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you are on your own heroes journey
how does your protagonist find his faith?
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)
6.18.12
pop culture

As an avid reader, I tend to develop love for certain genres, certain books, certain characters, certain details. About once a year I read books by my favourite authors, and I don't feel like I've completed a year properly without reading all of my favourites. Fortunately, the urge to reread those books I hold dear tends to wax and wane along with the seasons or my moods. There's always a reason to read something you love.

A lot of the books I read over and over again are, in a way, theological in nature. I would almost venture to say that they speak to me in the way I feel the Bible or Koran might speak to those people with far more specifically defined faiths. The stories I reach for repeatedly have within them the ideals I want to live my life by.

The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran, is almost a meditation for me. Heartbroken or crying, I can feel the words soothing my pain. “When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

In a similar way, American Gods by Neil Gaiman has some of the most powerful metaphors I've ever read, the reality couched within the unreality. The three most influential writers in my life have been him, Guy Gavriel Kay and Dave Duncan, and while I read The Fionavar Tapestry and the Great Game trilogies for the love and epic stories, I also read them to draw strength from the characters beliefs and motivations.

For as long as I can remember reading for the pleasure of it, I remember reading stories of the gods - someone's gods have always been a part of literature. The Heroes Journey has been the ultimate format in literature for many years, and the Hero always meets gods on his journey; a metaphor for the choices we as humans make in our daily lives, for good or evil.

I've written quite a few articles about faith, and in a decade my thoughts and ideas have vacillated from one ideal to another, but at the core have always remained the same – be a good person.

In various religious beliefs, there are many differences and many similarities. I can't say that I've read every holy book or heard every sermon or prayed every prayer, but I can guess that for every difference, there is a similarity. People have more in common than they think, and I'm not sure where the thought that we're so vastly different comes from. Different culture, different language, different skin, different habits, different beliefs – but we're not so different when it comes to living and dying.

Recently, I flew a trip with three of the most awesome flight attendants I've met while being based in New York. It was a four-day-long trip where almost nothing could go right, but the humour and camaraderie we brought to every single flight was unmistakable – the passengers noticed how well we got along, how cohesive and genuine our service was, and commented on it.

Through several days of conversation, we discovered that all of us had completely differing religious or spiritual beliefs – the gentleman from Cote d'Ivoire was Muslim. The flight leader was from Tennessee and had been raised Southern Baptist. The sweet blond from California was a devout Catholic. I don't have a word for what I am. Spiritual? Agnostic? Buddhist? Universal? I think we should all stop being so concerned about what to call someone and worry more about how our actions affect everyone else.

The conversation came up because I am starting to see someone new, and in the get-to-know-you process we have realized that we come from different spiritual backgrounds. He voiced concern because though we ultimately have the same moral grounding, I don't call myself by the same religion he does, and he was worried that it was going to be an issue – this difference of title.

It's curious to me that a word could become a reason not to date someone. Just because you're on a different spiritual path from someone else, how can anyone say that it's the 'wrong' path? How can you possibly know what is in anyone else's heart?

Perhaps it is because of group thinking: sometimes we think something “should” be important to us because those around us say so. If you're in group A, and I'm also in group A, then we can be friends. I've always wondered how Christians – so-called, loudly self-proclaimed Christians, even – can possibly think to judge anyone else. Jesus, if I recall from my church-attending days, preached love, compassion, peace, mercy and acceptance. How is it, then, that the loudest voices of condemnation and judgment come so often from his most ardent followers?

It's important that we find the connections, but it becomes a matter of not losing sight of the Bigger Picture: what makes us different is also what makes the world such an interesting place to live. No one else, again, can ever know what is in your heart and mind – even trying to explain could not only fail to make your feelings truly understood and known, it could turn others away based on their own experiences and ideas.

An eight year old has thoughts, opinions and takes action based on them. An eighteen year old and an eighty year old have their own as well, modulated with time and experience. None of these opinions are going to resemble each other, even in the same person. Understanding should continue to evolve over a lifetime, or else one is prone to stagnation both of knowledge and faith.

My friend Mousa, the gentleman I flew with who follows the Muslim faith, had a beautiful way to explain it. He related a story his grandmother explained to him when he was a small boy: “Look at your hand, at the five fingers on it. Are all the fingers the same size? Do they all do the same job? Have the same strength or ability? If the Creator made them all different, how can you expect them to change and be the same? You need them to be different, to be articulated, to do a different job. But when you press the tips of them all together, they are the same, reaching the same distance, together. What could be more perfect?”

Just like the characters in my favourite books, I believe we are all on our own Heroes Journey, created in this world to make our own decisions, based on our our moral beliefs and experiences. Would that perfection in life be reached if we were all the same, believing the same? Praying the same? Worshiping the same? I like to think that we're already perfect, we are just seeking the people in life that can help us toward a common goal of understanding.


ABOUT MAIGEN THOMAS

Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

more about maigen thomas

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COMMENTS

kathy carr
6.19.12 @ 11:28p

I am "weeping for that which has been my delight". Yes, I think the best literature cuts across cultural lines and speaks direct to the heart about human nature. I suspect as you do that we are all more alike than we acknowledge. It's a shame that religion pulls people apart, often in violent ways. I don't really know a religion in which you don't have to follow the rules to be good. Why can't we just be good? I loved that Russ was strong in his faith. We were a good fit in this way. It feels good to have someone next to you in church that can sing out just as heartily, listen intently, and hob nob with during donut hour - and pray with you when the chips are down or not.

reem al-omari
6.20.12 @ 9:34p

We need "Like" buttons on here. Nice piece! I like!

maigen thomas
6.22.12 @ 2:38a

Thank you so much for reading, you guys, I really do appreciate it.

I love that the best literature that cuts across cultural lines - especially religious ones - often has to do with living a 'spiritually whole' life.

I was just talking about Russ today, Kathy. I'm glad that you found what you had with hi, and I'm still so sorry the time was cut short.

kathy carr
7.23.12 @ 12:04a

Too short. Sigh. Thanks Maigen. I just miss him. I am glad that I can find people who cared deeply for him here. He had such good friends here!




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