DLGP

Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Please Tell Me We Are Returning From the Veil of the Unknown

Written by: on November 11, 2021

Throughout oral and written storytelling, the most widely favored tales follow the hero’s journey, whether the story is about Gilgamesh, Skywalker, Alice Kingsleigh, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Elizabeth Bennet, Dorothy, or Bilbo Baggins. In Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” the comparative mythologist defines a hero as someone who has given themselves over for something bigger than themselves.

According to Campbell, the hero follows a three-part journey called a monomyth [1. Separation, 2. Initiation, 3. Return] that follows twelve steps. [1]  At the beginning of the journey, the hero is presented with a call to adventure, challenging him to face something called “the veil of the unknown.” Campbell wrote that this is a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage, the danger fades. [2] If the hero is willing to overcome her fears and refusal of the call to step into uncertainty, she will need a sage to guide her to cross the veil and commit to the journey. 

As Campbell tracks the hero’s journey, he also asks the reader to consider why all cultures across time have written about and told stories on the hero. Why do all these stories connect so deeply to our souls? According to Campbell, the hero’s journey is an opportunity for self-reflection and inspiration, showing us who we are capable of being and what we are capable of doing.

As I reflect on organization leadership, specifically during this pandemic, it feels like we all have been asked to join an impossible quest of a continuous veil of the unknown. I thought I was an adaptable leader. I thought I had faced uncertain situations. And yet, this pandemic has rattled my ordinary way of thinking. 

I find myself asking, how comfortable am I with the unknown and uncertainty? I have always loved a good challenge and adventure, but this feels completely different. And I wonder what part of the monomyth my organization is on at this stage of this experience. Lord only knows that I hope we have made our way through the innermost cave, faced off against the supreme ordeal, and waiting to receive our gift or boon[3]

As an organization, we have spent a great deal of time over the last six months reflecting on what we have learned through this pandemic experience. I’m reminded of what Campbell argued when he wrote that the hero has the ultimate difficult task, “How render back into light-world language the speech-defying pronouncements of the dark? How translate into terms of “yes” and “no” revelations that shatter into meaninglessness every attempt to define the pairs of opposites? How to communicate to people who insist on the exclusive evidence of their senses the message of the all-generating void?”[4]

Like the hero that has experienced the great quest and returned home to tell about it, the organizations we have led through this perilous journey will never be the same. But what do we do with this experience? How do we use the knowledge gained? How do we leverage the reward of making it to help sustain us for the future? What is the next cave we fear to enter? 

While Campbell’s book can be used by great storytellers to sketch out the elements that make for a good tale, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” is a helpful resource for those wanting to understand the emotional and psychological dynamics of facing uncertainty and the unknown.

[1] Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (California: New World Library, 2008), pg 28.

[2] Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (California: New World Library, 2008), pg 30. 

[3] Ibid, pg 30. 

[4] Ibid, 188-189. 

About the Author

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Andy Hale

CBF Podcast Creator and Host, Senior Pastor of University Baptist Church (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), & Professional Coach

10 responses to “Please Tell Me We Are Returning From the Veil of the Unknown”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Andy, wow, your pastoral journey through the pandemic sounds VERY familiar! You mention reflection about what has been learned – if you’re willing to share any of those conclusions, I’d love to see them. In what ways can help our church members/attenders to better trust God in the unknown?

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Andy: This makes me think of an interview I saw with Will Smith this week in which he was asked what his favorite films to make have been. He references Campbell and this book and how influential it has been in developing the movies that have been more of the blockbuster hits over time. As your reflecting on your pastoral journey in this post, it makes me wonder if the themes Campbell points out hold true beyond just storytelling and entertainment and cross into other vocations. While the goal may be different, I’d imagine that the pandemic alone has been an invitation into an ‘adventure’ as you’ve led your church.

  3. Elmarie Parker says:

    Andy, thank you so very much for your blog and for sharing the impact of Campbell’s writing on your reflections as a leader and on your organization’s journey during this time of pandemic. As you’ve been reflecting these past 6 months together, is anything beginning to take shape in the mist to respond to the tremendous questions you ask (What do we do with this experience? How do we use the knowledge gained? How do we leverage the reward of making it to help sustain us for the future? What is the next cave we fear to enter?)?

    The quote you include from Campbell about the challenges of communicating these lessons is so on the mark for what faces all of us going forward. Thank you for highlighting that.

    If you had to hazard a guess as to where your organization is on Campbell’s hero-journey trajectory, where would you place it?

    • mm Andy Hale says:

      If this were The Lord of the Rings, we are on our way back to Hobbiton after the crowing of the king at Minas Tirith, believing that our adventures are over, only to find there is still a fight left to give.

      UBC has done remarkable throughout this pandemic, especially our leadership. There has been a strong sense of togetherness. Our return visit home is re-engaging those who disconnected over the last 19-months and creating moments of intersection that remind people of the viability of church engagement in their lives.

      • Elmarie Parker says:

        I love the connection you make between UBC’s journey and Lord of the Rings (one of my favorite hero journey stories as well). I look forward to hearing what you all learn as you invite people to remember the gift of being in-person with each other again.

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Excellent commentary and reflections regarding the book and your current place of leadership.

    As you have thought about what you have learned, and how you have had to adapt (or see that you need to adapt), what are some of those big takeaways?

    • mm Andy Hale says:

      Eric, the answer to that is a whole essay. But if I had to pick one to highlight, I’d say how to lead people through adaptability. I’ve always been an adaptable leader. However, I’m not sure if I have done the best at leading others through necessary adaptability. What has paved the way for this is the mutual respect and trust that has been built among our church leaders and me.

  5. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Andy: I had a feeling you would love this book, but I didn’t think about how to interpret this book in light of an organization, like you did. You bring up some good points about how a group can take the Hero’s Journey just like an individual does. Both have to face uncertainty and the unknown as you bring out. When I was young, I thought only teenagers and college students had to live with uncertainty, but it never goes away. As adults we have to learn to live with it and make peace with it because it is in those areas that God works.

  6. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Andy I think the pastors here feel your struggle! I know I do. The pandemic has indeed plunged the church into trial/tests….and I am thinking there are still more to come. The PTSD of this experience will reverberate for awhile,
    As you continue your reflection on your leadership how would you compare Friedman’s approach to what the Hero’s Journey leadership would be especially in the midst of an anxious system?

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