At the outset of the Grail story, our hero Percival is a young man who has always wanted to be a Knight, but his mother forbade it. One night Percival hears the call nonetheless, and leaves his mother and everyone & everything he knows, to venture into the Forest and follow his Call — his Quest.
There is a normalcy and security in living in his mother's house and the village, yet our young Knight-to-be quietly turns his back on all of that and ventures into Mystery.
There's a mythology in our culture that "all men are created equal" — but we're not. We are each of us the result of the roll of the genetic dice — over which we had no control, and the environment in which we were raised — over which we also had no control. The vast majority of who I am is the result of forces — of genes and upbringing, of 'nature' and 'nurture' — over which I had no say whatsoever.
To be sure some few are able to rise dramatically above their natal state. They are few. So, using the metaphor of the Grail story, most won't voluntarily leave their "mother's house." But a few will.
Meanwhile, there's another variant of the Quest story, namely the "Hero's Journey" as outlined by Joseph Campbell in his landmark book Hero with a Thousand Faces. In his book Campbell shows how the archetypal story of the "Hero's Journey" appears in various cultures around the world and across the ages, and although the details vary, these stories share a common underlying structure.
In the archetypal Hero's Journey, the hero generally doesn't set out on his quest voluntarily: some catastrophe happens, and the hero is dragged sometimes literally kicking and screaming into Mystery.
- The Greek goddess Persephone was picking flowers in a field when a cleft in the earth opened and Hades carried her into the underworld.
- Moses was minding his own business tending his sheep when a Burning Bush calls him to Mystery. Moses does his best to get out of it, but YHWH just won't take 'no' for an answer.
- Someone suffers a serious car crash or some other major personal tragedy, and the trajectory of their lives is dramatically altered forever.
- In my case, a 16-year-old me came home from a piano lesson to find police and paramedics parked in front of my house. "Looks like your little brother just offed himself with a rifle."
And so the Journey begins.
So here you are — you now find yourself on a Quest whether you liked it (voluntary) or not (involuntary). Either way, once you venture into the Mysterious Forest — or are dragged into it — there's no going back.
The thing about these Quests is that not everyone survives. Not everyone finds their way out of Hades. How many people, unlike Siddhartha, have looked on the suffering of humanity and instead crawled into booze and never come out? How many car crash survivors, or suicide survivors, have never been able to find their way back to Wholeness? How many knights ventured off in pursuit of the Grail, and never returned?
But those who do find their way out of their 'Hades' inevitably have gifts and insights for the rest of us, which they couldn't have found any other way. This is a key part of Campbell's archetypal Hero's Journey. Sometimes those gifts are enormous: the Buddha shows the rest of humanity the way to Serenity. Usually those gifts aren’t nearly so far-reaching: the car crash survivor has a profound realization about what is really important in life and acts on it — their focus, for example, changes from a relentless pursuit of money at all costs to a deep devotion to family, or a different and more soulful career path altogether. Great or small, where would humanity be without these Gifts down through the ages?
I might point out that a foundational theme of Christianity is ‘Grace’. The Greek word for ‘grace’ (the New Testament was written in Greek) is χαρις (KHAR-is) which is more generally translated ‘gift’. So according to Christianity, God’s great gift to humanity was not some cheap salad shooter easily tossed in a box and wrapped in paper, it was His own Son dying a hideous death on the cross. Which is yet one more example of how the Real Gifts, the ones that make a difference, are bought at great price.
Whether your Quest is largely on the sunlit paths of the day, or the shadowy paths of the night, all Pilgrims share too many of the same challenges. And that is what this website is all about.