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The Journey Continues… (a “long lost” Sunday post) June 5, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Shavuot, Suffering, Super Heroes, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “long lost” post related to Sunday, June 5, 2022. It is the third post related to Bill Moyers (and the second one being posted for the first time). Links for the 2021 post are embedded below. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“Joseph Campbell said that all the great myths, the primitive myths, the great stories, have to be regenerated if they’re going to have any impact…. Are you conscious of doing that?”

– Bill Moyers, quoted from the transcript of “The Mythology of Star Wars, with George Lucas”

Let’s talk about heroes, heroines, and great adventures. I love them! I can’t say I was a huge fan of The NeverEnding Story, but I did appreciate the idea and, when I was a kid, I always got a kick out of “choose your own adventure” books. I also loved Star Wars, Star Trek, Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, and almost any series of books with reoccurring characters who went places I had never gone, had experiences I never had, and met people I had never met. Part of what I loved was that I recognized the places, the experiences, and the people. How could I not? After all, they were all the same – just using different names, and dressed up in different clothes and faces.

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard about Joseph Campbell or Harold Bloom, but their works around literature, mythology, and anthropology (as it intersects literature and mythology) seem to be like long shadows towards the end of the day. They’re always there, you just can’t always see them. Towards the end of college, I took a publishing course and one of the people in my small group ended up working at a major publishing house. A few months later, he sent me a big box full of books. Joseph Campbell’s A Hero with a Thousand Faces was one of those books. I knew about it, but had never read it.

If you watch movies, read comics and/or books, or just like listening to someone weave a good adventure, odds are you fall into one or more of the following categories: (1) you love heroes because you’re always looking for someone to save you; (2) you love adventure and fancy yourself as someone who could save yourself or someone else – given the right means and opportunity; and/or (3) you love the life lessons found within a good story. After all, every good story comes with at least one life lesson. That’s one of the boons of living vicariously through a fictional or historical character.

“LUCAS: I guess it’s more specific in Buddhism, but it is a notion that’s been around before that. When I wrote the first Star Wars, I had to come up with a whole cosmology: What do people believe in? I had to do something that was relevant, something that imitated a belief system that has been around for thousands of years, and that most people on the planet, one way or another, have some kind of connection to. I didn’t want to invent a religion. I wanted to try to explain in a different way [than] the religions that have already existed. I wanted to express it all.

MOYERS: You’re creating a new myth?

LUCAS: I’m telling an old myth in a new way. Each society takes that myth and retells it in a different way, which relates to the particular environment they live in. The motif is the same. It’s just that it gets localized. As it turns out, I’m localizing it for the planet. I guess I’m localizing it for the end of the millennium more than I am for any particular place.”

– quoted from the Time Magazine article “Of Myth and Men” by Bill Moyers; George Lucas (published April 18, 1999; based on “The Mythology of Star Wars, with George Lucas”)

Born on June 5, 1934, in Hugo, Oklahoma (and primarily raised in Marshall, Texas), Bill Moyers is more than a journalist who has spent a lot of time talking to and about heroes. He is even more than a journalist who has also spent a lot of time talking to and about people who create heroes. But, he has done all of that… and more.

In addition to being an ordained minister, he served as the 13th White House Press Secretary (working with both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson). Along with his wife, Judith Suzanne Davidson Moyers, he has produced a variety of programming, including Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth (filmed on George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, in 1988); The Mythology of Star Wars, with George Lucas (also filmed at Skywalker Ranch, in 1999); Faith and Reason; and Healing and the Mind. He has also produced and facilitated conversations about a wide range of topics, including evil, racism, prayer, democracy, poetry, art, and the experiences of U. S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. His many books include Listening to America: A Traveler Rediscovers His Country, A World of Ideas : Conversations With Thoughtful Men and Women About American Life Today and the Ideas Shaping Our Future, A World of Ideas II: Public Opinions from Private Citizens, The Language of Life (which is a conversation with poets), Genesis: A Living Conversation, and the book based on the series Healing and the Mind.

More often than not, when I lead a practice on Bill Moyers’s birthday, it centers around Joseph Campbell’s monomyth and references superheroes from comic books and movies. My intention is to highlight how we are all the hero(ine) of our own story – and, additionally, how we can also be someone else’s hero. Sometimes, I even reference a specific historical and/or religious figure. Someone like Moses.

Click here if you are interested in a different kind of journey (from 2021) inspired by the life and work of Bill Moyers.

I mentioned Moses, specifically, because sunset on Saturday (June 4, 2022) marked the beginning of Shavuot. Known in English as the “Festival of Weeks,” Shavuot is the anniversary, the celebration, and the commemoration of the Jewish people receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. It occurs on the 50th day after the 2nd night of Passover – making it a moveable feast – and is the culmination of the counting of the weeks, which is observed by the Counting of the Omer. Since the 49 days of counting make up a spiritual journey of preparation, Shavuot marks the end of one journey and the beginning of a new journey. Or, you could think of it more specifically as the beginning of a new time.

Technically speaking, the Hero’s Journey is always about moving into a new time, a new era, or a new season of life. It’s about coming out of an old season, shedding the old skin, and moving forward with that “Ultimate Boon” – that life lesson that serves the heroine and their community. While I often compare Moses’ hero journey to the hero journey of the Buddha (or Jesus), the parallels do not stop with the beginning of their lives and their “calling” to alleviate the suffering of the people in their community. In fact, an additional parallel is found in what some might consider the end of the journey: a path (i.e., a set of instructions or commandments), which can be seen as their own calling/journey.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”

– quoted from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

Every adventure begins in the “Ordinary World.” It’s not a perfect world; it’s just the everyday, mundane world. If everything and everyone were perfect, there would not be a “Call to Adventure.” But there is a call. In real life, individual people have things they are called to do and then there is a philosophical call issued to everyone who is exposed to systems like the the Noble Eightfold Path (in Buddhism); the 8-Limbs of the Yoga Philosophy (as codified in Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras); the various paths of yoga (as described in the Bhagavad Gita); and/or the teachings in the Torah, the Christian New Testament, and/or the Qur’ān.

Of course, in the monomyth, the hero or heroine initially refuses the call. The “Refusal of Call” happens everyday in modern times and in biblical history – and for the same reasons. It is a refusal to give up the status quo. It is the rejection of a new way of living. Think of Moses (and Joshua) returning from the Mount to find that the newly freed Hebrew people are actively breaking their newly established covenant. According to Shemot – Exodus (32:1), the people were motivated by fear – specifically, fear of the unknown and fear of loss. If we go deep inside ourselves, we may find that similar fears cause each of us to stray from our chosen path. In Buddhism, all clinging leads to suffering. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali described five types of attachment that lead to suffering. The final type, described in Yoga Sūtra 2.9, is fear of loss/death – and getting beyond that is part of the practice and, also, another practice from another year.

“GEORGE LUCAS: What happens is that no matter how you do it, when you sit down to write something all other influences you’ve had in your life come into play. The things that you like, the things that you’ve seen, the things — the observations you’ve made. That’s ultimately what you work with when you’re writing. And you — you are influenced by the things that you like. Designs that you like, characters you like, moments that you remember, that you were moved by. It’s — it’s like trying to compose a — a symphony in a way.”

– George Lucas responding to a question Bill Moyers asked about the creative process, quoted from the transcript of “The Mythology of Star Wars, with George Lucas”

In some ways, every mindfulness-based practice is like sitting down to write: things come up and all of those things, in the moment, become part of the practice. In fact, one of the lojong (“mind-training”) aphorisms in Tibetan Buddhism is “Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation.” (16) Additionally, the theme is that “localizing” that George Lucas referenced when talking about how Star Wars fit into the rubric. The theme details, the poses and sequences, even the duration of the practice are simply the unique details of the moment. But, every practice is the same journey.

For every mindfulness-based practice, our breath is the “Supernatural Aid” that facilitates our transition from the external to the internal and then back again. Every practice takes us deeper into our own belly – which can also be that metaphorical “Belly of the Whale.” While they may not all be physically challenging, the practice is a “Road of Trials” with the opportunity to experience the deep love and acceptance of the “Goddess” and the “Atonement of the Father.” There is always the “Temptation” to stay in Śavāsana (“Seat of the Corpse” or Dead Man’s Pose); to give up mid-way through the practice; or to just not show up. There is also the temptation to do more simply because it is suggested.

Finally, every practice has that final Śavāsana-moment – and, even if we are not actually in Śavāsana, that moment symbolizes the death of the practice: an “Apostasis.” All the preparation, all the getting ready leads to a moment of meditation that, ultimately, brings an understanding of every plane of existence and freedom from suffering: that’s the “Ultimate Boon” – that is what allows someone to be “Master of Two Worlds.

That mastery or stewardship leads to the ultimate freedom: “Freedom to Live.” The final stage of the journey is partially defined as the freedom to live “in the moment, neither anticipating the future, nor regretting the past” – which is also one of the goals of Eastern philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism, to be fully present in the moment.

“…really pay attention to what’s happening internally…. Meditation is learning how to get so still, and so calm, tranquil, through the directing of the attention, to this present moment, that we begin to see really deeply…. And so we go more and more and more deeply into the nature of things, and when that happens, and reactivity ceases, then responsiveness arises.”

– Gina Sharpe, Suffering and the End of Suffering

The playlist for this practice is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06052022 Hero(ine)’s Journey”]

GEORGE LUCAS: [] The average human being has much more awareness of the other cultures that exist — co-exist with them on this planet, and that certain things go across cultures, and entertainment is one of them. And film and the stories that I tell cut across all cultures, are seen all around the world.”

– quoted from the transcript of “The Mythology of Star Wars, with George Lucas”

### Peace ###

The Force of the Mother May 14, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Super Heroes, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Many blessings to everyone, and especially to anyone Counting the Omer! 

“I’m telling an old myth in a new way. Each society takes that myth and retells it in a different way, which relates to the particular environment they live in. The motif is the same. It’s just that it gets localized.”

– George Lucas (b. 05/14/1944) in the Mythology of Star Wars with George Lucas & Bill Moyers

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms. No matter how you came to be a mom (or what your kiddos call you), you are a powerful force in the world and represent a powerful Force in the world. The Mother archetype is present in every life story, every healing story, and in every religious and cultural story or myth. In the monomyth (or “Hero’s Journey”), the Mother can represent life, death, and time; nurturing, nourishment, and protection; unconditional love, acceptance, and devotion; as well as unselfishness. The Mother can present as the Matriarch, as Mother Nature/Gaia, as a Fairy Godmother, or as a Divine Mother/Goddess. The Mother can be seen as the Good Mother, the Working Mother (which opens up into a whole host of other archetypes), the Stay-at-Home Mother, the Perfect Mother, the Devoted Mother. the Co-Dependent Mother, the Abusive Mother, the Abandoning Mother, the Critical Mother, or the Hovering/Helicopter Mother.

I used the word “or” for the aforementioned archetypal patterns; because, in many stories, maternal figures are often portrayed as one-dimensional. In real life, however, mothers can be more than one thing… simultaneously – and sometimes in ways that may seem contradictory. In real life, mothers are people: they love, they hope, they desire, they fear, and the fit into so many boxes it doesn’t even make sense to put them into a box… let alone to regulate them to a single day.

And yet, here we are… Mother’s Day in the United States.

“I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.”

– quoted from the end of 1876 Sunday school lesson by Ann Reeves Jarvis (words that inspired her daughter Anna Maria Jarvis)

I added that “in the United States,” because for years I willfully ignored the fact that other countries – not to mention, a variety of religions – celebrate Mother’s Day at other times during the year and in very different ways than the way the observation has evolved here in the US. While I don’t know if I will ever go back to teaching on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I will continue to offer the 2020 recordings for those who are on my Sunday mailing list (or who request the recording via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.).

Click here to check out my 2020 blog post about Mother’s Day (which lands in a special way since my mom unexpectedly passed in 2020). For a deeper dive, check out the April 28, 2023 episode of Cautionary Tales with Tim Hartford – The Dark Money Behind Mother’s Day. (This link takes you to the episode on Tim Hartford’s website.)

The Mother’s Day playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify[Look for “Mother’s Day 2020”]

“Leia saw her mother coming through the crowd toward her; those nearby parted before her, clearing a path without Queen Breha having to hold out a hand or say a word. At last, Leia would be able to talk with her mother about what she’d accomplished, about the splendid rescue she’d just completed on a world most people were afraid to even mention, much less visit. Breha Organa would have to talk to her daughter as an equal.”

– quoted from Star Wars: Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray 

Since Mother’s Day falls on George Lucas’s birthday in 2023, I am also sending the Sunday mailing list an opportunity to consider how being a mother is it’s own “Hero’s Journey.” The May 14, 2022, practice does not specifically focus on mothers in movies by George Lucas. However, take note of how motherhood checks all the monomyth boxes, beginning with “The Call” and moving through “The Return.”

You can check out my posts about “the Force” in yoga here and more about using “the Force” in yoga here.

The playlist related to George Lucas and Yoga Sūtra 4.14 is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05142022 That Same Force”]

“‘When last you stood before us, you swore to undertake Challenges of Mind, Body, and Heart. This you have done.’

Leia gripped the hilt even more tightly. ‘How do you judge me, my mother and queen?’

‘I judge that you have completed your three challenges with great strength and even greater spirit. In all ways, you have proved yourself worthy.’ Gesturing for Leia to step closer, Breha rose from her throne.

As Leia ascended the dais to join her parents, she held the Rhindon Sword aloft in one hand. Breha reached up to clasp the hilt along with her: two rulers, not fighting over the symbol of power but sharing its weight.”

– quoted from Star Wars: Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray 

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.

I will be back on schedule (and on Zoom) tomorrow. If you are interested in receiving one of the aforementioned practices, please comment below or email me via myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

### AUM ###

Callings & Purpose-Driven Lives (this is the “missing” Wednesday post) April 9, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag Sameach!” to everyone celebrating Passover and/or Counting the Omer! Blessings to anyone observing Palm Sunday during Great Lent or Easter! “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the holy month of Ramadān.

This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, April 5th. It is a little comparative analysis related to the story of Exodus and the Passion story. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“To refuse the call
means stagnation.

You enter the forest
at the darkest point,
where there is no path.

Where there is a way or path,
it is someone else’s path.

You are not on your own path.

If you follow someone else’s way,
you are not going to realize
your potential.”

– quoted from “In the Field” in A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell (edited by Robert Walter, Conceived by Diane K. Osbon)

Technically speaking, Joseph Campbell was a professor of literature. His Bachelor of Arts degree was in English and his Master of Arts degree was in medieval literature. But, he also studied languages, philosophy, and religion and he became known for his research and teachings about comparative mythology and comparative religion. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces (published in 1949), he theorized that every mythic story (including every folk story and every religious story) in the world was just a variation of a single story: a monomyth. His conclusion was based on shared elements and a common order of events. The order and the elements can be broken down into seventeen (17) stages that fall within three categories.

These categories of separation, initiation, and return – as well as the seventeen stages within – can be found in our lives, just as they are found in the stories that some people commemorate throughout their lives. While I have highlighted all the steps on other occasions,* this year I felt “called” to highlight just a few elements and stages that show up in the stories people commemorate during Holy Week (also known as Passion Week or Great Week) and during Passover. First, we have to identify the hero – which may not always be as obvious as modern movies make it out to be – and, if there is a hero/protagonist, there will be an antagonist (or two) who is often in a position of authority and some kind of confrontation and reckoning. There is also a calling, a purpose – even though the protagonist may not always know it or understand it – and a refusal to answer the call. Then there is some supernatural (or magical) aid; trials and tribulations; a goddess (who represents “all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love”); temptation; apostasis (a death of some kind); and the ultimate boon (something beneficial) that can in some way be shared with the world.

Variations of the details within the following comparison have been posted in different contexts. An index of the earlier posts appears at the bottom of this post.

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.”

– attributed to Stuart Chase

We’ve hit that auspicious and holy time on the calendar(s) when all of the Abrahamic religious traditions (and several traditions outside of those religions) are engaged in sacred celebrations and rituals that are tied to suffering and the end of suffering. Wednesday, April 5, 2023, was a particularly significant time as it simultaneously marked the last week of Lent, which is also Passiontide (in Western Christianity); the penultimate week of Great Lent (in Orthodox Christianity); the beginning of the third week of the holy month of Ramadān (in Islām); and the beginning of Passover (in Jewish communities). Outside of the Abrahamic religions, some communities also started celebrations for Hanuman Jayanti (which was on Thursday).

As I previously mentioned, in reference to a question from my brother, it is not a coincidence that so many holy obligations are happening at the same time even though different faiths use different calendars. While how the holidays overlap on the Gregorian calendar is different from year to year, the fact that they overlap is significant and relevant, because the stories of Exodus and the story of Jesus’ last week are connected –  and, on Wednesday, we focused on some of those connections. Specifically, we focused on the story of Holy/Passion Wednesday, also known as Spy Wednesday during both practices and, during the evening practice, we also focused on the story of Passover, which started on Wednesday at sunset.

Stories (& Back Stories)

“What makes this night different from all [other] nights?
1) On all nights we need not dip even once, on this night we do so twice?
2) On all nights we eat chametz or matzah, and on this night only matzah?
3) On all nights we eat any kind of vegetables, and on this night maror?
4) On all nights we eat sitting upright or reclining, and on this night we all recline?”

– The Four Questions (“Ma Nishtana”)

How is this practice different from all the other practices? Good question. It is a question you can ask before any practice. It is also a question that sounds a lot like “The Four Questions” traditionally asked by the youngest person at a Passover Seder. The word seder is a Hebrew word that means “order” or “arrangement,” and it refers to the ritual feast people in the Jewish community have on the first night of Passover (or first two nights for Orthodox and Conservative communities outside of Israel). The meal is a symbolic celebration of the Exodus story, which is the story of how the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt. Really, the meal is the story – beginning with the questions, which are also symbolic.

Passover, which is also called Pesach and The Feast of Unleavened Bread, is considered a spring festival. In ancient times, it was directly connected to the harvesting and offering of barley – which was the first grain to ripen and harvest in the Holy Land. For seven days (eight days for the Orthodox and Conservative communities, especially in the diaspora), people commemorate the story of Exodus, which is a story of faith. The ritual observation actually begins before the Passover Seder, with the removal of chametz (“leavening”), as it is forbidden to consume, keep, or own chametz during Passover. Some forms or chametz will be burned; other forms can be given away or even sold. Keep in mind that the agents of “rising” or fermentation are not forbidden – in fact, wine is a required part of the celebration. However, the action of rising is symbolic and part of the story (2. where the Jews have to flee so fast their bread doesn’t have time to rise.)

Another part of the story and another ritual that occurs before the Passover Seder is the Fast of the Firstborn, which falls on the day before the evening of the Passover Seder (with adjustments made when Passover begins on a Saturday night – which is the end of the Sabbath). Again, this is a symbolic element of the story as first-born sons (and “newborn” sons) play critical roles in the Exodus story (as you will see below).

The observation of Passover is the link between the two observations, because, historically speaking, Jesus was a Jewish teacher or rabbi, who returned home to Jerusalem for Passover. The Gospel According to Saint John (12:1) is the only New Testament gospel that specifically refers to Passover as a reference point for the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ life. However, all four of the canonical gospels mention preparation for the festival, feast, or first day (depending on the translation) of “Unleavened Bread” and describe a jubilant and memorable moment where Jesus rode into town on a donkey (a symbol of peace) and was greeted by people who honored him by laying down palm fronds (and possibly coats) to cover his path. In Christian communities, Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent and marks Christians’ final preparation for Easter.

The Heroes/Protagonists & Their Callings

“The Lord saw that he had turned to see, and God called to him from within the thorn bush, and He said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am!’”

– Shemot – Exodus 3:4

In some ways, both Moses and Jesus were born to be the heroes. However, to fit Joseph Campbell’s criteria, they must have a “call to adventure:” something that separates them from their mundane, everyday existence and propels them into a mystical experience. The call is the first of three (or four, depending on how you count) stages that mark a separation from community. In some ways, Moses had two separations before he heard the call. In some ways, Jesus was always separated; however, there is a point where he is specifically called out (i.e., betrayed and denied).

According to Shemot / Exodus, an Egyptian pharaoh first oppressed and then enslaved the Jewish people. He also ordered all Hebrew newborn sons to be killed. For a while, the midwives and the Jewish mothers circumvented Pharaoh’s order. Then, he ordered all the newborn sons to be thrown in the river. Jochebed, Moses’ birth mother, hid her son for three months. Then, she very cleverly placed him in a basket in the river and sent her daughter, Miriam, to watch the baby in the basket. When Pharaoh’s daughter scooped up the baby – who she would eventually name “Moses… ‘For I drew him from the water’” – Miriam offered to secure a wet nurse (who was, of course, Jochebed, their mother). In this way, Moses grew up as the Pharaoh’s grandson and, also, grew up knowing he was Jewish. This was the first separation (and the first return).

At the age of 40, Moses stepped in to protect a Jewish man who was being beaten by an Egyptian and had to flee his home. This was the second separation. When he was 80, he received his “calling.” Now, we could say that Moses was called earlier (see earlier separations), but there is no denying what happened when G-d (in the form of the burning bush) commanded him to return to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh about freeing the Jewish people. Because he had lived a lifetime (40 years) and established a home in Midian, the return to Egypt is the second return and the third separation (if you’re counting). Theoretically, Moses was also 80 when he received the Torah, G-d’s truth for his people, and he was 120 when he died – but that’s a story for a different day.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

– quoted from The Gospel According to John (3:16, NIV)

Christians believe that Jesus was born with and for a specific purpose – and that, unlike Moses, he was aware of this purpose and his calling. According to all four canonical gospels of the New Testament, Jesus spent a period of time in the desert and then spent the last week of his life preparing for Passover (and for what he knew was coming, in terms of the Crucifixion and Resurrection). The Gospels also indicate that Jesus spent that time preparing his disciples. Three of the four indicate that what Christians (and artists) refer to as the “Last Supper” was actually a Passover Seder. While most Christians do not have a Passover Seder, they do commemorate this preparation time through the observations of Lent and Great Lent. 

Supernatural/Magical Aid

“And He said, ‘For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’”

– Shemot / Exodus 3:12

“God said to Moses, ‘Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be),’ and He said, ‘So shall you say to the children of Israel, “Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you.’””

– Shemot / Exodus 3:14

According to Joseph Campbell’s paradigm, every hero(ine) encounters a supernatural or magical aid when they begin their journey. This aid often helps navigate the transition between the known and the unknown and also aids in the transition back to the regular world once the mission is complete and the ultimate boon has been acquired/achieved. In the Bible stories, this aid comes in multiple forms. First, aid comes in a purely Spiritual/Divine form – and the hand or power of God (and the Holy Spirit) are explicitly detailed in both stories. Second, aid comes in the form of other people.

Both stories are full of what some might consider coincidences, but they are also full of “open miracles” and signs of the power of God. If we are skeptical, we can ignore Moses’ lineage and consider it a coincidence that he survived Pharaoh’s orders to kill all the newborn Hebrew sons. It may also seem like a wild coincidence that his life unfolded as it did. But, then there’s the burning bush that called him and showed him how his staff could become a snake. There’s also the fact that Aaron received a call to meet his brother Moses. Finally, there are all the different signs that the Pharaoh considered to be nothing more than magic: Aaron’s staff becoming a snake; the Ten Plagues (blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts in the streets, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, day(s) of darkness, and the death of the first born male child); the fact that the tenth plague “passed over” the Jewish people; the fact that the river parted; and, finally, that the people were sustained in the desert. One critical – but not often highlighted – aspect of the Ten Plagues is that they not only started on command, they also ended on command.

In Christianity, Jesus is the supernatural and the aid (as I note below). His very nature is more… super. Throughout the New Testament gospels, the disciples detailed “open miracles” performed by Jesus – especially during the period of time that is commemorated by the Lenten season.

People in both stories were required to have faith in order to be saved and released from their suffering. Faith is, in this case, the magic or supernatural element. Through their faith, Miriam and Aaron served as aids who assisted Moses (as did the Pharaoh’s daughter). Additionally, the people in the Passover story were told that the most have faith and follow the instructions of G-d in order to to be passed over and saved. Remember, not everyone celebrated the first Passover – neither did everyone flee when given the opportunity. The Midrash, talmudic commentary, describes the assistance of Nahshon, who believed that G-d would save the Jewish people and, therefore, waded into the water.

Trials and Tribulations

Passion (noun): 1. [mass noun] strong and barely controllable emotion; 1.2 intense sexual love; 1.3 [in singular] an intense desire or enthusiasm for something; 2. (the Passion) The suffering and death of Jesus.

Origin: Middle English: from Old French; from late Latin passio(n-), from Latin pati- “suffer”

– from Oxford Dictionaries

The first big piece of suffering within the story of Shemot / Exodus is the oppression and enslavement of the Jewish people. Then, there is Pharaoh’s edict. We can debate how much (or little) Moses suffered before he intervened and had to flee; but, there is no question that the Jewish people suffered nine of the Ten Plagues, right along with the Egyptians. In the monomyth outline, the series of trials and tests are challenges one has to overcome in order to be transformed. In the story of Exodus, the Jewish people were told to have faith. Part of that faith involved envisioning, and also celebrating, freedom that had not yet come. That was the whole point of the first Seder, which actually happened before the exodus. The moment when Pharaoh’s heart hardened again, and the Jewish people were stuck between the Egyptian army and the raging water of the sea, is another example of a test.

The trials and tribulations related to Holy/Passion/Great Week are multiple. First, there is the passion (or suffering) associated with Jesus being born into a human body and therefore experiencing the suffering that is associated with being human. Then there is the passion narrative, which is chronicled in the Gospels as the last week of Jesus’ life. Events described as “the Passion of Jesus” and/or as “the Passion of the Christ” may include everything beginning with the events of Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, and the cleansing of the temple all the way through the betrayal, crucifixion, death, and resurrection – or may only include the anointing of Jesus; the Last Supper; the agony of Jesus; the betrayal; and Jesus’ arrest, trials before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate; as well as the crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. To be clear, the passion or suffering described includes that of the disciples and of Mary (his mother) and the other people Jesus met along the Via Dolorosa.

The Goddess(es)

“People often think of the Goddess as a fertility deity only. Not at all—she’s the muse. She’s the inspirer of poetry. She’s the inspirer of the spirit. So, she has three functions: one, to give us life; two, to be the one who receives us in death; and three, to inspire our spiritual, poetic realization.”

– quoted from “Chapter 1. Myth and the Feminine Divine: Th Goddess as Nature” in Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine by Joseph Campbell (edited and with a forward by Safron Rossi, PhD) 

The Goddess of the monomyth is also depicted as the temptress. She represents all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love. It is love that is described as “love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother.” In the story of Exodus, Jochebed, Miriam, all the midwives, and even Pharaoh’s daughter exhibit the characteristics of the goddess. Moses’ wife might also be considered a goddess of the story.

If you think of this type of love in the context of Christianity, you might immediately think of the Virgin Mary – which is fair and true. However, in the context of the Passion Story, there were several women who showed Jesus (and others) great love and compassion. One woman, in particular, is usually unnamed, but she is notable in the Gospels specifically because of the way she loves (and expresses her love) for Jesus – and because her part of the story is critical to the way events unfolded.

In the Gospel According to Luke (7:36 – 50), Jesus was having what might be described as a luxurious dinner (because he was “reclining”) when a woman who had a sinful past washed his feet with her tears and hair. Then, she poured expensive oil from an expensive alabaster jar onto his feet. This incident took place in the home of a Pharisee named Simon and the woman is not identified by name. In the Gospel According to Matthew (26:6 – 13) and the Gospel According to Mark (14:3 – 9) the incident – or a similar incident – took place in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper and the oil is poured over his head (but there there is no mention of tears and hair). Here, again, the woman is not identified; however, all three synoptic gospels indicate that the woman “came,” which could be interpreted as meaning that she did not live in the home.

The indicated timelines, as well as the different locations, also lead some to believe that these may be different events. Some traditions identify the woman (or women) as Mary Magdalene – and that misrepresentation never ends well – but the Gospel According to John (12:1 – 8) is the only account that identifies the woman as someone named Mary. According to John, “Mary” poured the oil on Jesus’ feet and then wiped his feet with her hair. The account does not, however, indicate that she “came” to the home, leading many to believe that she was Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

Jesus ultimately used the washing of his feet as a teaching moment for the disciples; but, first, it was a moment of contention that led to the betrayal. [Insert villain music here.]

The Antagonists

“This is the secret message of judgment Jesus spoke with Judas Iscariot over a period of eight days, three days before he celebrated Passover.

When he appeared on earth, he did signs and great wonders for the salvation of humanity. Some [walked] in the way of righteousness, but others walked in their transgression, so the twelve disciples were called.”

– quoted from The Gospel of Judas, translated by Mark M. Mattison

The Egyptian Pharaoh, with his hardened heart, is undoubtedly the antagonist in the Passover story. He is motivated by power and greed – as is the case with so many villains. It is curious, however, that the passive voice is sometimes used with regard to his hardened heart and that (in Shemot / Exodus 10:1 and 14:17) G-d is clearly the one that hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

The Wednesday of Holy Week, Passion Week, or Great Week is also known as Spy Wednesday. A spy is a person inside a group, organization, or country who collects information so that others can attack, ambush, or otherwise ensnare the group, organization, country and/or the leaders therein. In the Passion story, Judas Iscariot is the spy and the woman washing Jesus’ feet pushed Juda’ buttons, which resulted in him betraying his rabbi and friend.

Several gospels indicate that more than one disciple was upset by the woman’s actions; however, Judas was particularly incensed by the cost of the honor. He was the one who held the purse strings – sometimes, too tightly and too personally – and felt that the cost of the oil and the jar used could have gone to the poor (or, into his own pockets). He was so upset that he decided to betray Jesus. [Insert villain more music here.]

“Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.”

– The Gospel According to Matthew (26:14 – 15, NIV)

When it comes to Judas’ betrayal there are also different accounts. Most people are familiar with the idea that Judas was paid 30 pieces of silver. In the Gospel According to Mark (14:11), the chief priests promised to pay Judas and this is often referenced as “a few pieces of silver.” In two accounts, however, Satan possessed Judas. Yes, that’s right, in the Gospel According to Luke (22:4) and the Gospel According to John (13:27), the devil made him do it. Or, you could look at the devil as a euphemism for his own anger, jealousy, and hubris. It’s also important, I think, to note that in a few places – including at least one gnostic gospel, Judas betrayed Jesus because Jesus told him (Judas) to do so. Which, if you look at it that way, means God gave both men a purpose and a call.

Regardless of why he did it, Judas’ betrayal means that for generation after generation his name is mud. His reputation is smeared. One action made him the ultimate villain, the devil incarnate, and… one of the reasons we have the story. Remember, there is no Easter without the Resurrection. There’s is no Resurrection without the Crucifixion and the Passion. There is no Crucifixion and Passion (or Suffering) without the betrayal. And there is no betrayal without Judas of Iscariot. I’m not saying that he is equal to Jesus. What I am pointing out is that they are both an important part of the story and they are both “sacrificed” because – according to the teachings – “God so loved the world….”


“[[Jesus]] answered and said to them, ‘I’m not laughing at you. You’re not doing this because you want to, but because through this your God [will be] praised.’”

– quoted from The Gospel of Judas, translated by Mark M. Mattison

“Jesus shows us how to face moments of difficulty and the most insidious of temptations by preserving in our hearts a peace that is neither detachment nor superhuman impassivity, but confident abandonment to the Father and to his saving will, bestows life and mercy.”

– excerpt from 2019 Palm Sunday homily by Pope Francis

There are several underlying temptations in the story of exodus, although they are not all explicitly described as temptations. However, if we do a little svādhyāya (“self-study”) and put ourselves in Moses’ shoes, several temptations become obvious. Moses knew his family and his people – he knew he was Jewish – but he was raised in the royal household. He was raised without experiencing some of the direct oppression felt by his family and friends. He is like the Old Testament Buddha, a prince who witnessed the suffering of others. He could have ignored his brothers’ “burdens;” just as he could have ignored the Hebrew man being struck by an Egyptian – and perhaps he was tempted to do so. Furthermore, when he was called by the burning bush, he was fearful, doubtful, and tempted not to answer. We also see temptation in the fact that some enslaved Hebrews stayed in Egypt and others (later) compromised their faith during their exile.

According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as in The Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert praying and fasting. He was also tempted by the devil / Satan. Judas, obviously, fell into temptation when he betrayed Jesus – as did Peter when he denied Jesus three times (according to all four canonical gospels).


“Contrary to what many think or feel, Lent is a time of joy. It is a time when we come back to life. It is a time when we shake off what is bad and dead in us in order to become able to live, to live with all the vastness, all the depth, and all the intensity to which we are called. Unless we understand this quality of joy in Lent, we will make of it a monstrous caricature, a time when in God’s own name we make our life a misery.”

– quoted from “An Introduction to Lent” (dated February 17, 1968) by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Joseph Campbell described a moment of physical and/or spiritual death, which could also be considered as a moment of limbo, abandonment, and/or a moment when the hero is categorically altered. Oddly, it is also described as a state of “divine knowledge, love, compassion, and bliss.” In Shemot / Exodus, G-d specifically told Moses that he (and the Jewish people) would not be abandoned. But, the previously mentioned moments of separation were also times when Moses “died” and was no longer identified in the same way. The Jewish people, themselves, were in a state if limbo before (and just after) their emancipation – but, remember, they were told to celebrate the freedom that had been promised.

Holy Saturday, which is the Saturday before Easter in the Western Christian traditions, is the commemoration of the apostasis in the Passion story. According to the Gospels, Jesus died and rose again – but, there was that moment (or day) of limbo and waiting. That day was (and is) a moment of transcendence, love, compassion, and knowledge – even though everyone was not aware of it at the time.

The Ultimate Boon

“This notion of joy connected with effort, with ascetical endeavour, with strenuous effort may indeed seem strange, and yet it runs through the whole of our spiritual life, through the life of the Church and the life of the Gospel. The Kingdom of Gd is something to be conquered. It is not simply given to those who leisurely, lazily wait for it to come. To those who wait for it in that spirit, it will come indeed: it will come at midnight; it will come like the Judgement of God, like the thief who enters when he is not expected, like the bridegroom, who arrives while the foolish virgins are asleep.”

– quoted from “An Introduction to Lent” (dated February 17, 1968) by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

A boon is, literally, a favor or request. It is something helpful or beneficial. It can also be seen as a reward or prize. Ultimately, however, it is grace. In the biblical stories, that grace is the promise of salvation. The overall message – of the existence and power of the Divine and of God’s love – can also be considered the ultimate boon in both the Exodus story and the Passion story.

More specifically, freedom (first from the suffering of slavery) and the freedom to worship according to their faith and culture are the ultimate boon for Moses, the Jewish people in the Exodus story, and for the modern Jewish communities. Remember, however, that Exodus story as commemorated by the observation of Passover is just one part of a larger story. In fact, on the second night of Passover, some people begin Counting the Omer – which is a 49-day period of prayer the culminates with Shavout (also known as Shavuos), which is the “Feast of Weeks” and the anniversary of the revelation of the Torah: another boon.

For Jesus, the apostles, and for the modern Christian communities, the ultimate boon is (again) freedom from suffering and the ability worship according to their faith and culture. Additionally, for Christians, there is the belief that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (as well as belief in the Divinity of Jesus) delivers everlasting life. In this way, Jesus himself is the ultimate boon – because he is the Christian Messiah. Dogmatically speaking, the concept of a Messiah originated within Judaism and included specific qualifications for how the Messiah would be identified. According to Judaism, Jesus does not meet the criteria; for Christians he does. Therefore, for Christians, faith in Jesus as the Messiah is the “ticket to heaven” (because his crucifixion and resurrection are considered the Ultimate Boon).

“‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’”

– The Gospel According to John (13:34 – 35, KJV)

Wednesday (4:30) afternoon’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Spy Wednesday 2022”]

Wednesday (7:15) evening’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “03312021 Spy Wednesday + Passover”]


Here is a partial list of some of the original posts related to the Lenten seasons, Passover, and Easter. (Most of these are Wednesday posts.)

April 12, 2020 – Down the Rabbit Hole, On the 12th

April 16, 2020 – The Cost of Freedom

March 28, 2021 – Questions of Faith

April 14, 2022 – How You Use Your Power Matters

April 22, 2022 – Remembering Rachel’s Challenge, Especially When You’re Suffering

*NOTE: I have several “missing” posts that are still draft mode, but I plan to post them later this year (and may add links accordingly).