Just as the body needs food, so the soul needs meaning, and the spirit needs ultimate meaning. Often that meaning is communicated through story. The function of all mythologies, religion, and even family lore is to help us situate ourselves inside of a safe and meaningful universe. This week’s meditations focus on a “Cosmic Egg of Meaning” inside of which people can find their rest and happiness. The image I’ve used in numerous books, and first learned from Joseph Chilton Pearce (1926‒2016), to describe this “Cosmic Egg” is that of three overlapping domes.
The Cosmic Egg image showing The Story on most external, Our Story in the middle, and My Story on the inner most area.
The smallest dome of meaning is my private world of interests. We can call it “My Story,” where we proudly proclaim, “This is me!” No people in history, up until the last forty years or so (particularly in the United States), have had the language or the freedom for this level of personal meaning. My Story is full of subjective, interpersonal, psychological, and self-help language. It’s the vernacular of talk shows, blogs, and social media. I’m not criticizing it; in fact, it has its origins in Christian history with Augustine’s sophisticated Confessions (4th century). This language does answer a lot of questions, so it’s understandable that we revel in it. It is very good, as far as it goes. The trouble is that it is so rich it can become a substitute for true transcendence. My Story is not yet totally The Story.
There is a second and larger dome of meaning that encloses the first. I call this “Our Story,” where we declare, “This is us!” This is where most people in all of human history have lived their lives: identifying completely with their ethnicity, their gender, their group, their religion, and their occupations. The biblical tradition honors both of these domes of meaning and takes each of them seriously. Though it doesn’t name them as such, My Story and Our Story are both part of the narrative. The life of the individual and the life of the nation of Israel are both arenas for God’s action, but religious traditions affirm that they are connected to something Infinite, too.
The third dome of meaning that encloses the two smaller ones is “The Story.” By this, we are referring to the patterns that are always true—beyond anecdote and my cultural history. The biblical tradition takes all three levels seriously: My Story, Our Story, and The Story. Biblical revelation says that the only way we can move to The Story and understand it with any depth is to walk through and take responsibility for both our personal story and our group story. Anything less we now call “spiritual bypassing.” This is quite common among many fundamentalist groups—jumping to spiritual answers or theology without any honest self-knowledge or knowledge of history. We’ve got to listen to our own experience, to our own failures, to our own sin, to our own gifts and calls. Plus, we have to recognize that we’re a part of history, a part of a culture, a religious group, a nationality, a gender, for good and for bad. When all three domes of meaning are deemed worthy of love and attention, we probably have a rather mature spiritual person.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 22, 24.