In this Sunday’s Gospel there is a small phrase with, may I suggest, huge meaning.
The Gospel (John 6: 24 – 35), speaks of the crowd, “got into the boats and found him on the other side.”
I think I can safely say that the phrase is indicative of a journey from one side of the lake to the other. And maybe that motif is being asked of each of us, namely ‘to cross over’ to find him on the other side.
When we consider the First Reading for this Sunday (Ex. 16: 2 – 4, 12 – 15), this is precisely the situation of the Israelites. They have ‘crossed over’ the Red Sea and are in the desert, wandering and complaining, wanting to return to Egypt!
The motif of crossing over and entering the wilderness has been described by the author Joseph Campbell as The Hero’s Journey.
In his study of different cultures, Campbell found an amazingly similar motif played out in the culture’s foundational story, and while details altered (for example the threshold might be a river, a sea, a forest, a mountain range) the fundamentals were unerringly similar.
In our First Reading this Sunday, for example, the threshold for the Israelites was the Red Sea, which they ‘crossed over’.
They are now in the wilderness (the desert) and are being confronted by a demon (hunger, and more importantly the memory of Egypt [remember their place of captivity!], and a belly full of food).
George Lucas attributes the Hero’s Journey motif as his inspiration for the block-buster movie, Star Wars.
Anyone familiar with the Lord of the Rings trilogy will be aware of Bilbo taking his hat and walking stick, saying goodbye to his home as he leaves the Shire, and singing, The Walking Song, “The road goes ever on and on . . .”
However, the journey is not confined to Luke Skywalker, Bilbo Baggins, the people of Israel, or some ancestral figure.
Each of us is a hero or heroine, and each of us takes that journey.
Each of us leaves home, that place of nurture, nourishment, warmth and security, and sets out (eg the first day of school, moving to a new place for further study or work, the great OE, marrying and setting up a home with a partner.
In fact, each new day is a hero/heroine journey – we have not been there before!).
I invite you spend some time with the schema and with your own story, and while this may be stretching the analogy just a bit far (who knows?) when we return home, or to that new place we will have, in the words of St Paul in the Second Reading, “put away the old self, and taken on the new.” (Eph. 4: 17, 20 – 24)