"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." (The Testimony of St. Luke 4 [RE], Luke 4:18-19 [LE])
“The images of Myth are reflections of Spiritual and Depth potentialities of every one of us. Through contemplating those we evoke those powers in our own lives to operate through ourselves.”
— Joseph Campbell
Alright! I think that's all the housekeeping I need to do! Now, onto the awesomeness!!!!!
The Hero's Journey
1. Ordinary World- this is where the hero of the story begins, in his normal day to day life. It could be Tatooine for Luke Skywalker, The Dursley's house for Harry Potter, the "little town" for Belle, the Matrix for Neo, or Bag End for Bilbo Baggins. It's the everyday life for the hero. It's the world they know, and not much changes.
2. The Call to Adventure- Something happens in the hero's ordinary world that causes a change in his routine or understanding. It could be as literal as when Gandalf literally calls Bilbo to an adventure. Literally. Or when mysterious letters start appearing at the Dursley's house addressed to Harry. Or a droid reveals a message from Princess Lei to a mysterious Obi-Wan. A challenge or quest is presented and adventure is out there!
3. The Refusal of the Call- Sometimes, the hero may be reluctant to go on the adventure. Bilbo initially refused and stayed home. Luke turned down Obi-Wan's offer and went back to his Aunt and Uncle's house. Simba, in the Lion King, doesn't confront his uncle but runs away into the wilderness. Neo, even though he listened to Trinity, turns himself back in to Agent Smith. This step is quite normal, as the hero may feel overwhelmed or scared to overcome the odds. However, because of their refusal of the call, there may be consequences. A death in the family, a stop in progression, or a more difficult challenge may emerge.
4. Meeting the Mentor- After the (possible) refusal of the call, the mentor will often appear. Sometimes will be be someone they have met before, like Obi-Wan for Luke, or Gandalf for Frodo. Sometimes it may be someone new, such as when Simba meets Timon and Pumba out in the desert, or when Neo finally meets Morpheus.
5. Crossing the Threshold- The hero is now ready to act on the call and truly begins the adventure. Neo takes the red pill and wakes up from the Matrix in the real world. Harry journeys to Hogwarts. Luke goes to the Death Star with Obi-wan, and the Fellowship sets off for Mount Doom. This signifies the hero's commitment to go out on this adventure.
6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies- Out of the ordinary world, our hero must learn more about himself and others through experience. This is the stage where he acquires skills and talents to help him on his quest. The Fellowship finds a way around Isengard through the Mines of Moria, and thus lose Gandalf to the Balrog. Morpheus trains Neo in Kung Fu, but he still hasn't reached the potential as "The One." Nala appears once again in Simba's life, thus forming a wedge between them and Timon and Pumba.
7. Approach to the Innermost Cave- Something happens in the hero's journey that will test them in ways they have not been tested before. This will ultimately prepare them for the final ordeal as they must look inside and evaluate themselves. In The Matrix the Oracle tells Neo that either he or Morpheus will die, but Neo must choose who. In The Lion King Nala tells Simba the truth about Scar's reign and begs him to return with her. Harry, Ron and Hermione suspect Snape to be after the Philosopher's Stone and plan to get it before him. Much like "Crossing the Threshold" this step will cause our hero to change and progress.
8. The Ordeal- A test. A battle The hero must overcome it or he and the world he knows will no longer continue. Simba must choose whether to stay in paradise will Timon and Pumba, or go and reclaim his kingdom. Harry and the gang overcome all the trials to access the Philospher's Stone. Neo and Morpheus are ambushed by Agents in the Matrix. Luke and Han save Princess Leia.
9. Reward (Seizing the Sword)- After conquering"The Ordeal" the hero comes forward to claim a prize, whether it be an object, person, or hidden knowledge. But not done yet, he still has farther to go. Luke joins the Rebellion, as he always dreamed of. Harry enters the room where the Philosopher's Stone is kept. Neo re-enters the Matrix to save Morpheus. Simba sees Mufasa in the stars and decides to return home. Frodo claims the Ring as his own instead of destroying it.
10. The Road Back- The hero's return to the "Ordinary World" but this time, with more difficulty and trials. A choice will have to be made between the hero's own personal objective or a higher cause.This is when Simba returns to the Pride Lands and reclaim them from Scar, or when Neo is killed by Agent Smith. Gollum bites off Frodo's finger. Luke stays to fight with the Rebellion instead of leaving with Han.
11. Resurrection- The hero dies and his reborn (either literally or symbolically/metaphorically. This is the stage that emotionally grips the audience, and we will feel part of the triumph. Or of course the hero could die, but that would be pretty lame. Harry wakes up in the hospital wing after confronting Voldemort. Simba defeats Scar. Triniti tells Neo she loves him, and he comes back to life and defeats Agent Smith. Sauron is defeated and Sam and Frodo reunite with the Fellowship.
12. Return with the Elixir- The final stage of the hero's journey. They return home a changed man/ woman. Even though they have returned home where they started, they will never be the same again. Frodo leaves Middle-Earth to go to the Grey Havens with the Elves. Harry returns to Privet Drive. Luke and Han celebrate in the destruction of the Death Star. Simba ascends Pride Rock and reclaims his throne. Neo returns to the Matrix, determined to free everyone.
This isn't a very detailed or in depth list, but it's enough for us to notice a pattern going on. The hero get 's the call from someone inspiring, he stumbles, he falls, but in time he performs wonders, makes the ultimate sacrifice and triumphs over evil and darkness. By now, I hope you're going "But this is supposed to be a gospel blog, why is he talking about patterns in movies and books? What does that have to do with anything?"
Good question. And to answer that question I will draw on the wisdom of Someone who, like me, has a passion for stories: The Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus the Storyteller
The disciples, confused, "came and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever receiveth, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance, but whosoever continueth not to receive, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables; because they, seeing, see not; and hearing, they hear not; neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias concerning them, which saith, By hearing, ye shall hear and shall not understand, and seeing, ye shall see and shall not perceive. For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. And blessed are you because these things are come unto you, that you might understand them. And verily, I say unto you, many righteous prophets have desired to see these days which you see, and have not seen them, and to hear that which you hear, and have not heard." (The Testimony of St. Matthew 7 RE, Matthew 13: 9-17)
You have to admire the brilliance of Jesus at this moment. Up till this point, Jesus had been very straightforward with the people he was teaching. Then, just like the Nephites in 3 Nephi 8 RE/ 3 Nephi 17:2 LE, he made the observation that the people simple did not understand what he was getting at. But, being the merciful patient guy he is, he's not simple going to stomp off yelling "You just don't understand me!" like Anakin Skywalker.
Jesus knew this, and used this technique in order that those who really were wanting to learn truth from him would be able to see through his stories and understand what he was trying to teach them. For example, let's take a peek at an imaginary conversation right after the parable of the sower.
Jeremiah: Dude..... did you get any of that? I think Jesus has finally lost it.
Micah: What do you mean?
Jeremiah: Like, his sermons were crazy before, but like seeds, and soils, and thorns? What the heck is he talking about?
Micah: I think he was trying to prove a point bro.
Jeremiah: What point?
Micah: Well, let's say the seed is the word of God right? The scribes and Pharisees use that analogy all the time.
Jeremiah: Yeah. We had that lesson last Saturday in Gospel Doctrine.
Micah: So the various grounds would represent the varying degrees of "hard-heartness" Gosh, that was a mouthful. Like, the seed that falls by the wayside and the birds picked up would be like someone who hears the word, but instantly rejects it. Or the one that falls on the stones would be someone who hears it, accepts it, but doesn't do anything about it. Like how the seed doesn't have much root in rocks.
Jeremiah: Ooooooh!!!!!! I got you! And the seed that got choked up by thorns is like those that get caught up in other things of the world! 'Thorns and noxious weeds' and all that stuff like we learn about Adam and Eve.
Micah: Yeah! And obviously the seed that fell on good ground is one who hears the word of God, seeks to understand it, acts on it, and finally bears fruit.
Jeremiah: Cool! But what can we take from that?
Micah: Well, Jesus claims his words are from God right?
Jeremiah: Yeah. But the Pharisees also claim their words are the words of God. How do we know which is which?
Micah: Well, how do you know what seed is a good seed?
Jeremiah: You plant it and.....see if it will grow. Oooooh!
Micah: Exactly. I for one want to see if Jesus is a prophet. So, I'll put his words to the test. Who know? The seed might grow up to be the tree of life.
We Are The Stories We Tell
As made apparent in the fictitious conversation, Jesus, upon realizing that his listeners were not understanding his speech, began to weave stories together, mostly about the common occurrences of their day. He told stories of farmers, shepherds, tax collectors, marriages, the local church leaders, the fisherman, and much more. By doing so, the audience could make the deictic shift, and put themselves in the stories he told. Just like our imaginary Micah and Jeremiah, they saw one of the characters (the "ground") as themselves, and were able to discern Jesus' meaning.
Nephi, when talking to his brothers, declared that "Yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time and he hath spoken unto you in a still, small voice, but ye were past feeling that ye could not feel his words. Wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder." (1 Nephi 5 RE, 1 Nephi 17:45 LE)
The scriptures constantly testify of God's persistence in reaching his children. If he cannot reach them by his own voice, he will use many means in order that he made be heard. It in words of Philip Yancey "In a nutshell, the Bible from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22 tells the story of a God reckless with desire to get his family back." And as we know, God heavily involved in this world. So, if we cannot hear his voice, neither the voice of his servants, is it off to the thunderings and lightnings and earthquakes? I think that the Lord reaches out to us the same way that Jesus reached out to the unbelieving Jews- through stories.
The very first idea I introduced on this post was the concept of the Hero's Journey, a pattern found in a LOT of stories we hear. Do you think it's a coincidence that this pattern shows up all the time? I think not. Even though we don't recognize the voice of God in our entertainment, I think he is speaking to us.
How many of us have felt like Frodo, carrying a burden that we alone can bear; or Harry Potter, relying on our friends for support? How many of us cried when hearing the Doctor say "You know that in nine hundred years of time and space and I've never met anybody who wasn't important.", feeling like he was talking directly to us? How many of us recognized the truths about the mission of the Savior through the story of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia? How many of us empathized with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars as he battled the forces of evil and fought not to give into it?
I believe as these authors, screenwriters, and directors try to tap into a "creative zone", they may in fact be tapping into the Holy Spirit or "The Record of Heaven." The struggles and challenges that we face in our everyday lives translates over into something magical and mystical so that we may be enthralled by it.
The stories we tell show our inner selves. When we love stories about adventure, romance, epic quests, love, loss, or the triumph of good over evil, what does that say about us?
See, we live along side the characters we read and watch. We become a part of that story. Even as they go through their own struggles and challenges and learn from them, we too learn and grow. And we can go back and relearn these lessons again and again, learning more each time as we grow and progress on our journey. And hopefully that will bring us closer to the Lord
I know from my own personal experience that the struggle to constantly be "spiritual" is real. For how much I love the Lord, I cannot consistently read the scriptures everyday for the life of me. I get so distracted all the time. I'm a movie/book/video game buff and thus I'm always reading or watching something. As I read a new book, or watch a movie, the ideas and themes run constantly through my head, and almost always they pull me back to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and my desire to know Him increases.