October 29, 2016
We sit in the midst of the spirit world today. Day of the Dead, All Saints/All Souls, Samhain, Hallowe’en. It is said that this is the time when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest, when reaching into the realm of spirits is easiest.
Conversely, of course, it’s the easiest time for them to reach us! We dress up. In some traditions the purpose of Hallowe’en costumes is to disguise ourselves so as to foil Death and the ghosts who might be searching for our souls. Humanists and children hunting candy – folks who aren’t so worried about spirit infestations, might dress up in order to dream of who they might be, to reveal some aspect of themselves that they – or we- might otherwise feel we should keep hidden.
Do you wear a costume that shows your inner self or one that hides it? Heck, a good many of us feel we wear costumes 365 days a year to help us look like we belong when we don’t think we really do. What we show externally and who we are inside sometimes don’t match up. Maybe that’s why we like hero stories so much, especially the ones where the hero has a secret identity. On the outside they appear ‘normal’ for want of a better word, but inside they are really something else. That inner person is stronger, braver, wiser and possessing hidden talents. Don’t you feel that way sometimes, like the people around you really don’t know you, don’t understand your superpowers?
What you are wearing today doesn’t really matter for this sermon, but I would like to ask you to ponder the costume you would wear if you could, if you weren’t worried about what people might think, if you weren’t hampered by self-limiting thoughts of ‘too old or too young, too skinny, too fat’ or “I’m not really (fill in the blank) enough to pull that off.”
I am asking you to come and explore the inner world this morning, to look for your own heroic figure.
All month long as we have considered how we might affirm inherent worth and dignity of all people, as our First Principle suggests, our children, led by Lauren Kay, have been looking at self-affirmation. They have been looking for their everyday super heroic abilities and even making capes!
After all, before we can affirm someone else’s basic qualities and worthiness we have to appreciate our own. It’s pretty difficult to focus on others when we don’t respect ourselves.
In our reading, Joseph Campbell- the thinker who opened us to mythic traditions, was quoted as saying, “Our job is to straighten out our own lives. We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”
To put it another way, we have think about leaving behind the costumes we think society wants us to wear and consider revealing that secret identity -put on the outfit we would most long to sport. He is reminding us to look for our own authentic selves. Because no one else can pull that cape out of the closet for us.
Sure, we have to make some concessions because we need to work and have relationships, perhaps raise a family. But even within those somewhat limiting frameworks there is room to be you, if you will be brave enough to claim that space. The challenge is figuring out how to do that.
Now I am going to make you a solemn promise: a significant number of you will disagree with my next sentence.
Everyone of you is a hero.
Everyone of you is a hero.
I’m a hero, the person sitting near you is a hero, the ushers are heroes, Gordon is a hero…and YOU are a hero.
If nothing else, as Joseph Campbell notes, “You are the hero of your own story.” You have to be for you are living it and writing it as you go.
I suspect some of you are thinking, “But I’m not brave”, or “I’m not super strong,” or whatever. But hey, I didn’t say you were superheroes, just ordinary everyday heroes. What’s a hero?
May Angelou says, “I think hero is any person intent on making this a better place for all people.”
Tom Hanks the actor who has had any number of ordinary guy heroic roles to ponder suggests, “A hero is somebody who voluntarily walks into the unknown.” And what is tomorrow, my friends, but the unknown?
Every new job, every doctor’s appointment, every trip we take, every new person we meet is a trip into the unknown. That we do those things might involve duty and even inevitability and a lack of choice, but the fact that we do them is a new page in our personal hero stories.
And finally Robert Downey Jr. aka Ironman opines, “I think that we all do heroic things, but hero is not a noun, it’s a verb.”
The very act of living is an act of hero-ing- to follow his twisting of grammar. Putting your hand on that doorknob and stepping out into the world is a brave thing.
And – you – each – do it.
There are all kinds of ways to be a hero, and this is the important bit. Back in 1986, Carol Pearson published The Hero Within a book that explored Jungian archetypes. She was clear about why she wrote it.
Underneath the frantic absorption in the pursuit of money, status, power, and pleasure and the addictive and obsessive behaviours current today is, we all know, a sense of emptiness and a common human hunger to go deeper. In writing The Hero Within it seemed to me that each one of us wants and needs to find, if not the “meaning of life,” then the meaning of our own, individual lives, so that we can find ways of living and being that are rich, empowered, and authentic.
What made her book interesting was the way she parsed the idea of the hero into six categories. The traditional understanding of the “Warrior Hero” questing to right some mighty wrong by slaying dragons and such, is too limiting. Not many people can relate to that kind of quest except in the most metaphoric sense. So Pearson defined six other approaches to affirm that everyone has their own unique hero quest:
The person who knows a profound sense of betrayal, rejection and/or abandonment has experienced a ‘mythic event calling you to the quest’. Residential school survivors, people have been shunned by families for revealing their true nature, folks who grew up in the kind of home that contributed to alcohol and drug problems they now have to overcome. These might see themselves as the Orphans seeking a place to belong. That quest for belonging could be their hero journey.
The Wanderer is an aspect that becomes central when we feel misunderstood, alienated, or are cast into an unknown situation. I suspect teenagers might really relate to this one. But the Wanderer might also embrace people ending relationships through choice or death, folks who are losing their work or their physical or mental abilities, people who don’t know what comes next. The heroic quest of the Wanderer is surrender where they have been and to keep moving – to look both internally and externally with great intent while waiting for the next opportunity to speak to them.
In a Warrior culture, achievement is everything, yet we all like to be valued as people, separate from our achievements. Subtract the people in society who work for nothing, who give out love and care without expectation of getting it back, and it would not be much of a society.
We need to have a larger meaning to guide our actions. The quest of the Altruist is best served by finding a place to use their gifts for the greater good. It was the altruist of whom Maya Angelou was speaking in that earlier quote, “I think hero is any person intent on making this a better place for all people.”
Though we are born innocent, part of us continues to look for Utopian possibilities, despite all the contrary ‘reality’ we come across. The Innocents are the dreamers, the optimists who always believe that the sun will come out tomorrow. The quest for the Innocent is to truly face and pass through harsh realities all the while protecting that precious quality of hope that defines them. We can return to this place, Pearson says, but only after we have taken our heroic journeys. Like all the heroic types, the journey must be survived before the lessons can be learned.
The Magician sees life in a similar way to the Innocent, but claims more power. While the Innocent will trust the universe to make things happen, the Magician will be a more active change-maker Magicians are willing to take a stand, even if it is risky or revolutionary. Yet, unlike the Warrior, they also give up the illusion of total control over their lives.
It’s not an exhaustive list. You might not have seen yourself as fitting into any of those categories, but that’s not the point. The point is that the hero is not just the soldier going ‘over the top’ into battle. It isn’t just Supergirl saving National City from bad people.
The hero is anyone who decides to stand up, to take a risk and to try to make change. They might succeed, they might not. The hero does not have to win every time, the hero just has to try, to reveal their superpowers and try.
So let’s see what superpowers we have in the room!
Naming your superpower is a step towards affirming your own worth and dignity. It is a step towards recognizing what your secret identity has already given you in this life of yours, this personal heroic journey of yours. Naming your superpower serves to remind you that you have something to bring to the quest, a gift to give to the world. So ponder the power you have named, and maybe think on this some more about the powers you have not yet named. Be proud of them, own them, use them. Make your life better, Make the world better.