Children in our culture find it easier than adults to understand myths. Ask them sometime about the scene in the movie "Lion King" in which Timmon, Pumba and Simba are lying face up looking at the stars, wondering what they are.

Timmon, the meercat, says, "They're fireflies that have been trapped in that black stuff." The warthog Pumba responds, "They're balls of exploding gases, millions of miles away."

After a pause, Simba, the future lion king, repeats what his father had taught him about the stars when we was a small cub: "They're our ancestors looking own on us, making sure we're behaving right."

Good myths

Simba hesitated to share his belief with his friends because he knew he was running away from his responsibilities. His ancestors wouldn't have been very proud of him. Though Pumba's answer was scientifically correct, it didn't affect anyone's behavior. Of the three, Simba's "mythical" explanation was the only definition that touched anyone's life. A good myth always does.

The authors of Scripture use myths because they're in the business of moving people's hearts. Myths are one of the best ways to accomplish this. But as we saw above, a myth doesn't have to be historically or scientifically true in order for it to be personally true.

To help celebrate its 150th anniversary in 1968, St. Louis University flew in Scripture scholar Father Roland De Vaux for a key address. His topic revolved around the question: "Was Abraham a real, historical person?" De Vaux's scholarly conclusion: "We don't know!"

For those who take Sunday's first reading (Gen 12:1-4) literally, De Vaux's "definite maybe" could be unnerving. But to those who interpret the four verses as a biblical myth, the narrative of Abraham's call is personally and deeply true. We know it's true because we experience the same things when God calls us.

First, God's call always involves leaving "the land of (our) kinsfolk and (our) parents' house," and setting out for a "land" we've never before experienced. We're to trust only in God, not in places, things or people which have given us security in the past.

Second, no one is ever too young or too old to be called. (Seventy-five years are nothing in God's eyes!!)

Finally, each of us knows down deep that, like Abraham, if we generously answer God's call, God will generously bless us and all who related to us.

True at root

If we listen to Matthew's story of Jesus' Transfiguration through the same mythic filter, we'll see how its truthfulness also is rooted in our own faith experiences (Mt 17:1-9).

The important line is, "When they looked up, they did not see anyone but Jesus." This is Matthew's way of assuring his readers that any insight into Jesus' true personality and importance isn't a permanent possession. Just as the Transfiguration gave Peter, James and John a glimpse of Jesus as the God many Jews were expecting to come and set things straight, such glimpses don't last very long.

At times, we'll realize this "ordinary" individual is someone extraordinary. He's really the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures (Moses and Elijah). He's actually the reason the Feast of Booths was celebrated. He's God's unique Son.

But because such insights spring from our belief in His Resurrection, like all faith-insights, they're not permanently burned into our minds. They come and go.

As the disciple of Paul who wrote II Timothy reminds us (II Tim 1:8-10), the pain of insecurity that both Abraham and Jesus' disciples experienced is part of the "hardship which the Gospel entails." None of us deserves the grace-filled calls we receive from God. But once we step on God's road, we also step into the immortal life which Jesus and all God's followers experienced.

I suspect myth-oriented children will always better understand and appreciate Scripture than reality-oriented adults.

(02-25-99)