Reflections by Jerry Webber

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Inner Freedom: Turning Sideways into the Light

I've done some reading about the Tuatha De Danann, an ancient tribe out of Irish mythology, whose lore has significantly shaped the Irish people. One part of the myth is especially appealing to me.

[Note: I realize that most often the words "myth" or "mythology" are used to suggest things we consider to be untrue, as in, "That's just a myth." In fact, a secondary dictionary definition says that mythology refers to something many people believe to be true, but in fact is not. Actually, however, myth and mythology speak to that which is perennially true about the human condition. Greek mythology, for example, is intended to speak to who we are as humans, why we are the way we are, and how we came to be as we are. The same might be said of other traditions of mythology. I confess that I've learned these things from my two English-teacher children, who have taught me more about the great mythological traditions that I ever picked up in high school or college English courses.]

My interest in the Tuatha De Danann mostly has revolved around their final battle with the Milesians, a more violent tribe seeking to acquire the land of the Tuatha De Danann. In earlier battles, the two tribes fought using magical powers, with neither tribe able to gain the upper hand. The way many Irish storytellers spin the final battle, the Milesians finally defeat the Tuatha De Danann on the field of combat and then consign them to the underworld, where they became fairies.

But there is another version of this final battle that catches my attention. According to this particular legend, the Tuatha De Danann were a colorful people, an artistic people, a generally peaceful people not given to combat. So in that last battle, as the Milesians gathered to fight and then charged the Tuatha De Danann, the Tuatha De Danann refused to fight. Rather, they "turned sideways into the light" and disappeared into the underworld.

I'm intrigued that there are different versions of the story, different interpretations of the myth. With a certain mind or outlook, you can argue that the Tuatha De Danann were defeated, that they lost on the field of battle and thus were punished with banishment to the underworld.

But with another mind, you can say they "turned sideways into the light" and disappeared. In other words, they declined to fight on the terms of those who opposed them. In a sense, they chose an imaginative option as a way of engaging their situation. They turned sideways into the light and engaged on their own terms, in a way that was consistent with who they were, congruent with their own interior makeup.

I'll confess that most often I don't feel that I have a choice but to engage on the field of battle laid out for me . . . to fight or to engage according to the norms of society, culture, workplace, or religious assumption . . . as if I were compelled toward a certain action or stance. When this happens within me, I may have the feeling of being trapped, of being in a corner with limited options. I might say something like, "I have no choice," or "I couldn't help it," or "I have to do this!" or "I'm supposed to do this or that." For any of our actions that have the sense of "supposed to" or "ought, must, should" about them, it is worth asking yourself, "Who said so?" Or, "Who created this expectation?"

I know how easy it is to get into a place that seems confining, with little option but to engage in constraining ways. In some respects, it is simply easier to fight the Milesians on their own terms.

I'll grant that there are realms where we truly have few options . . . IF we want to remain a part of that realm. The workplace, for example, is likely a place where someone else has established the rules of engagement. You may not have the option of "turning sideways into the light" and still remain a part of that particular body. Your employment may depend on engaging according to the norms of that particular place. Creativity or imaginative thinking may not be encouraged or accepted.

In most realms of life, though, there are in fact many, many possibilities -- "with God all things are possible" the angels continually announce throughout the biblical witness -- and the sense we have of being trapped, of being forced or compelled into one stance or another is more likely a matter of our own inner freedom . . . or lack thereof. We are simply not free enough inwardly to make the hard choice, or to take the creative stance, or to imagine a possibility that has yet to be seen.

This is the long, strenuous work of inner freedom . . . to discern our own interior, to know our own interior makeup . . . and thus to be free within our own depths to respond to God, self, others, and the world in a way that is life-giving, merciful, peace-making, and compassionate.

The Tuatha De Danann were almost sure to be defeated by the Milesians on the battlefield. Rather than engage in a traditional, acceptable way, they chose to engage in an imaginative way that was consistent with who they were, with their core ethos. While some Irish storytellers name this "defeat," I would argue that doing so is not defeat, but wisdom and creative imagination and the inner freedom to engage the world out of our truest and deepest center.

1 comment:

Clay Giddens said...

As an old preacher once said, "they can't get your goat if you don't have one for them to get."
We choose the battles and the battlefields of life. Jesus chose the cross rather than the easy path of miracles, popularity and compromise. Many saw the result as agony and death while the reality for many became victory and life. In His will and presence (not ours) we "Fear Not" and trusting in Him brings an easy yoke and a light burden.