All Heroes Are Super
When most people think of what it means to be a “superhero,” images of supernatural abilities come to mind. In the first talk of the September Superhero Series, Rev. Joanne reminds us of the well-known catch phrase, “Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Superman!”
Comic book heroes may have made their debut in the twentieth century, but the idea of beings having abilities beyond those of ordinary people, who will “save the day,” is very ancient. The Odyssey of Homer dates from approximately 800 B.C. and the Epic of Gilgamesh dates from approximately 2,100 B.C. Going back even further to our pre-literate ancestors, we see “heroic” cave paintings going back nearly 40,000 years.
It is compelling to think that somewhere, somehow, someone might be able to save us from our troubles. While we all would like to sing along with Eric Idle and “Always look on the bright side of life1,” everyone experiences challenges in life, and pretending otherwise does nothing to alleviate those troubles.
Rev. Joanne describes the story of Louis Zamperini, a World War II veteran who lived through being shot down over the Pacific, floating at sea for weeks, becoming a P.O.W., and having the difficulty adjusting to civilian life that in the twenty first century would be described as post traumatic stress disorder. Zamperini was a hero, not least of which because of his patriot service in the military, but how he conducted his life after leaving service. Sometime shortly after leaving service, he attended a Billy Graham event, and remembered the “promise to God” he made while floating at sea – if he survived, he would dedicate his life to God. Zamperini being a hero was not because of the spiritual aspect of his promise, per se, but because he chose to let go of the anger and bitterness of his war experience, and instead live a life of love.
Rev. Joanne asks us to rethink the idea that a superhero must be supernatural like Superman, but that we all have the power to be superheroes for ourselves and our community, just as Louis Zamperini did.
What does “Communion” have to do with heroism? The word communion shares a root with the word common – as in common people, not royalty, nobility, or clergy. One definition given by Webster’s dictionary is “coming together to share an idea or spiritual experience." Rev. Joanne tells us that when we come together as community, centering in awareness of God that stands under all of creation, it gives us the power to rise above whatever circumstances may be to reveal the good for ourselves and our community, e.g. church, city, country, or all of humanity. We all have the ability as individuals to enter into community with the Divine, and in doing so, to overcome whatever situation we may encounter.
Look at a rope, a strong rope. It is comprised of many small strands, braided into larger strands. Then these larger strands are in turn braided together to make an even stronger rope. So it is with our ability to draw upon the strength of our community with our “peeps,” and our community with the Divine. Each time we gather together in common purpose, and each time we commune with God through prayer and meditation we become stronger, like the rope. It is with this in mind that we can shed the idea that in order to be a superhero, supernatural abilities are needed. We can decide anew each day how we will show up in the world. By this new definition, living a life based on love and compassion makes us all heroes.
Speaking of the idea that the deepest feelings and profound thoughts often have an ineffable quality that is difficult to articulate, there is a quote often attributed to the eminent psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, “Wherever I go, a poet has been there before me.” So true. I would like to share three poems that hopefully will inspire you to be a superhero to yourself and your community.
If (1910) – by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Beautiful Things (1875) - by Ellen P. Allerton
Beautiful faces are those that wear–
It matters little if dark or fair–
Whole-souled honesty printed there.
Beautiful eyes are those that show,
Like crystal panes where hearth-fires glow,
Beautiful thoughts that burn below.
Beautiful lips are those whose words
Leap from the heart like songs of birds,
Yet whose utterance prudence girds.
Beautiful hands are those that do
Work that is earnest and brave and true,
Moment by moment the long day through.
Beautiful feet are those that go
On kindly ministries to and fro,
Down lowliest ways if God wills it so.
Beautiful shoulders are those that bear
Ceaseless burdens of homely care,
With patient grace and daily prayer.
Beautiful twilight at set of sun,
Beautiful goal with race well won,
Beautiful rest with work well done.
Beautiful graves where grasses creep,
Where brown leaves fall, where drifts lie deep,
Over worn-out hands! Ah, beautiful sleep.
Optimism (1917) – By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
I'm no reformer; for I see more light
Than darkness in the world; mine eyes are quick
To catch the first dim radiance of the dawn,
And slow to note the cloud that threatens storm.
The fragrance and the beauty of the rose
Delight me so, slight thought I give its thorn;
And the sweet music of the lark's clear song
Stays longer with me than the night hawk's cry.
And e'en in this great throe of pain called Life,
I find a rapture linked with each despair,
Well worth the price of Anguish. I detect
More good than evil in humanity.
Love lights more fires than hate extinguishes,
And men grow better as the world grows old.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25
This week, practice being in communion with God. Talk to God as you would a friend. Listen for Divine Ideas shared in Mind. Turn back to God when you realize you have moved from awareness of God. Ask, “How can I be the heart of Love in this moment, and for my community?”
1Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1979. The final scene in the film has convicted criminals being crucified by the Romans, with an unusually optimistic lot singing “Always look on the bright side of life.”