Bede Griffiths on Myth and History Marrying

We are meditating on contemporary mystics who shed light on the deeper meaning of Christmas and the birthing of a “New Normal.”  The festival of Christmas abounds in rich stories of cosmology and the birth of the Christ in us. 

“Портрет о. Беды Гриффитса ” (Father Bede Griffiths, OSB CAM) Image by Maria Zakharova. Wikimedia Commons.

Father Bede Griffiths, OSB, says that “In Jesus myth and history meet.”  What does that mean?   

Myth reveals the ultimate meaning and significance of life but it has no hold on history and loses itself in the world of imagination. History of itself, as mere succession of events, has no meaning. . . . When historical events are seen to reveal the ultimate significance of life, then myth and history meet.

What happens next?  Man discovers his real nature and knows himself as a son of God. The divine and the human meet “without separation and without confusion.”  Once again, our being born as sons/daughters of God arises.*

Stories of the Christmas so captured the imagination of people because they tap into deep archetypes. Consider the animals at the manger, the stars leading the magi, the announcement to the shepherds. The Jesus story unleashed many mythical stories that speak deeply to the human heart and the human condition.

Even from birth, Jesus was seen as a threat to Rome: ‘Scène du massacre des Innocents’ Léon Cogniet Wikimedia Commons [Public domain]

But history also counts in the Jesus story: His taking on the imperial powers of Rome through his preaching of the “Kingdom of God in contrast to the Kingdom of the Roman Empire” led to his crucifixion. Bede reminds us that when myth and history meet, “man discovers his real nature and knows himself as a son of God” and this is where “the divine and the human meet.” Incarnation happens.   

Myth always has an important role to play in human affairs and self-awareness.  Indeed, psychologist Rollo May says “myth is the foundation of values and ethics.”  Thus when human myths collapse, so often does our agreement on common values. 

Father Bede puts it this way:

Myth is the poetic expression of a mystical experience. Myths can only be understood as poetry. They spring from the depths where man encounters the ultimate mystery of existence and interprets it in poetic form. 

Actor/musician Charles Spicer reads a passage by the medieval monk The Venerable Bede (672-735 C.E.) on the brevity and mystery of life. Uploaded to YouTube by Time Spanner Movies.

Myth is a kind of communal poetry.  It helps make a community of us. 

Maybe so much of our culture is divided today because we have lost common myths and common stories that help guide our moral decision-making.

Father Bede recognizes “language, ritual, and social organization” as “poetic forms” meant to “express this experience.”

Would it follow that to renew religion and culture is to return to mystical experience and to alter forms of language, ritual and social organization accordingly? To invite the poetry out of people’s hearts and the poet into the heart of a community’s education?  

“Praise in a Cosmic Mass” Photo by Kathryn Gaughan, Washington National Cathedral. Used with permission.

So often religion and culture choose instead to re-entrench its social organization, make walls of orthodoxy ever thicker, deepen slight differences into moats, ignore common myths, put technology and science forward as the exclusive avenue to a common goal serving the common good.  In these ways, community dies.

*Bede Griffiths, Return to the Center (Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1977), 78.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, pp. 259f. 

And Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp. 435f.

Banner Image: Hands at the Cuevas de las Manos upon Río Pinturas, near the town of Perito Moreno in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Picture taken in 2005 by Mariano. On Wikimedia Commons.

What follows from Rollo May’s observation that myth is the foundation of values and ethics?  Can we find common myths that unite and inspire us in today’s world?

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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4 thoughts on “Bede Griffiths on Myth and History Marrying”

  1. Avatar

    Dear Matthew, thank you so much for your wisdom inspiration openness and compassion. a couple of days ago I listened to you talking on Buddha at the Gas pump , I felt such relief listening to you , and while my husband and I were watching I saw a beautiful white star like light expand and contract in our room, followed by smaller coloured lights which I felt where the presence of angels, last year at the age of 53 , I was baptised in England ( I am English)just before the pandemic, so after watching you on Buddha at the Gas pump , and seeing angels in our room while you were talking I thought you were the perfect person to ask a certain question, the next morning, which was yesterday 28th of December , I playfully formulated in my mind the question I wanted to ask you, which was about the phrase “only son of God” …… I picked up my laptop found your website for the first time, and went to daily meditations, and to my surprise you had written that very day about being a son and daughter of God as I read it I realised you were answering the very question I wanted to ask you ! I just wanted to share that with you as a thank you and a wonderment to the beauty and awe of God . I hope you get to read this message, sent with much love and gratitude, from Adina, ps sorry for the spelling and punctuation mistakes.

  2. Avatar

    Your meditation strikes a chord deep inside which leads me to think again about writing my next book with the title The Desocialization of America. Specifically it is your reference to technology, and in particular cell phones. How ironic it is that you walk into a restaurant and out of the four people sitting in a booth together three have their cells phones out and so called communicating with others and not those sitting directly with them.

  3. Avatar

    Would it follow that to renew religion and culture is to return to mystical experience and to alter forms of language, ritual and social organization accordingly? To invite the poetry out of people’s hearts and the poet into the heart of a community’s education?

    Yes Matt.

    Along with your books, I have always loved THE MYSTIC HEART Discovering A Universal Spirituality In The World’s Religions by Wayne Teasdale. Teasdale studied under Griffiths in India and ran his foundation. Fox and Teasdale explain this Universalism. We all meet in what has been called The Higher Mind.

  4. Avatar

    “When I turn back beyond my senses and reason and pass through the door into eternal life, I discover my true Self, then I begin to see the world as it really is.” Bede Griffiths

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