Sunday, 8 December 2013

Follow Your Bliss: Following Yonder Star

“And Stars Twinkle in the night air” by Richard S Gilbert

"And the stars, twinkling in the night air,
Become beacons leading to a babe in a manger, or a cave,
Or other humble place, in east or west,
A child in whom the human race was born anew.
And simple shepherds, so close to the earth,
Become heroes in a great miracle play,
Finding the new born babe before the great kings of the East.
And angels, those celestial non-creatures, made heavenly music,
To stir the heart for centuries.
(Oh we know it didn’t happen that way
But one must admit, it is very poetic.)
Only a myth, you say?
Of course only a myth,
The stuff of which dreams are made.
The fabrications of which joys are made.

Only a myth.
Yet those myths link us with those we never knew,
And will link us with those we will never know.
They will speak a poetry irresistible.
For we are sustained not by bread alone,
Or by reason,
Or by fact,
Or by the daily hum drum,
So much as we are by the poetry of human imagination,
Which paints pictures where before there were only colours,
Which forms songs where before there were only sounds,
Which writes stories where before there were only words.

Someone needs to be our story teller,
For human life is more than a bleak passage
Between the portals of life and death.
It is a story, a myth
It is the myth of Jesus, or the Buddha or Confucius.
Heroes of the race.
Or is it the story of a life,
Yours or mine, a story with a beginning and ending
And all that goes between of despair and hope."

There are many powerful symbols of the Christmas mythos. Now I see these as universal symbols that speak to us from generation to generation. They link us to those who came before us and those who are yet to come. They may not mean exactly what they meant when the first stories were told, but they still have the power to speak to us today. They must have otherwise why would we continue to tell them, to engage with them. They still speak to we who live in our materially advanced aged. Why I wonder? Well perhaps it is because although we have progressed materially, beyond recognition, we may well still live with a kind of spiritual poverty. There is still something in these tales that can touch us, nay transform us. I wonder what the symbols and stories of Christmas mean to you. I wonder if they mean something different today than they did in the past.

One symbol that really speaks to me is that of the star. The star that drew the “wise men” out of the comfort of their homeland to seek out this baby who they believed was the King of the Jews. They travelled from the east and began to ask where this child was to be found, as they wished to pay homage to him. They came to Herod who learnt from them the exact time when the star had appeared and told them to go and seek out the child and to let him know where he was so that he could pay him homage too. They continued their journey and followed the star; they followed the guiding star, from afar. Finally they reached the manger and were overwhelmed with joy at the presence that they found there. They offered the child gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and then having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod they left for home by a different route.

Now these three figures have become a much talked about aspect of the Nativity Mythos. Why is this I wonder? We seem to know an awful lot about them and yet there is little said of them in the gospel account. By the way you will only find them in Matthews Gospel. Today we talk of three wise men and yet the account does not tell us this or that they were even men. They even have names today Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar. We have all seen images of these tall handsome stately men in long robes with deep reverential voices. I’m sure that if you asked children about them that most would say that one of them was black. Of all the characters of the nativity story it is these figures that people have most powerful image of. The mythos has grown and developed with time. I wonder why this is. Oh by the way I’m sure that there are one or two you reading this who are thinking that I really ought not to be talking about them as Epithany is the last day of Christmas. I am fully aware that Christmas does not officially begin until sunset on the 24th of December. But hey I’m a Unitarian and I do not follow the church calendar, please forgive my dissent. Besides I want talk about these figures as I believe that they have a vital role in the light of hope that is a symbol of Advent.

You see and I choose that word carefully...You “see” the wise men were moved by a rising star. They were not spoken to by an angel like the other characters in the story. They observed a star with their own eyes and they followed it from afar. Now this has been interpreted in many ways down the centuries and these understandings have been of great interest but that’s not my focus here. I’m more interested in what significance it may hold for we who live today. We who are perhaps ourselves looking for symbols that may inspire us, that may draw us out of ourselves.

Now some will say that this myth has nothing to say today. Some will choose to tear the story to pieces and show us all the historical inaccuracies. That it’s just some stupid and meaningless fantasy. They may say it’s irrational, give me some reasoned facts...they may even begin to sing...

"God rest ye, Unitarians,
Let nothing you dismay!
Remember that there is no proof
There was a Christmas Day
For Christmas really started as
A pagan holiday.

Oh, glad tidings of reason and fact,
Reason and fact.
Glad tidings of reason and fact.

No wise men travelled from the East,
The journey's far too long.
There were no shepherds in the fields,
The time of year's all wrong;
We don't believe in angels;
That rules out the angels' song!


We're too sophisticated to
Believe in tales so old.
We know that human avarice means
Too much bought and sold;
We only celebrate because
This season is so cold.


By Rev Chris Raible (Sung to same tune as the Carol "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

Yes it is easy to rip the Nativity story to pieces, including the journey that the wise men took, but why would we want to? To do so is actually fail to see what is really there, what is beneath the story. I see so much in these tales that can speak to we who think we are so clever and sophisticated in the 21st century. Do we need glad tidings of reason and fact or comfort and joy. There is more to myth than merely factual accuracy.

There is more to the Christmas mythos than the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of the Biblical accounts. In fact to get lost in detail of what did or didn’t actually happen is to miss the whole point of the story.

Joseph Campbell taught that myths such as the nativity story are actually metaphors for human life. That they are eternal and universal tales that can teach us about our lives right here right now. He believed that by understanding these mysteries we can begin to understand who we truly are and what life is all about.

So what can the wise men mythos teach we who live today? Well I believe that they can teach us an awful lot. To me the wise men are archetypes of something that Campbell himself spoke of. Remember that they observed a star and in seeing it they began their journey, one of transformation. You see what they saw was more than just merely a star it was a vision of something more and it was this that drew them beyond themselves that compelled them to travel afar. The wise men were following their bliss.

But what on earth can that possibly mean, to “follow your bliss?”

Well it is a sacred call to action. It is a call from your soul to light the fire within you to do what destiny asks of you, to bring yourself fully to life and therefore to become a light in the lives of others. Following your bliss is about doing the things that bring meaning and fulfilment despite the troubles that may accompany it. It’s not about seeking highs or wanton consumption of everything material; it is something much deeper it is about truly living, about meaningful living. Campbell says that by following our bliss doors will open up for us where we could only see barriers before.

Following your bliss is about saying yes to this call and beginning your own heroic journey. In doing so synchronicity will seemingly be abound and luck will follow. By following your bliss you seemingly become guided by something more than yourself. This is what Campbell observed and it has certainly been my experience, at least for the last ten years.

Following your bliss though is not an easy ride, quite the opposite actually. Campbell observed that like all heroic journeys there are tests and trials along the way. There are monsters and dragon to slay on the journey although most of these are the ones we carry with us. It is our fear of the adventure that is our greatest enemy.

Human history is littered with figures who have been drawn out of themselves, have followed there bliss and begun their adventure thus inspiring others to do likewise. Some have done this on a mass scale, figures like Nelson Mandela, who the world is currently grieving the loss of and many others have done so on a much smaller, but no less important scale. All have had to face their trials and tribulation and all brought so much light to our world. They were not special people though, they were ordinary people just like you me; ordinary people who found that star that inspired them on their journey; ordinary people who followed their bliss.

The Nativity story has so much to offer we who live today. But please do not get lost in the metaphor in arguments about whether or not these things could have actually happened. Mythos is not really about this. Instead it teaches us something personal and yet universal, something that can inspire we who live today. There is so much in the story of the Magi being drawn out of themselves and following that star to that humble place. We too can follow our star and it can inspire we who live today. I believe, if we seek it and if we prepare ourselves for it we can find our star and that it can draw us out of ourselves and send us forth on our journey. Maybe we too can begin to follow our bliss and inspire others to do likewise. Maybe we too can become stars that lead others to journey afar.

And isn’t this what Advent is all about? Isn’t it about preparing ourselves for the coming of new light and new hope.

Let us follow our bliss.

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