chains4blogBased on Exodus 3:1-15

Does anyone remember the story of Narcissus? In Greek Mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful youth who was arrogant, cruel and insensitive to the feelings of others. Hearing the prayer of a maiden in distress, an avenging goddess [Aphrodite] decided that Narcissus would come to feel what it was like to love and experience no return of affection. One day, he came upon a clear fountain where he saw his own image reflected upon the water. Fascinated with the image, he fell in love and came to cherish that which he could not possess or control. He became so absorbed in himself that he eventually drowned in his own reflection.

Myths are powerful because they reflect a truth greater than truth itself. Myths, with their vivid images, and extraordinary tales, expose a psychological reflection of our deepest fears, and our own worries about our self, and our place in the world. Myths, according to Joseph Campbell are, “the experience of meaning” the “clues to the potentialities of a spiritual life.” I would argue that we can’t experience the depth of a spiritual life unless we can find meaning found in the realities of the world around us, to see situations from an inward theological perspective, over and above taking in life’s rawness like the passive shutter of a camera lens. Jesus’ parables are forms of crystallized myths centering on a greater truth, exposing life in its rawness leading towards a deeper experience of meaning.

Our story from Exodus shares much with ancient mythical awareness, and points towards greater truths, but unless we can carry it over to us today, unless we can spark the realities of now, we would be left with a simple tale about a burning bush, God refusing to give a proper name, and Moses following orders, walking off to confront Pharaoh. The myth of Narcissus might be reduced to a story about a self absorbed idiot who drowned himself. Our challenge is to figure out how can we carry these tales of great truth into our lives, and use them to address problems of today.

How can we engage the depth of a spiritual life? Here’s one way to connect both stories to seek a deeper experience of meaning:

Outside of partisan politics, we can apply both the story from Exodus and the myth of Narcissus to our national debate surrounding health care. Over the past year we have been exposed to horror stories of people’s lives drastically altered due to the heavy handedness by insurance companies, and we have heard countless witness by others who have no health insurance at all; forced to go to emergency rooms for basic health care. We have seen business struggle to maintain coverage for their employees as health care costs rise towards astronomical proportions. There is, from all points, north, south, east and west, a cry for help.

In Exodus, the Lord God says, “I have observed the misery of my people; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings.” Through our own cries people have spoken, and made known their sufferings, like Narcissus, those who might do something have sat and done nothing, looking at their own reflection in the water.

We have heard of people who have medical insurance denied or refused medical care under a subjective choice made by those hoping to fill the coffers of stockholders forgetting that when people pay for insurance, they placed trust in a company to help with health care using compassion and equity. These cries have gone un-noticed, and like Narcissus, those who might do something have sat and done nothing, looking at their own reflection in the water.

We have one group of legislators so convinced they are correct, they will pass a bill because they can, with no room for compromise, and from another group of legislators, convinced that government is bad, there can be no debate because they wish failure so that they can gain seats in a legislative body. Both groups are interested in maintaining their power base; despite the cries of those in distress, these voices have been drowned out by the supreme deity of partisanship. These cries have gone un-noticed, and like Narcissus, those who might do something have sat and done nothing, looking at their own reflection in the water.

How does Exodus teach us about our experience of meaning? Moses comes before God, and asks God’s name. God refuses and majestically states “I AM THAT I AM.” God does not speak about himself, but who God has known, names in which there has been a personal relationship. “”I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses’ encounter with God stems from relationship, not power, love, not aggression, hope, not despair. The great I AM is about a collective and the power found in WE CAN.

This “we can” attitude can sometimes become a reality. When I lived in Orange County there was a great project named the Medical Services for Indigence program. Based on need, this program covers medical care for Orange County residents 21 through 64 years of age who have a current, urgent or emergent medical need, and limited or no financial resources to pay for their healthcare. They didn’t put people into a sub-level care, but treated individuals at places like Hoag Hospital, and offered dental services by doctors who had successful practice. People who were accepted into this program were treated with compassion and respect. This program saves lives. It is proof that, we can, as a compassionate community, do something about health care.

What can we do? The first thing is stop looking at ourselves in the stream; we must make the first move to touch the water, and cause a ripple, distorting our self image. This might disrupt what Alain Ehrenberg, a French author and psychologist, calls  the “privatization of human existence,” or as Roger Cohen, as Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times suggests, “Community — a stable job, shared national experience, extended family, labor unions — has vanished or eroded. In its place has come a frenzied individualism, solipsistic screen-gazing, the disembodied pleasures of social networking and the à-la-carte life as defined by 600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy grow in the lonely chamber of self-absorption and projection.”

We are Narcissus, and what might be better for us is to look towards the great I AM. The I AM who hears the cries of suffering. The I AM who risks moving out of an inward shell to the stark realities and rawness of life. The I AM filled with compassion; the I AM who builds relationship forming the great WE CAN.

Myths can teach us the experience of meaning: but in order to experience meaning, we must hear cries, and acknowledge human suffering, we must stop and turn away from our own reflection, and when we turn away from our own reflection we might begin to do something, to clasp hands with others, to work for the betterment of the WE and not the I, allowing Narcissus a chance to walk away from the reflection, our own reflection in the water.