Saturday, October 3, 2009

EfM Year 1 Chapter 2: Thoughts on the Book of Genesis--Myth

The main interesting thought in Chapter 2 is about myth. The course materials explain that a myth is a true story that didn't really happen in the way ordinary things happen. That is, the events of the myth didn't happen in the usual sense of things happening in ordinary time and space. And yet the myth is true.

I love this. It reminds me of Tim O'Brien's struggle to capture the truth of the Vietnam War in The Things They Carried. Tim recounts a war story and then tells us, "This is a true war story that didn't actually happen."

Our culture tends to be extremely fixated on facts. I remember reading about an African-American girl in elementary school who was telling a story in class about her aunt baking cakes. The cakes seemed to multiply exponentially in the story--chocolate cakes, angel food cakes, coconut cakes, strawberry cakes, lemon pound cakes, marble bundt cakes, and more and more and more cakes--five cakes, twenty cakes, fifteen cakes, ten cakes, thirty cakes--the number kept changing. The story was fascinating, but the teacher kept asking the girl, "Wait a minute. How many cakes did you say there were?" The story made sense, but the numbers didn't. Instead of reveling in the story, the teacher was obsessed with the number of cakes adding up to the correct sum!

One thing surprises me in the EfM course materials. The materials give such a sophisticated explanation of myth, and then the authors turn around and say that myths are not like fairy tales, which are "stories for children that grown-up people know are not true." My goodness, such a wonderful understanding of myth and the scholarship of myth, but apparently no knowledge of the scholarship of fairy tales! Fairy tales are not "stories for children that grown-up people know are not true"! The course material authors would do well to read Clarissa Pinkola Estes's Women Who Run with the Wolves! Fairy tales are rich mines of cultural wisdom and cultural values. They are true stories about what the culture considers important for children (and grown-ups) to know.

One huge message of fairy tales is that the world is not necessarily a safe place. I think of "Little Red Riding Hood," for example. Be on guard--malicious wolves lurk in the seemingly friendly forest, giving off an air of innocence. Continue to beware--If it doesn't look like Grandmother, sound like Grandmother, or feel like Grandmother, then it probably isn't Grandmother--it might well be the wolf. Important wisdom for all of us.

It appears that ancient people understood myth better than we do today. They had no problem with a true story that didn't actually happen. They had no problem with contradictory accounts of the same event, as we frequently see in the Bible. They seemed to accept paradox better than we do. Certainly there is a richness in varied perspectives, in holding the tension of seeming contradictions, in embracing both/and. That richness is lost if we insist on absolute facts.

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