Adventure is an exciting word. We think of journeys across windswept seas to find buried treasure and battles with gnarled monsters from subterranean depths. Adventure is about excitement and new experiences. It’s about entering boldly into the unknown. In my last post I wrote about the need to say yes to the call to adventure. I said that it’s only when we enter into the unfamiliar and uncomfortable that we make room for growth. But sometimes we’re led in the wrong direction. There are times when adventure can bring us to a dark place where the only way out is to find the way back. As C.S. Lewis says, sometimes progress doesn’t mean going forward, but rather turning right around and going in the opposite direction. Adventurers should take note. Openness gets you started on the journey, but discernment tells you which way you’re going.
If an adventurer isn’t careful they might be swept away by their circumstances. That’s what happens in the 2001 animated film Spirited Away, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It begins with a journey. The girl named Chihiro is moving to a new home with her parents. But the story really gets going when something happens on the car ride. One moment they’re cruising through the suburbs and the next they’re on a dirt road surrounded by forest. Chihiro doesn’t like the looks of the swaying trees, but her father welcomes the situation and plows eagerly ahead. He claims he’s not worried because he has four-wheel drive. And this is where our characters start to go wrong. They don’t understand that they’ve been sidetracked from their destination and brought to the doorstep of another world. Chihiro’s father sees himself as capable of conquering everything he sees. He hasn’t learned yet that not every situation can be approached boldly with an impatient stride and an upright posture. Sometimes having your knees knocking together and your head stooped humbly is the appropriate response. And sometimes it’s better to keep your footing and run the other way.
Chihiro and her parents find themselves in another world, a world of spirits where Japanese mythology comes to life. They pass by a shrine on the road but don’t pay too much attention. Chihiro is the only one of the three who gives it a second thought. Most of us don’t expect to encounter a whole magical world around the next corner. And even if we did, these days the word magical has mainly positive connotations. A magical day is a great day. Disneyland is called the Magic Kingdom. Chihiro’s father even says that the town they come across looks like an abandoned theme park. To us a little magic sounds like entertainment. It’s a welcome escape from the modern inconveniences of commuter traffic, hackers, and the threat of nuclear war. But people haven’t always thought that way. In the past magic had real power over people. It was a world with a spirit behind every tree and at the bottom of every well. Our ancestors had greater respect, you might even say fear, of magical powers. While I'm not advocating a return to a world held in bondage by those superstitions, I think we can still remember to have a healthy respect for what we don’t fully understand. And we should watch out the moment we find ourselves being pulled towards whatever promises to be the primrose path.
David Raphael Hilder
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