April 22, 2022


Moonset 11/19/2013 Oil Paint Rendered — Hunting Island State Park, Edisto Island, South Carolina
Joseph Campbell taught at Sara Lawrence College
for 38 years.
Each year, he conducted
what amounted to exit interviews
with each graduating student
who had taken his classes.

There were a large number of Jewish women
at Sara Lawrence,
but one stood apart from the others
when she said,
"Mr. Campbell, if I weren't a Jew,
I would not know who I am."

That's the People of the Jews
coming out in one individual Jew.
"It is the People that are the
heart, the backbone, the center, the essence
of Jewishness," Campbell would say
in later lectures.

"It isn't Abraham, or Moses,
or David, or Elijah--it is the People
who enable the Jews to stand apart." 

And that is the mythological crisis
that mythology addresses.

Mythology gives us a "We,"
and calls us forth out of the "We"
to be the "I" that we are.

In my nuclear family,
me, my wife and our three daughters,
we had a wall of extended family photographs
going back several generations.

Whenever there was a problem
with willing what should not be willed
on the part of one, or more,
of the daughters,
my wife or I would take them 
to the wall of ancestors
and say, "This is not the way We do it!
None of the people on this wall
would do it like you want to do it.
The way you want to do it 
is not the way it is to be done.
All of us (pointing to the wall) say so!"

The problem with this country 
and with the world
is that we do not have a We Wall
to stand before.

There is no sense of We-ness 
holding us together.
We do not know who we are
or who we are supposed to be.
We are in free-fall through the Wasteland,
with each going their own way,
having no idea of what The Way actually is
because there is no We to point it out for us
and instruct us as to how it is to be done,
whatever "it" might happen to be.

We have lost the We,
and are lost ourselves because of it.
We have no mythology
to connect us with a long line
of generations of People like the Jews
who knew how to do it
and who point out to us how it is to be done.

But. And here is the catch.

It is the place, the role, of the We
in our life
to create an "I" who is capable
of standing apart from the "We"
in knowing and doing what must be done
in each situation as it arises--
because situations are always arising
which have never been faced before
by any "We" that have gone before us,
and we must be capable of finding The Way
through the clashing rocks
and the heaving waves
that no one has ever seen.

So, Jesus could ask his disciples,
"Who do men say that I am?"
And then, the killer,
"Who do YOU say that I am?"

It is not "What do the People say?"
It is "Who do YOU say?"

This is the mythological crisis
that myth exists to guide us through.
We find examples in the myths--
in the magical stories we tell ourselves--
of heroes who find the way on their own.

And so, in "The Quest for the Holy Grail,"
comes the legend, the myth, that calls us
into the Adventure that is ours alone,
and no one can help us with.

There we read that the knights who went
in search of the Grail
"agreed that all would go on this quest, 
but they thought it would be a disgrace 
to go forth in a group, 
so each entered the forest 
at a point that he, himself, had chosen, 
where it was the darkest and there was no path.”

It is the role of the We in our life--
of the People in our life--
go get us to the point of asking,
and answering,
the essential, all important, question,
"Who do YOU say that you are?"

And in answering that question correctly,
we become, ourselves, "The Great I AM!"
Living "like a wheel turning 
out of its own center."

This what the We, properly understood,
enables/creates--an "I" capable
of living the life "I" alone am capable of living.

It is the role of a living mythology
to create the We
that creates the I
that creates the We
that creates the I
and that is the Circle of Life,
"a wheel of fortune and pain."

And here we are, wondering together,
"Who do YOU say that YOU are?"



Beulah Land 54 Oil Paint Rendered — Mabry Mill, Blue Ridge Parkway, Meadows of Dan, North Carolina
It is the role/place of mythology
to move us from dependence to independence--
from being a "We" to being an "I,"
without losing our capacity for "We-ness."

It is a tight rope walk across gaping chasms. 
Many do not make it,
because they do not trust themselves
to the weapons and the helpers
that are theirs to use.

The weapons are the right kind of 
emptiness, stillness and silence.
The helpers are our original nature,
the virtues that come with us from the womb,
and reliance upon the Mystery--
the Source--
at the heart of life and being.

We do not trust ourselves to these things
because we have a better idea. 
Our better idea consists of what we want,
what we desire,
what we crave and must have:
our way NOW!

And so the theme of death and resurrection
that runs throughout mythology.
We have to die to our idea of what our life is to be
in order to live the life that is our life to live--
in order to have the adventure that waits for us
to say, "Let's go!"

Look around you. 
The Ukrainian's are the only ones
putting their life on the line,
in serving their destiny
at the expense of their desire for their own life.
We see in them the model
for how to do it
in being gripped by a mythic vision
of our life,
and serving that vision above and beyond
all else.

We cannot take refuge in 
Mama and Daddy substitutes,
or in the addictions of the day.

We have to stand up and step into our life,
the life that calls us to live it--
the life that needs us to live it--
the life we are born to live,
with an original nature and its special virtues
perfectly suited for the live we are to live,
no matter what.

Doing what needs to be done,
when, where and how it needs to be done,
never-mind what we would like to be doing instead
with the diversions, distractions and entertaining
pastimes of the day.

The Adventure waits while we demur,
looking for a way out
of doing what is ours to do.


Published by jimwdollar

I'm retired, and still finding my way--but now, I don't have to pretend that I know what I'm doing. I retired after 40.5 years as a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, serving churches in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. I graduated from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Austin, Texas, and Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. My wife, Judy, and I have three daughters and five granddaughters within about twenty minutes from where we live--and are enjoying our retirement as much as we have ever enjoyed anything.

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