When a family member of our Catholic priest Mary was preparing to start chemotherapy for cancer treatment, she said to him, “You are walking the Hero’s Journey,”
The Hero’s Journey is a tale as old as humankind. An individual leaves home and all that is familiar and secure. He goes out into the world, encountering along the way many challenges, some marvelous and some horrifying, even life-threatening.At times the person’s path joins with other travelers who can be companions in the experience. At times the journey is solitary, even painfully, agonizingly lonely.The traveler comes to a deeper understanding of the world and of self. At the end of the journey, the traveler arrives back home to the familiar and the loved, but forever changed. In setting out to seek new discoveries, the seeker has discovered the self.
In her homily for Palm Sunday, Mary likened the Hero’s Journey to the story of Christ’s Passion.
You don’t have to believe the story of Christ to see its hero as a model to motivate humanity, a type existing in all cultures.
When Jesus is entering Jerusalem, the crowds are going crazy with excitement and cheering. It is clear to Roman and Jewish authorities that Jesus is having a destabilizing impact on the populace. And now Jesus has passed a point at which there is no turning back. He feels the immense weight of this realization. His companions lie near him asleep. If only they could be awake with him to share the agony, to help bear the burden.And yet he is not alone. In his solitary humanness he turns to his Divine Parent, “Abba (Dad),” he begs, “please don’t make me go through this. Let this bitter cup pass. But if it must be, I will continue on this path.”
The Crucifixion follows, and Jesus cries out,
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
I said it more than once during my own journey through bitter realizations about my marriage, my youth, and my personal weaknesses. The greater my suffering, the greater my growth in spiritual awareness.
Continual conversion—death and resurrection—is a repeated theme across religions, showing the abiding purpose of human existence—to become ever better versions of ourselves. The dying-and-rising theme pervades religions in all times and places, flaring especially when nature’s seasons are changing.
“Easter” is derived from the name of a Germanic Goddess, we are told by the venerable Bede, a Christian scholar. Eostre or Ostara (many more variations) and other Great Mother Goddesses were feted in springtime festivals honoring their fertility.
In Judaism, the Exodus memorialized in Passover forms the conversion story, as the Resurrection of Christ forms the Christian one. The Greek world honored the Mother-Daughter pair of Demeter and Persephone in the Eleusinian Mysteries, a religion that lasted almost as long as Christianity. Similar to its rites, the mysteries of Holy Week evoke a transformative journey—Last Supper, Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
The Eleusinian Mysteries celebrated the rising of Persephone from having been abducted by Hades to the underworld of the dead. This reflects the ancient belief in a 3-tiered cosmology—earth, heaven where the gods lived, and hell where the dead lived. In tune with it, the Apostles’ Creed states,
He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Father-Son Christianity was preceded by Mother-Daughter religions in the Greco-Roman world.
It was my journey into the underworld that formed my ability to see more deeply, to awaken to the paradoxes of life. I started writing about my new realizations—everyone should know these things! Amazed by my powerful inner drive to write, I said, “I can’t not write!”
Having been touched by the fearsome and wondrous other world, I like to tell the story less well known that pushes people out of their comfort zones. I am driven to challenge the accepted order, to provoke deeper awareness, to subvert official stories.
And I thank readers who encourage me to continue.