A Journey of a Thousand Miles
- a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.
- any invented story, idea, or concept.
- an imaginary or fictitious thing or person.
- an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution. 
In Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he combines understandings of comparative mythology with contemporary psychology to describe universal components that not only explain a hero’s journey, but the journey of the society in which they are in. Campbell weaves these consistent threads through exploration of several components, all of which have an innate mystery embedded. Influential in popular storytelling such as Star Wars, it is hard to unsee the commonalities when looking at mythologies once he explains them.
For me, Campbell writes in an academic manner that I can tend to get lost in, but I also do not naturally gravitate towards the mythologies or science fiction genres in books or entertainment. At the same time, I’m not sure if it’s due to being a follower of Jesus, but I have a comfortability level with mystery and knowing that not everything will have a rational or demonstrable explanation. There are many things that I simply tell myself and others that I will not understand this side of Heaven. I’m grateful for biblical scholars and academics that are wired in a way to dig deep and understand concepts, illustrations, and allegory in a way that I simply do not. I’m fascinated by perspectives and teaching on such mysteries found in books such as Revelation but can also walk away from a teaching with a desire to search more during my own study time while content with the unknown. Perhaps it is my naiveté or simply how I was created, but I take great joy in connecting with the Father who I cannot fully comprehend. His vastness is much too large, and for me, there is security in that.
While Campbell refers to biblical stories such as the unimaginable hardships Job faced and Mary with the virgin birth, he delves into so many other mythological characters that have come from all areas of the world that reflect just as many different people groups, cultures, and societies. And yet, common to them all are these twelve components of the journey which begin with the call towards adventure and conclude with identifying areas of transformation. While a heavy read, it is fascinating to see how these components play out in not just stories, but in each individual and their given societal context. As the popular Chinese proverb states: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I’m taking the stance that taking the next step rather than trying to understand the mystery before I move will yield a better outcome in the end, and likely along the way too.
A few questions that emerge for me as I explore this text are:
- As followers of Christ, how do we embark on the journey without trying too hard to control it along the way?
- As leaders, how to we encourage movement for those around us that may be stuck in one specific area and the journey appeared stalled?
- As disciples, how to we live in such a way the embraces the mystery of Christ without falling into escapism (not facing present realities by simply saying it’s a mystery)?
 Dictionary.com, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/myth
8 responses to “A Journey of a Thousand Miles”
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Wow, that first question is a punch in the spiritual gut. Not only do we need to consider how controlled we want the journey, but just how non-unexpected we want it. And yet, are we all that surprised if we have not grown or gained something along the way when we refuse to go into the cave of our great fear.
Kayli, thanks for your penetrating questions. I, like you, also wrote some about the mystery of a relationship with God. When I first began to follow Jesus, it felt like that relationship was completely definable – believe these things and do these things while avoiding those things. The longer I live in relationship with God, the more I’m convinced it more “art” than “science.” In other words, it’s embracing the mystery that comes with a God infinitely beyond our categories. In your opinion, do you think the church in America helps new followers of Jesus to answer your questions, especially #1 and #3?
Thanks Roy. I wish there were a simple answer to your question. I think the larger challenge is the lack of unity within and among the church doesn’t offer a comprehensive answer. I have seen some churches address these questions with believers in really formative and positive manners and others either not address it or dismiss the notion as mystery is often too hard to explain in a manner that we can comprehend.
Kayli, I greatly appreciate how you wrestle with the question of journeying with Jesus, without controlling the outcome. Indeed, we often have to make peace with the need for childlike faith in a culture driven by an urge for rational answers. May every step of your 1000 miles be filled with the conviction that you’re following the greatest hero of all time and may that catalyze the journeys of many emerging leaders.
Thank you, Kayli, for your summary of Campbell’s book, and for sharing the questions it left you pondering. This sentence of your’s caught my eye: “I’m taking the stance that taking the next step rather than trying to understand the mystery before I move will yield a better outcome in the end, and likely along the way too.” It reminded me of one of the things I have learned from our church partners in Iraq. They often say to me as they live in the midst of so much human-created chaos (from war and geo-politics) that they simply listen for the next ‘yes’ from Christ’s Spirit and then seek to step into that ‘yes.’ Their posture has helped me learn how to better take that journey of 1,000 miles one step at a time, knowing that the next steps remain shrouded in mystery and are not mine to control. But I can be faithful to moving into the next ‘yes’ that becomes clear.
What are you seeing and hearing from students about the place of mystery in life? And how do they distinguish honoring mystery from escapism? How do you hold this in tension in your own journey?
“For me, Campbell writes in an academic manner that I can tend to get lost in, but I also do not naturally gravitate towards the mythologies or science fiction genres in books or entertainment.” Amen, sister! Glad I am not alone in this struggle!!
I appreciate your questions as well. In light of the book, and the challenge a read such as Campbell’s is for me, I am also challenged to ask myself:
– What are the principles Campbell is seeing and writing about that I should give consideration to? And what are the ways in which the gospel sheds light to these narratives he is witnessing?
I loved your three thoughtful questions you pose at the end of your essay. Regarding your first question, I had to learn that there will always be mystery and the unknown as an adult. I thought I would grow out of that stage as a college student, but it never goes away. God wants us to be dependent on him and that means there will be uncertainty. That takes faith and that is the key and it gives room for God to move. But the lesson is learned in the University of Life; there is no other way.
Kayli, I too found the book a challenge. I am guessing that is the very reason Jason suggested we read reviews and summaries.
I appreciate your passion around mystery of God. Mystery is exciting! Being at peace with not having full answers is a beautiful way to engage the relationship with God.
If you were to differentiate Campbell’s hero journey from the Christian journey what would you detail?