The Gospel According to Mary, Part Two: The Hero's Journey
I'm not so classy as to actually keep current with the Advent calendar, so you'll notice that I missed the first Sunday of Advent with my post about the gospel according to Mary. Better late than never, I suppose. Today's post introduces the concept of the hero's journey and begins to explore how Mary's experience rivals the great epics of history. Read with care . . .
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The hero’s journey is a mythic template made popular by Joseph Campbell in his book from the mid-twentieth century The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell’s analysis of classical myth structures was influential during the writing of the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings, and served as a veritable style guide for George Lucas as he wrote the epic Star Wars. But Campbell’s research reaches not only forward but far backward; the hero’s journey can be consistently applied with only minor adjustments to all sorts of myths from all sorts of cultures. It can even be seen in the stories of major characters in the Bible. Campbell had the sheer moxie to apply the hero’s journey to Jesus Christ; I’m inclined to do the same with his mother.
The hero’s journey involves several stages broadly interpreted:
v Normal life is interrupted by
v a herald, whose call to adventure is met by
v refusal of the call, which elicits
v supernatural aid. Our hero then must pass through
v the first threshold, which is crossed in such a way that it
v appears to be death. Our hero must then
v endure trials before encountering
v the divine ruler of the world in
v the shadow of death, which must be endured. Our hero is then given
v the ultimate boon, and
v ordered to return.
v Life is now free but different.
The Gospels begin before Mary is pregnant; we meet Mary before we meet her Son. We learn of Jesus’ dedication at the temple not from the eight-day-old Jesus but from his mother, and we learn from her that Simeon and Anna called Jesus Messiah. We also learn from her that Simeon prophesied pain for her; her hero’s journey didn’t end with Jesus’ birth. She has a much bigger story to tell—a hero’s journey to fulfill.
The case for Mary’s heroic journey begins in her meager origins. She describes her life as a “humble state” (Luke 1:48). She is about to embark on a very normal married life among the peasant class of a kingdom under occupation when she is visited by a herald angel. “You are highly favored!” the angel cries. “The Lord is with you!”
Mary is “greatly troubled,” unable to fathom the possibility that she will carry to term, will raise as her child, “the Son of God.” But the herald reassures her, granting her the supernatural aid of the Holy Spirit and reminding her that “nothing is impossible with God.” Mary concedes and embarks on her first of many trials: the crossing of the first threshold.
The pregnancy of an unwed woman is still scandalous today, but not nearly so much as in first-century Palestine. Her betrothed receives a vision so that, rather than abandon her, he chooses to join her fellowship. She is given the support and the blessing of loved ones and strangers until her child’s birth, when she and her family must flee the wrath of an evil king. Our hero and her child escape the king’s killing spree and are presumed dead as they pass the first threshold, crossing alive into Egypt and entering into a long journey fraught with peril.