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Center for Action and Contemplation

You Need a Big Story Line

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Jung: Week 1

You Need a Big Story Line
Thursday, October 8, 2015

In his book, Myths, Gods, Heroes, and Saviors, Leonard Baillas writes, “The supreme achievement of the self is to find an insight that connects together the events, dreams, and relationships that make up our existence.” [1] If there’s no storyline, no integrating images that define who you are or that give your life meaning or direction, you just won’t be happy. It was probably Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell who most developed this idea for our generation of Western rationalists, who had thought that myth meant “not true”—when in fact the older meaning of myth is precisely “always true”!

Jung goes so far as to say that transformation only happens in the presence of story, myth, and image, not mere mental concepts. A great story pulls you inside of a universal story, and it lodges in the unconscious where it is not “subject to the brutalities of your intellect or will,” as Thomas Merton might say. From that hidden place you are “healed.” For Christians, the map of Jesus’ life is the map of Everyman and Everywoman: divine conception, ordinary life, betrayal, abandonment, rejection, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. In the end, it all comes full circle, and we return where we started, but now transformed. Jung saw this basic pattern repeated in every human life, and he called it the Christ Archetype, “an almost perfect map” of the whole journey of human transformation. Jung’s notion of an Archetype or Ruling Image can help us understand a “Corporate Personality” or the “Universal Stand In” that Jesus was meant to be.

I am convinced that Jesus constantly called himself “The Human One” to make this point. Ephesians recognizes this when it speaks of Jesus as the One Single New Humanity (2:15, 4:13), and Paul calls the Christ the “New Adam” or “Adam II” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 45-49). As Walter Wink demonstrated, we did history a disservice by usually translating Jesus’ self-appellation as “Son of Man,” which lost the corporate or inclusive message. [2] And who did not get included? Us, history, humanity as a whole. We ended up with an anemic and individualistic message about how “I” could go to heaven, which is well-disguised narcissism. We missed the social, cosmic, and revolutionary message of God’s infinite love and mercy.

Jesus ended up being an exclusive Savior for us to worship instead of an inclusive Savior with whom we are joined at the hip. This created a disconnect and disinterest for both the heart and the soul. No wonder so many find the Christian message so utterly uncompelling—it became a cheap story line about later rewards for a very, very few and eternal punishment for the overwhelming many in all of  human history. Surely it did not foster any love or trust of God, in fact, quite the opposite.

Whether you know it or not, whether or not you are consciously Christian, if you live in Europe or North or South America, you’ve picked up the good storyline (i.e., the Christ map) at least on some minimal level. I often call it “The Virus of the Gospel.” You might not really believe it, surrender to it, or allow it, but if you would, you would be a much happier person because it holds deep and unconscious integrating power for you and for society as a whole. All the suffering of creation, and your own too, now has cosmic significance (Romans 8:18-34). A Great Story Line connects your little life to the One Great Life, and even better, it forgives and uses the wounded and seemingly “unworthy” parts (1 Corinthians 12:22). What a message! Nothing else can do that. Like good art, a Cosmic Myth like the Gospel gives you a sense of belonging, meaning, and most especially, personal participation in it.

We are finding it is almost impossible to heal isolated individuals inside of an unhealthy and unhealed culture and inside of a Christianity that is largely about exclusion and superiority. The individual remains inside of an incoherent and unsafe universe and soon falls back into anger, fear, and narcissism. I sadly say this after 46 years of giving retreats, conferences, and initiation rites all over the world. Only those who went on to develop a contemplative mind had the skills to finally grow and profit from the message that they heard. For the others, it was just another consumer experience for their spiritual résumé. [3]

Gateway to Silence:
God-in-me sees God.

[1] Leonard J. Baillas, Myths, Gods, Heroes, and Saviors (Twenty-Third Publications: 1986), 2.
[2] Walter Wink, The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man, (Augsburg Books: 2001).
[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, unpublished talk (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2015).

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