Where do mystery and reason meet? One might argue, and certainly Joseph Campbell did so in his book and television series “The Power of Myth”, that they meet in theology, as both mystery and reason attempt, in their own ways, to express truth. Where does myth end and truth begin? Do we have to know? There are many truths that can’t be confined to those things we perceive with our five senses and personally, I have never been hobbled by a need for certainty. I enjoy the universalizing process that any story can lead us through.
December 6 is the day on the church’s calendar when the Bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas, is celebrated. The myths around this saint from Myra (in present day Turkey) are many. The bags of gold that he tossed into one home so that the daughters would have dowries and not have to be sold into prostitution are the origin of the gift-giving tradition we now have at this time of year. He is considered the patron saint of children because one story has Nicholas resurrecting three boys who had been slaughtered during a time of famine and were being prepared to be eaten. And he is credited with saving a ship full of sailors in a storm-tossed sea by calming the waters. These are tales told in many cultures, and of course all relate directly to our own Christian theology. Are they true? Does it matter? What matters, it seems to me, are the universal truths they express – generosity, helping those in need, and maybe most important at this time of year, being the calm during a storm (the quiet voice during a family argument perhaps? A peaceful presence among harried shoppers or co-workers?) These are truths we all should incorporate into our lives.
This Saturday at 7:30 p.m., choir members from St. Alban’s bring the legends around Nicholas to life when they perform St. Nicolas, a cantata by Benjamin Britten. God moves in a mysterious way, Hymn 677 in The Hymnal 1982, is sung by all at the end of Britten’s work and you can hear it by clicking on the link below, or better yet, join in the singing on Saturday. st. nick flyer
God does indeed work in mysterious ways, but mystery and reason don’t have to be at odds. They can simply be part of that balancing act Episcopalians are so comfortable with.
Thanks Sonya. Joseph Campbell should be required reading at every college and university – even for engineering students. Campbell patiently reveals how myths embody powerful truths, and how different mythic traditions are strikingly similar across different times and different cultures. Understanding leads to tolerance; a commodity we sorely need today. You can start here: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=joseph+campbell+myth&sm=3
You are awesome.
Very well said, and a lovely hymn!
As Willy Wonka said, “You should never never doubt what no one is sure about.”
Exquisite, as are all your posts, Sonya.
Thanks for this insightful reflection. My peaceful presence during Adventide is playing Christmas music for at least a hour daily instead of listening to the music or talk radio stations.