Pastor Pat Bailey: Insights

Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church

Pastor Pat Bailey: Insights

Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church

Pastor Pat Bailey

Part of our recent conversation at Christ Church has been about the importance of mythology as a conveyor of truth.

Some folks become a bit nervous when I describe the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus as a mixture of history and mythology. Their concern is largely the product of a rational worldview that discards myth out of hand as something untrue. The shift to rational consciousness that began in earnest only a few hundred years ago was largely a move from more interior modes of processing our experience to an emphasis on exterior analysis of our sensory experience – or a move from a subjective to an objective orientation.

The interior or subjective orientation, though, has long been the honored realm of such disciplines as theology, philosophy, psychology, spirituality, art and esthetics, culture and ethics, and mythology. The great error (one that I hope is fading) of the rational or scientific worldview has been the assumption that such empirical analysis of exteriors is the only valid approach to determining what is real and true. So, such expressions as mythology are equated with superstition or, worse, subjectivism and are therefore seen as patently not true.

Someone suggested that I find another word to describe the other-than-historical aspects of the Jesus stories. No! Mythology is the word and what we need is a better understanding and appreciation for what that word offers. The basic meaning of myth (Gk. muthos) is associated with “thought,” and so the idea is “to give word to thought,” and so, to give an account, to tell a story. The point is not that the story is historical, but that the story carries meaning, that the story is a true telling of the thought (and often too the emotion) that lies behind it.

If we throw out mythology, we might as well throw out poetry, novels, the great sagas and legends of culture, even songs, under the assumption that they are untrue and therefore meaningless. Yet, we know that all these are indeed meaningful on levels that historical or discursive accounts are incapable of conveying. Mythology is a time-honored carrier of philosophy, theology, art, culture, ethics, and most exquisitely, psychology.

Here at the winter solstice, I am reminded again of the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades in which Persephone is abducted by Hades, but allowed to return to the surface each year beginning with the return of light after the solstice. In ancient times the myth was a way of explaining the shift from winter to spring and summer, which only proves that myths are not so good at explaining externals. The enduring quality of the Persephone myth, however, has more to do with its psychological exploration of our shadows, polarities, sexuality, and depth.

We are involved in a new shift of consciousness that has been described as a reclaiming of the subjective. This shift, then, involves too a reclaiming of mythology as a valuable conveyor of meaning (a theme central to the work of Joseph Campbell and Robert Bly). This shift does not imply returning to a pre-rational literalization of myth. It is, rather, a moving forward to a post-rational consciousness that includes the rational, an integration of the internal and external –-the subjective and objective. We can recognize now these various types of knowledge and truth, each with their own types of evidence and validation that can expand our understanding and deepen our experience.

Last Sunday at Christ Church the children performed their Christmas pageant. It was a glorious telling based on the two very different birth narratives given to us in Christian scripture, each one a very beautiful conveyor of truth and both mythological to the core. The pageant was not a historical telling either (witness the one little girl in a tiger costume), but it was a beautiful, wondrous, and joyful telling in its own right.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Pat Bailey of Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church, is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1987. For 16 years, Pat served as a chaplain in the U.S. Army. He is also an Iraq War veteran. Pastor Pat holds several degrees: a Master of Divinity from Columbia Seminary, a Master of Theology in comparative religion from Emory University, and (recently) a Doctor of Ministry from San Francisco Theological Seminary. His primary professional interests are interfaith spirituality, evolutionary consciousness, nature spirituality – and accompanying others in spiritual community. To that end, Pastor Pat has been blogging on Telluride Inside… and Out for years. His new series, “Insights” (formerly View from the Pulpit) continues weekly.

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