Friday, August 3, 2007

Joseph Campbell, C.S Lewis, Spirituality, & Joy

"For when the heart insists on its destiny, resisting the general blandishment, then the agony is great; so too the danger. Forces, however, will have been set in motion beyond the reckoning of the senses. Sequences of events from the corners of the world will draw gradually together, and miracles of coincidence bring the inevitable to pass. " -Joseph Campbell

When I was about 11 I got poked in the eye by the local bishop. I knew he did it and he knew he did it, but he quickly went back to working the room rather than acknowledge what he had done. From that day forward I have been pretty sour on religion, but my whole life has also been a slow walk back to finding and exploring the power of the spiritual in my remaining time here on earth.

The greatest advisor I've had in this quest has been Joseph Campbell, whose quote is listed above. Campbell spent a lifetime exploring the world's religions and especially their myths, and his work is among the most fascinating and inspiring you will ever read.

Campbell's entire philosophy is best summed up by his advice to his students to "Follow Your Bliss." Campbell believed that the heaven many religions seek in an afterlife is actually happening right here and right now on earth, and that by following the "bliss" and intuition inside of us, wonderful, rapturous adventures are there for the taking. I've certainly found this to be true in my own life. Campbell described this adventure in life through something called the "Hero's Journey" which is a series of steps people move through on the course of their own adventure, and this Hero's Journey was the basis of two of my own books, Barack, Lance, Oprah, & Rudy: Exploring Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey in Contemporary American Society & A Life Lived Twice-Elderly Reflections Using Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey.
In my second book I interviewed 4 extraordinary elderly people, and each of them talked about being guided by a "force" as they moved through life, and each of them thought this force was God who was guiding them through this life so they could enjoy an even better one in the next. One of these people was a nun, who described the absolute joy she got from serving others and therefore serving God, and hearing her talk about her faith was both moving and compelling. All of the people I interviewed found religion to be a strong positive force in their lives, and hearing their stories made me consider my own anti-religious bias. Perhaps things would have been different if that bishop had just admitted he had poked me all of those years ago. In any case hearing their stories made me want to further investigate the link between religion and joy.

A wonderful place to start this investigation was examining the life of C.S. Lewis, once a professed atheist, who found himself Surprised by Joy, which is the title of the book he wrote about his discovery of God and the joy this brought to his life. Lewis is best known for his Chronicles of Narnia tales, which many know is a wonderful set of children's books that uses allegory to tell a tale of spiritual faith. What many people do not know is that Lewis was a prominent man of letters prior to writing these books, and began writing children's books after having already made his reputation as one of the world's most important writers. Why focus on children at this point? Perhaps Lewis took notice of Jesus' words found in the biblical passage Matthew 18:1-5, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven"

Are there any words in the Bible that endorse the power of joy and laughter more than this? This certainly is powerful instruction and C.S Lewis seems to have heeded it in his own life. His path to Christianity was spurred on by an intense longing to return to a sense of "home" which he came to interpret as a desire to be rejoined with his creator in heaven. Lewis spoke of his longing in terms of "tantalizing glimpses" and "promises never quite fulfilled" Lewis described observing the beauty in the world and "wanting to be a part of it" which is a remarkably interesting idea which has undertones that also encompass Buddhism, Hinduism, and even Quantum mechanics. What Lewis seemed to be saying was that we are all made of the same energy, but that this energy also has an original divine source, which is where Christianity may differ slightly from other ways of thinking such as Campbell's, that understand the energy itself as the divine source. Whether we define this "guiding force" theistically like C.S Lewis did, or atheistically like Joseph Campbell did, following it appears to offer a blueprint for a life filled with joy.


Suburban Correspondent said...

What has always struck my about CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia is his sense of humor. No one ever mentions how funny they are! His characterizations of people are right on and amusing, and he pokes gentle fun at our feelings of self-importance.

Dr. Joe Guse said...

Well said. C.S. Lewis had an interesting life and if you watch the movie "Shadowlands" it suggests he was a pretty serious man most of his life, who really seemed to take a lighter approach to life in his later years and particularly in his writings.

Unknown said...


Reading about the work of cartoonist Gary Larson and how he works I could not help compare and contrast his modus operandi and my own with respect to writing prose and poetry. Larson draws inspiration from similar sources to my own: interests, experiences and memories. He is sensitive about his readers and whether they understand his work. And so is this the case with me and my literary opus. I have one eye on my readers most of the time, but another on the world and all that is therein. Sometimes I shut one eye and open the other; at other times I open both eyes one, I like to think, to “the hallowed beauty of the Beloved.”

Both Larson and I like our work to speak for itself but, after years in classrooms explaining things to students, I am not bothered if I have to discuss my work. This, though, I rarely have to do. I’m not popular enough to have to so engage my mental powers. Larson is never comfortable analysing his cartoons. We are both painstaking about making our work unambiguous. One interesting sub-set of his work is cartoons about cartoons and, for me, poems about poetry. Ideas for his work and mine can and do come from anywhere. Being a cartoonist is a solitary life as it is being a poet, but there are fewer really successful cartoonists. Few poets and few cartoonists get rich.-Ron Price with thanks to Jackie Morrissey in The Complete Far Side: Volume One: 1980-1986, by Gary Larson, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, 2004, pp. viii-xiii.

Yes, things that just drift into
your head, Gary, little musings
when one is alone with one’s
thoughts and I, too, jot them
down. But, unlike you, Gary,
I get lots of ideas from others,
indeed, a veritable cornucopia
of sources. But we both had our
door openers, eh Gary? Mine was
Roger White, the unofficial laureate
poet of the international Baha’i
community in the 1980s and ‘90s.

But I must most deeply thank the
internet, a world-wide-web that
got my work out-there or my words
would have remained gathering dust
in my files forever. And, finally,
like Larson’s Humour Police, his
readers, and my Poetry Police, my
readers, who hover around and let
me know in no uncertain terms that
I have crossed some invisible line
into total obscurity or obsolescence
and that I am just wasting my time.

Ron Price
14 December2007

PS. I also want to thank: (a) my son for loaning me the biggest, fattest book I’ve ever held in my hands or on my lap, The Far Side, Volume 1, and for continuing to make me laugh as he has done since he was just a little chap; and (b) my wife whose honesty, persistence and her multitude of other qualities have made her my indefatigable collaborator.

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.

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