar. You could put that caterpillar on your arm, watch it walk one way up your arm, stop and raise its head end to sense which way to go next, and change direction and walk the other way; within minutes, you would imagine that caterpillar is thinking, much like you think. You might have learned in school that bugs don’t think like we do, but knowing that probably wouldn’t keep you from feeling a bond with that caterpillar.

Little Book of Thou: Reflections on Ancient Myth and the writings of Joseph Campbell is a book I wrote for my sisters’ kids. I’ll post excerpts under the tab “Joseph Campbell.” This caterpillar on the arm bit is also a nod to another of the great teachers in my life, the late, wonderful Carl Sagan. I forget in which one of his books he uses watching a caterpillar on your arm to show the ability humans have to anthropomorphize. In Community, Jeff Winger used a pencil and named it Steve. Same idea.

Transcending Duality with a cat and dog

You have a pet dog and a pet cat. Maybe they don’t get along very well together. You think of the cat as having a certain set of qualities, it looks and behaves a certain way and the dog looks and behaves in a certain way quite distinct to the cat’s. The dog poops outside, the cat poops inside. The dog bothers company wanting petted and scratched, the cat runs and hides from company. The more differences you look for, find, and think about, the more different your two pets seem. Then one day you come home and find the dog asleep with the cat curled up against the dog also asleep. They are comforting each other with warmth. You see that and think, Aha! My cat and my dog are both the same in the sense that they are both my pets that I love.

They are still separate as cat and dog, but your perception of them has transcended that distinction and you now relate to their sameness in a profound way. Even if they don’t get along, as well, at some later time, that sight of them curled together asleep will remain your primary experience of your two beloved pets.

Brief illustration included in my work-in-progress Joseph Campbell book I’m writing as a Christmas present for my sisters’ kids. Posting bits as I go. There are more under the Joseph Campbell category tag and more will be coming.

Telephone Religion

Let’s just say, for discussion’s sake, that I gave you one of my books to read and you loved it. You asked that question writers are often asked, Where did you get the idea for that book?

My answer surprises you. I woke up one morning and found the manuscript pages bound on my kitchen table, arrived by magic. The book is unchanged. The only thing changed is your relationship to it. As you were reading, you connected with me, because you know me, or if you don’t, you connected in a vague way with “the author.” Now your connection with the book is to the supernatural.

Where I’m going with this is we have religions that all relate to each religion’s different God. Which works great for a great many people, but there’s one-hundred thousand years of source material to which all these modern religions relate. Themes repeat throughout ancient cultures, first man stories, flood stories, all of this spoke to ancient humans the same way these stories speak to many of us today. Then if you think of these ancient stories as inventions that comfort us or as discoveries we’ve made—helped along by visiting deities or not—over the course of human history about a plane of existence beyond this earthly one, with either possibility equally likely and not mutually exclusive, then no one’s left out. All of consciousness since the advent of our recognition of our temporality is connected in the challenge of being human. You can’t beat that.

Dreaming of a Living Funeral

My mother has had this same dream twice. She lies on her bed in her room surrounded by votive candles. On the steps to her room upstairs are all the people she’s met in all her life. The steps are filled, a parade of people in the order she encountered them, all coming in to say goodbye. She offers each of them one of the candles to take with them when they leave.

Her cancer has returned. They found it early, right where they were looking for it given her history. She is in a fantastic position for a person with cancer of being free of symptoms. Numerous treatment options remain available and she’s confronting her disease with the same courage she confronted her first cancer more than ten years ago, her second several years after that, and her third last year, but more importantly she’s already choosing to identify with the light of which the bulb is the carrier, her consciousness of which her body is the vehicle. One doesn’t have to be sick or have cancer to benefit from that.

Talk about dreaming in metaphors, what a gift! Life’s light never blinks out, it’s carried on by those whose lives we touch, by the people telling her goodbye and leaving her bedroom carrying one of her votive candles. She knows this but her dreams are speaking through symbols, reminding her in the language of emotion. And her dream speaks to those of us who love her in that same language, going past what we know, that life is temporal which means loss which means pain, to an emotional plane where we exist in a form of denial of these realities because they’re difficult to bear. Right now the world is filled with humans living. In a hundred years, in other words tomorrow, this same world will be filled with an entirely different set of humans living. All of us over a certain age, say five or six, know this but keep it at a certain distance, we call it not dwelling on it, but by not incorporating that awareness emotionally we risk missing experiencing the mystery and wonder of being alive. The metaphor is simple but profound. A gift to her as she lives with cancer and a gift she shares with those of us struggling to live with her living with cancer and trying to match her bravery. I love you, Mom.