Beloved St. John’s community,
Comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell has said that a primary function of myth is to show “how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.”1 Although we may not be accustomed to thinking of Christian tradition as involving mythology at all, or indeed to have any need of myths (aren’t they fables that are disconnected with reality, if not outright misleading?), the fact is that all great spiritual traditions tell stories that attempt to reveal what is true. Christian theologian Marcus Borg has said that “the Bible is true, and some of it actually happened.” Our tradition is full of stories that create in total a kind of roadmap of the human condition whose central goal is to teach us how to live. Not by giving us an instruction manual—life is way too complicated for that. Not by giving us an infallible literally perfect archive of chronological historical events. But by helping us to explore deep questions about our lives in way that open us to the power of God and of transformation.
Alexander John Shaia, who studied with Joseph Campbell during his university years, has interpreted the four gospels about Jesus as exploring four key and universal questions:
How do we face change? (Matthew)
How do we move through suffering? (Mark)
How do we receive joy? (John)
How do we mature in service? (Luke)
This year at St. John’s, we will be exploring these four questions as they are articulated in the four gospels. We are going through a great transformation, a great upheaval, in our culture, in the life of Christian tradition, and at St. John’s. I believe what is needed at this time is to tend our roots—(re)connect with that which is deeply nourishing and helpful at the heart of Christ and his message. Yet to do so, we need great imagination. I believe we need to interpret afresh what Christ means to 21st century people.
In the coming weeks, St. John’s will be introducing various ways to explore these four questions, to (re) imagine who Jesus is for us and, ultimately, how to live under any circumstances. Some of us have lost loved ones this year and we cannot imagine how ever to have joy or meaning again. Some of us have lost a sense of connection with God through our church community or services. All of us need community, meaning and purpose, no matter what our individual or community circumstances are.
I hope you will consider joining me and St. John’s community in exploring these questions together, and finding God and ourselves at the heart of them.
In Christ’s love,
1 Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (First Anchor Books, 1988).