I’m a preacher, and I believe that myth gives meaning to life.
When I first heard the Christian myth I was too young to care about the difference between it and any other. In Sunday School I learned myths about Gideon, Noah, and Jesus. I was also learning the American myth of self-sufficiency, self-reliance and manifest destiny. The two myths were shaken together in the Vietnam firefights I saw on TV. When I was four, Mom sewed convocation banners for Eureka College, where Dad served as chaplain—one with a peace sign, one with a lamp of knowledge, another with four hands interlocked, white, black, yellow and brown. It was a radically inclusive symbol in a town that had laws to change following the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Faith, peace, education, flags, yellow ribbons and justice were all part of the same rich mythic tapestry of my childhood.
Some people believe myth is a bad word. It means false, fanciful stories that stand in for facts in primitive society, a storytelling wheelchair for the infirm mind. I’m not supposed to say what I don’t believe in this essay, but I don’t believe that myth = false.
Myth gives meaning to life. It provides the glue that holds us together. I believe in myth because facts alone have no meaning. I believe in myth because reason cannot place me in a position to confess, adore, give thanks, or lay down my life for another. I believe in myth strong enough to stand against the atrocities of our all-too-factual wars, against terrorists as well as against the poor and marginalized. I believe in myth subterranean enough to inspire trust that makes even faith in facts and reason possible.
I started college premed. Biology and Chemistry uncovered for me the workings of the cosmos. But they didn’t tell me why. What I discovered in religion was the underlying myth that made even the myths of science, politics and economics make sense. I believe in that myth whose legends speak of creation, sin and redemption; whose parables advocate radical hospitality and welcome, love of enemies, and the last being first; whose sacred stories proclaim trust in a day when the lion will lie down with the lamb. When the going gets tough, I’m tempted to look to the secular myth of the marketplace or the military or politics or science for meaning. And they help to a point.
But I believe in the myth that tells a deeper, more vulnerable and humble truth about my nature, that places my trust in the power of redemption, that bows me down and lifts me up in the paradoxical, paradigmatic, parousia that makes my life meaningful and enables me to live in community.
My language for it is Christian. Yours may be Buddhist or Jewish or Muslim or Jain. Still, it is the myth that gives my life meaning. This I believe.
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