July 6, 2023

Mythology and Mysticism with Martin Shaw

Inside This Episode

For nearly 35 years, legendary mythologist, author and storyteller Martin Shaw turned his back on Christianity, feeling from a young age that the evangelical faith of his childhood didn’t fit with his deeply artistic soul. Maybe God guest host Justin Brierley speaks with Martin about the mystical experiences that led to his unexpected and miraculous return to Christianity in 2019.

About Martin Shaw: https://drmartinshaw.com/

Read more from Martin Shaw: https://martinshaw.substack.com/

Join The Community

Maybe God Newsletter

  • Be the first to know about new episodes
  • Exclusive content
  • Resources to help you reconstruct and grow your faith


Julie Mirlicourtois: On this episode of Maybe God-

Martin Shaw: You know, you are aware that, on one hand, you're going to be a laughingstock. You'll lose credibility in all sorts of ways. And of course, to a degree, that happened. But the last time I checked, Jesus wasn't standing around saying, "Come with me, everything's gonna be easy and there'll be an insurance policy." He says, Come find out.

Julie Mirlicourtois: Guest host, Justin Brierley, speaks with legendary mythologist, author, and storyteller, Martin Shaw, about his miraculous conversion to Christianity in 2019.

Justin Brierley: Hello, and welcome to the Maybe God podcast. I'm Justin Brierley, guest-hosting this edition of the show. This show inspires doubtful believers and hopeful skeptics to seek answers to their most challenging faith questions through uplifting and powerful storytelling. Well, today I'm speaking with a storyteller and mythologist, Martin Shaw, who, in the last couple of years, has his own quite extraordinary story to tell.

After many years as a poet, author, and teaching others through the Westcountry School of Myth, Martin had an encounter with Christ that confounded really a lot of his expectations. He's going to tell us about that story. He is now a Christian, but sees this homecoming, if you will, as a fulfillment of a life invested in mythology and storytelling already. So I'm looking forward to hearing Martin's story. I'm sure you will, too. Martin, welcome along to the show.

Martin Shaw: Thank you, Justin. Nice to see you.

Justin Brierley: Tell us what a methodologist and storyteller is, first of all.

Martin Shaw: Well, they're two slightly different disciplines. A storyteller is exactly what you would imagine. It's looking around with consciousness, looking around at the world we're living in and making sense of it, to some degree, through stories.

And mythologist has the ring of academia about it, I suppose. A methodologist is someone that explores the layers of a story from its kind of metaphysical wow factor down to, you know, does this story feel like it happened to you on the way to work this morning? Because actually, to be honest, if a story doesn't have some kind of resonance in the life we're actually living, they don't get remembered for long.

Justin Brierley: So tell us about how that looked in your own life when it comes to your engagement with that. Is that something that was there from early on, this sense of wanting to explore mythology, folklore, stories, and so on?

Martin Shaw: Yes. And I think probably not having a telly was a great contributor to that. Because if I could have got my hands on the television more regularly, I don't think that I would have spent as much time in the woods as I did, I don't think I would have spent as much time reading books, and listening to stories and being around it.

But I'd had an experience where I'd been walking with my dad early one morning and he'd recited a poem. And as he recited it, the sun came up. Now, in my five-year-old mind, this was an extraordinary act of sympathetic magic—my dad had done that. Certain words, beautifully expressed, bumped into everything around us and caused a reaction.

And I used to see the same thing when my mum was reading the story at night. I'd see the moon come out. And in my little associative mind, I thought there was a relationship, and I think there probably still was, between the movement of the moon and the words of my mum.

Justin Brierley: So that was the way expressed itself when you were growing up. Did you find yourself drawn in as you began reading for yourself to sort of storytelling, fantasy, literature? What was your own engagement with the stories that people tell?

Martin Shaw: Well, I didn't know that storytellers existed in the fashion that I am on today. But there were well-meaning ladies in libraries that would read you a story. But there's a difference between being read a story and being told a story. There's a difference between a recital and an imagining. And it was the imagining that I was excited about.

I went to a church called Upton Vale Baptist Church in Torquay in the mid-70s. Often I would have been whisked off to Sunday school. But there was a day where I remember somehow I was trapped in the adult sermon. And I could see that the sermon was of great substance for folks several generations older. But I had this fantasy that Aslan was going to burst through a window, grab the preacher by scruff of the neck, not kill them, but just generally shake up the oxygen of the room.

The Christianity in the stories I was experiencing through Christianity, I think in reflection, Justin, there was a bit of a disconnect between the kind of radical, actually countercultural message of Yeshua, of Jesus, this strange Galilee druid, and the incredibly sort of domestic and rather urban and settled setting that it incrusted itself around this very strange Middle Eastern mystery religion.

Justin Brierley: So you're already, I suppose, at a young age, sort of what we're sensing something, that what you were being shown in the church that you perhaps grew up in didn't feel like the wild, untamed kind of story that you obviously already had a sense of Christianity might be about?

Martin Shaw: Yeah. I mean, I did love the stories. I think. I remember David and Goliath and things like that. But they didn't do to my soul what a fairy tale would do or a great myth like the Odyssey. Jesus Himself was speaking of such a high bar, of such sort of interior discipline. I knew I would be terrible at that. I used to describe Christ as the first Alien that ever visited earth because He seemed so unusual to me. He didn't seem like the other gods that I encountered in stories.

So I think, yeah, it did... it seemed an urban, well masticated, well-chewed faith with a tremendous emphasis on belief. But the trouble was, when I was, you know, six, I didn't believe in anything for more than a few minutes. I didn't even believe entirely that I was a boy. I thought I may be a hawk or I was some goblin that lived in the forest. So actually that kind of evangelical pressure froze my artistic soul, to be honest.

And another thing is that, although I appreciate now, actually, Baptists can really deliver a good sermon, there's real content. It's fantastic. Now, I appreciate it now. But I was not aware of a contemplative tradition. I wasn't aware of the saints, really. I wasn't aware of wild old women living in the desert. I wasn't aware of really the first 300 years of Christianity and the strangeness of that story.

And for some reason for me, although obviously the traditional description of the Church is the Body of Christ, I used to look out the window and think, well, is the meadow of wildflowers the body of Christ? Is a mountain range the body of Christ? Is the bottom of the sea part of the body of Christ? What does creator actually think? Is Christianity allowed to exist in the wild places, as well as the breathlessly human?

Justin Brierley: So you were kind of experiencing this disjunct between the sort of domesticated version, as it were, of Christianity. And the sense that you had that there might be something else out there, something bigger and wilder. I mean, you've already intimated that you did grow up, in that sense, in a Christian setting. But did that faith just kind of not stick for the kinds of reasons you've described? Obviously, you had loving parents as far as I understand who wanted, I'm sure, to pass on the faith as best they could. But for whatever reason, it didn't quite fit your personality and that artistic soul that you describe.

Martin Shaw: Wonderfully, Justin, I'm realizing, as you're saying this to me, that my parents they did pass it on. The message was received, it just took half a century. But yes, at that time, it seemed tamed, unromantic, book laden. Again, the people of the book... I wanted to look out... I knew I had a feeling for God but I knew that I needed to feel it in the face of a flower or an animal or the movement of the weather or a dream.

Now, of course, there'll be many Christians rolling their eyes at this point in saying, That's all in the Bible. But certain parts of the Bible are highlighted more than others. And I just hadn't really sifted to consciousness. So actually, by the time I was 17, I remember my last day in church actually, when I thought, No, I need to go walkabout. And I've remained on walkabout for, I suppose, another best part of 35 years.

Justin Brierley: I mean, you're obviously an imaginative, artistic soul. I almost have this vision of you, Martin, as a sort of wild man at the woods, kind of, you know, just exploring nature, inviting others into this journey. You've obviously had, though, you know... you've gone the academic route. You've done the PhD, you've obviously established a School of Mythology and Storytelling as well. What have you been hoping to pass on in the decades that you've had that?

I know that there was one specifically very important encounter, I think, in Snowdonia, where the mythic imagination really came to be central to your life. Do you want to just talk us through that? Because I think that's important before we kind of get to the second, if you like, epiphany in your journey.

Martin Shaw: Yes. At 23, I'd gone up to a mountain in Snowdon. Let's call it a big hill called Cadair Idris. And around that area, I had fasted for four days and nights. Although to some people listening, they'll think, well, what on earth is that? It's no great mystery that all around the world for thousands of years, certainly Christians included, it's often a very healthy thing for a period of time to get away from your job description, to get away from your family, to get away from all of that, sit quietly on a hill to [elocate?] the still small voice.

I mean, you know, Jesus' relationship to towns is very interesting. He's all slipping out. He's always slipping out early in the morning. I always noticed that these... you know how compressed the Bible is in its language? So absolutely. But I always noticed that.

So I went through a huge epiphany. I was a musician. I returned my record contract, and then actually lived in a tent for four years, at the very end of the 1990s, just before there would have been a phone in my pocket or an email address. It was still time when you could actually disappear. So I lived in this black tent to digest quite what had happened to me.

Now, as you're talking to me, Justin, I'm thinking about something. I'm thinking about mystical experience and theoretical knowledge. And I think the reason why I went the way of a mythologist and I got a doctorate and the rest of it was because I needed to comb through the encounter that I'd had in a language that was communicable to other people. Because actually, I was rendered speechless by it.

I've been thinking about this recently, how God places you and positions to learn things long before you realize the big picture of why you're going through this. So I was just led into mythology. I was led back into the stories of my youth to explain an ineffable mystery that I'd entered up there in the woods. And then I trained in that work for eight years.

So now, I have the full gamut of on the one hand leading wilderness fast, which I'm about to lead my first Christian one in August, specifically for Christians, right the way through to postgraduate courses and people that are looking from a much more poetical or theoretical basis of mind.

Justin Brierley: And during this period of your life, how did you regard Christ as? Another myth among many? What was the sort of way in which you sort of thought about that?

Martin Shaw: It's definitely not... He's not a myth amongst many. You know, when people's knowledge of mythology is primarily being plucked from YouTube, when there isn't a great deal of how people can say with a kind of great wave of the hand, well, of course, you also have the Cyrus and you have Dionysus and all of this stuff. Speaking as someone that has a new version of The Bacchae coming out, Euripides play on Dionysus very soon, I can tell you that those figures, although there's an ornamental connection through things like the vine and wine, you're never in a million years going to encounter something like the Sermon on the Mount coming out of Dionysus' mouth. I found Christ disturbing.

There's a poet I know whose name I won't mention her, but you'd know who she was. But she said to me, she said, I think in a very strange way Christ is the last of the Greek gods and turns everything before sort of on its head. Of course, you know, just stating the obvious. Of course, Jesus was a Jew. But I knew what she was getting at. I knew what she was getting at.

So actually, I knew enough to know that the Christ's story didn't fit neatly with any of the other mythologies that I was exploring, although there was connective thread. What disturbed me about the Gospels was it sounded awfully like they had a postcode to them. Do you know what I'm saying? It's very site-specific. You don't get this in the Gnostic Gospels. The Gnostic gospels were all floating around like astronauts, and it's the same old, same old.

If you've read mystical content, you've read that before. But the Gospels are gnarly and strange. And they're all happening in an area that you can walk around. You know, you can walk around with a map. And I thought, Oh, that's a little bit too much real life for me, I better stay away from it.

Justin Brierley: So real life came calling, though. Why don't you take us up to what happened a couple of years ago now? Because this is both, I guess, a spiritual, intellectual, experiential journey that you went on. Maybe take us from wherever you want to in that story and how Christ presented Himself in a very real way to you, Martin.

Martin Shaw: Yeah, for sure. Well, let's go back... Now many years have passed. I'm at the end of my 40s. Providentially, I've ended up earning a living doing something I really love. I've been a tutor at Stanford. By then I've written about 16 books. You know, absolutely known in my world, absolutely known, as of my generation, the guy that's doing this particular type of work.

But then I had an odd sensation—I don't know where it came from—to spend 101 days visiting a local Dartmoor forest. Now you can remember, Justin, that I'm a veteran of sitting out in the bush. But the trouble is, if you do anything in life over and over and over again, there will come a day when you get to the back of the wardrobe and it's just far coats in the back of the wardrobe.

And the wilderness vigil, to some degree, I knew it so well, I needed to do something else to trip-wire my own heart again, to trip-wire my own imagination. So I knew 101-day vigil in the forest was going to do something that I hadn't encountered before. So through the end of 2019, in the winter of 2020, I was visiting this forest every day, primarily to listen.

Again, I know that may sound very airy fairy, but it's just part of my... just how I am. I listen to woods because I'm aware that if you go into a forest of oak trees, for the last few 100 years, they just had people looking at them as bits of two-by-four. And looking at them and thinking, Well, you'll make a nice boat or a ship. So I wanted to go and actually tell stories back to a place. So lots of Dartmoor stories, lots of poems. And I don't want to overlay this because if I talk about what happens too much it'll become a story. You understand. In a way, it's so precious.

What I can say is on the last night of the vigil, I went into the very center of the woods, which there was an old Iron Age fort and I had a profound shatteringly beautiful encounter. Now, I must emphasize that I hadn't been fasting at this point. I'd had a meal. I was content. Between me and you, I was glad the thing was almost over. That was the mood. The mood was, Thanks. Bye, bye. Glad it's done.

But just in my own way, I prayed and I said, If there's anything... And I would use the word like creator. "If there's anything you really need me to see or absorb at this moment, please announce it. Please announce it." And what happened then was I was looking out at the night sky and I was looking at... You know, we all know what stars look like. They're these beautiful pale lights.

And then suddenly, my eye caught one that was... it had a different set of colors to it. It was slightly like the Aurora Borealis. And I thought it was getting bigger. That's weird. It's getting bigger. And as I stood there in the forest, I realized... and this whole thing is 15 to 20 seconds. It's incredibly quick. I realized that this thing is actually coming out of the sky and is going to land. You know, not land like a UFO or not land like a big chunk hunk of rock. But this strange, beautiful painted arrow, like a set of colors just flew out of the darkness and landed about 10 feet away from me.

Ironically, it landed exactly where I usually have my kitchen tent where I'm running wilderness vigils. So these days, whenever I'm pasting sandwich I'm looking over where it happened. I don't know what it was. On the one level, it could be a completely natural phenomena. But on the other, as we learn through the miraculous, the conditions in which it occurs are significant. And the fact that I was up there after 101 days, it was the end, I asked for a sign and I received something that I never could have anticipated.

I must say, if you bear in mind what I've been doing for the last 25 years, I've been at wilderness rites of passage guide. I've been living in my tent. I'd seen many strange things out in the woods, but nothing out of the sky. And what it did even then, was it was like a distinction between the wonders of the earth, and the wonders that come from the being that made the earth. That was the kind of jolt.

And then when I do... I stood up there all night. And it wasn't a frightening experience. It wasn't harrowing in any way. Just baffling, beautiful. But then I came home, I didn't jump straight into the Christian waters. I was in denial. I'd seen, believe it or not... And this is the end of the really mysterious bit of it. I'd seen as I was falling asleep these nine words "inhabit the time in Genesis of your original home".

Now, I didn't like that because it said Genesis. And I also didn't understand it. Time and genesis, what does that mean? But ironically, lockdown immediately begins. So I have the best part of the year to chew on quite what had happened. And towards the end of that period, dreams came. And they were the kind of dreams that were just unavoidably powerful.

I started to dream of a figure that I couldn't quite see. I had a dream that I was in the trenches. It was like the First World War. And I was with clearly my captain but I couldn't see his face. And he looked at my arm and he said, "You've done a good job, trying to fix your arm, but it's in a terrible state." And I looked down, and sure enough, my arm was like that. And he said, "Look, you've been through something really difficult. And I can fix your arm, if you want but I have to break it again. Do you want this?" And I looked at my captain and I still couldn't see his face properly. But I said, "Please fix it." And if it hurt, it only hurt for a second."

But from that point onwards, a great flood of dreams started to come. And suddenly this figure that had been... I'd kept at bay academically, I kept at bay theoretically was suddenly nearer to me than my own heart. And by that time, you've had it. I mean, you've absolutely had it. You would be a fool, foolishness in the middle of your life to deny the depth of the invitation that was being offered. But as you understand, Justin, as I'm talking to you now, I know how to some people how nutty this will sound. But this is partially how God works. I think

Justin Brierley: I tell you what, I mean, the phrase from Acts 2, Your young men will dream dreams, your old men will see visions. I'm not saying you fall into necessarily the camp, Martin. But the point is, there's an expectation, isn't there, that somehow visionary experiences, dreams are part of the way God communicates. Now, obviously, we live in a very rationalistic culture in the West where people are inclined to say, well, it's just, you know, the cheese you had last night or some sort of internal bias. You're going to interpret things the way you want to.

But I think it's harder to deny that when you're the one experiencing that because there's something about the power that comes with that, that if you're in the midst of it is actually difficult to sort of simply say, no, that was just my imagination that was just you know, a neurobiological phenomenon. That sounds to me like the sort of experience you were having there, Martin

Martin Shaw: Yes. And I also feel that, to some degree, one doesn't necessarily cancel out the other. You know what I mean? All of that can be true at the same time. It'll be what you do with it? Do you curate it? Do you look after it? Do you protect that experience and watch it grow or do you put it on the shelf marked strange spiritual experiences? And I elected not to do that.

But I do think that I had been prepared for about 25 years for that encounter. The right relationship to nature was established. The degree of reading in which I could probably interpret something like that. But no amount of book smarts make something like that happen. There's no amount of theoretical knowledge that can pull a light out of the sky.

You are aware that, on one hand, you're going to be a laughingstock, you'll lose credibility in all sorts of ways. Of course, to a degree that happened. But the last time I checked, Jesus wasn't standing around saying, Come with me, everything's going to be easy and there'll be an insurance policy. He says, Come find out. That I knew. That I knew. So that, in a way, seemed like Pearl of Great Price.

Justin Brierley: So the phrase that you went to bed that came to your mind "inhabit the time in genesis of your original home", was it?

Martin Shaw: Yeah.

Justin Brierley: Did you connect that then with your Christian upbringing? Was that the sense that-

Martin Shaw: Oh, yeah. I did.

Justin Brierley: ...you were being drawn back to that story that you'd sort of put aside as something too domesticated and tame, and yet was coming back in a new way at this phase in your life? In the end, it wasn't the Baptist Church, though, that you found your Christian home in. Do you want to tell us about sort of where you have found that spiritual home?

Martin Shaw: I will. I will. Just to finish really, I came out of the woods. I'd gone in for 101 days expecting to become, I would say, wedded to the wild and I came out wedded to Christ. What happened over the next year was I realized both of these realities faced each other. They faced each other. You know, I've called it the mossy face of Christ.

So then what happens is I knew it would not be... I felt and I feel that by and large Christians do really need to find a church. You need to find your room in the many mansions, in the many mansion place. So I looked around and in the end, actually, I met a lot of Christians with great hearts and I learned to recognize Christians instinctively.

There's a feeling about them. I call them worker bees. And I know that's a big part of what's going on in my own life is, between me and you, I've had a fairly highfalutin conversion. It's been quite public. I've met all sorts of folks that are really at the cutting edge of many interesting things. But make no mistake, where the rubber meets the road with Christianity, as far as I can tell, is down in the granular detail of how I relate to other people. So am I really showing up or not? Or am I just on the surface of things?

So in other words, it was kind of important that I didn't leave everything open to my own interpretation 24 hours a day. That's not healthy for me. That's not healthy. So obviously, I then ended up in a place where no one in my family really knew much about which is Eastern Orthodoxy. I went into a church, just as they were beginning something called Divine Liturgy. And I suddenly located all the missing elements that had been seemingly not present in the Christianity of my youth.

Now, a big thing in my family's evolution was expect the charismatic movement. And the charismatic movement was big news in the 70s and the 80s and before and after. And it had always touched me. But when I went into the Divine Liturgy, I realized it was like a taste in my mouth. I thought, Oh, that presence is here. Again, this Holy Spirit is here. But this time, through the decorum and the formality of the Divine Liturgy, it has this incredible runway into the room. It's not quite as dramatic around the sides. People aren't kind of falling off their chairs in the way I was used to, and enjoyed. But the voltage was the same.

I've often said in my work, wildness is the dance partner of discipline. Wildness is the... You need certain choreographed steps. And for me, orthodoxy provides that. It's bigger than me. It's far older than me. It's very substantial, much of it I struggle with. But at the same time, I'm aware that I'm really up against something of tremendous substance.

The next year I spent just showing up at church. No one would have a clue or interest in what I do outside of church. None. Plus, that's humbling. That's humbling. You're just there doing kettles, doing the tea, and the rest of it. And then I've just been on an enormous tour. But just before I set off on that tour, I was received in. I'd already been baptized. But I was received into the Orthodox Church. That's where I find myself now.

Justin Brierley: such an interesting journey you've taken there. There's something I suspect about the nature of the Orthodox Church. I suppose the fact that it does major on the kind of the imminence of God. It isn't so concerned perhaps with that sort of analytical sort of side. I'm sure it has its analytical side, but that maybe comes through in the Protestant tradition, in the reformed traditions of Baptist, and so on. And obviously, the fact it is very ancient. It goes right back really to the genesis of the church. I guess, stepping into an ancient imaginative stream kind of suits you, the way your mind and soul works, Martin?

Martin Shaw: I think it does. I'm having to come to terms with, for example, when we read from the Bible, it's chanted, it's not really read in the way that the post-reformation Christians are familiar with. And I like reading the Bible in my own voice with my own twists and turns. So yes, sometimes it's difficult because I have a kind of improvisational spirit. I do.

But the liturgy itself, interesting things to note about it. Effectively, it's a sound theology. So we're singing rather than reading or if we are reading, we're chanting. The liturgy itself is a very, very slow form of dance that's been going on for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. And you do feel that you've moved from... This will sound a rather highfalutin analogy, but it's worth making because we have the time to do it.

In poetry... there's many types of poetry, but there's one type called lyric and there's one type called epic. I grew up with lyric Christianity, not epic. Now, what that means is, lyric poems have a lot of "I" in, they have a lot of backrub in, they have a lot of "I feel this", it's in my heart. Jesus is my friend. He's here. I'm tired, please look after me," that kind of thing. It's very personable, and I like it.

But epic poetry pays far less attention to the "I" statement and lifts you out of that completely into this much bigger drama. Classicism is epic poetry. And I think what I found in Orthodoxy is the little "I" entered the big "we" in that moment. And that's just something about the West in general that I'm exhausted by, you know, the kind of addiction to the confessional almost. So actually, for me, it regulates my ego.

One of the things in Orthodoxy is a real distinction between what they call passion and virtue. And the world we live in these days is pretty good at passion, pretty good at desire. But virtue to make a covenant with limits, to understand what that looks like, those are the kinds of things that I'm going through with orthodoxy.

To distill it finally, one more thing is, although I may look like a reasonable human being, I'm actually really a 12th-century chivalric knight. I always have been. And Orthodoxy is a code. It's a way of behaving in the world. You can draw it with a line. It's not massively ambiguous all the time. But there are areas where they just say, it is a mystery. Yeah, I like that. It's that combination.

Justin Brierley: I was gonna say that that picture you painted, the epic versus lyric poetry, I think even within some Western Protestant traditions, people are starting to key into the fact that some of that kind of very individualistic versions of Christianity where it's me, Jesus, and me getting to heaven and so on, I think thinkers like N.T. Wright and others have helped to actually say, no, you're actually part of an epic thing, this big story of God, this big movement. And it's so helpful I think sometimes to be reminded that it doesn't revolve around us, it revolves around God and the story God is painting.

It helps to put often our disappointments and failures into perspective as well I find. Because if the story isn't all about me, then that makes sense of the fact that I'm not always going to feel like I'm at the center of this story, you know?

Martin Shaw: I know. As you were talking, Justin, I was thinking about Genesis. And I was thinking about this image of us as creatures of mud and holy breath. And I think that as Christians, we run the risk of forgetting that, that actually we're this... I think, the mud, the holy breath, that's the part of us that is wired for Christian mythology. And the more culturally we take our cues from a society that has active hostility to us and has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus, I think we have to be careful.

Like you, I'm sure, I'm a great fan of Tom Holland's book "Dominion". However, I think whilst it is true that yes, on a secular level, Christianity and many good things exist in the West because of a kind of a Christian influence, I think it would be foolishness to believe that as a culture that we are essentially Christian at this point. I don't think that. And you know, as well as I do, that Christ is always talking about cleaning the inside of the cup. We're not doing that. We're cleaning the outside of the cup. You know, civic duty. But if we keep neglecting the inside of the cup, then I think Christianity, in its most fundamental form, is in real jeopardy.

Justin Brierley: Yeah. I want to come back to talking about that, and others who have had similar journeys to you in recent years as well. Before we get to that, let's go back to someone who's sort of been mentioned indirectly a couple of times in this conversation. You mentioned Aslan, that idea you had of him bursting through the windows of Baptist church. You even referenced the wardrobe and the fur coats, and so on.

Lewis, obviously, I presume, had some influence on your thinking and your imagination over the years. It's very striking to me that Lewis had a perhaps not dissimilar conversion experience himself when he, you know, grew... He was an expert in ancient mythology, literature. He found just an enormous depth of missioning and joy in reading those stories, and yet, he was also a very rational, intellectual person.

Well, he sort of had, as you, I'm sure, know, Martin, so two-stage conversion. Firstly, from atheism to theism. He sort of just became convinced at an intellectual level there must be a sort of moral lawgiver in the universe. But his conversion to Christianity obviously was immensely helped by his friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien. They had this famous walk around Addison Walk, the back of Maudlin College, where Tolkien apparently helped Lewis to see that Jesus may be regarded as the true myth. That all those other myths that so captured Lewis' imagination actually pointed towards something that really happened. I wondered whether that sort of was in any way analogous to your experience, given your own background in mythology and so on?

Martin Shaw: Yes, of course, I relate to Lewis. I've been thinking recently, actually, that it's the fate of any Christian writer that working today that at some point you'll have an idea. And then you will realize that Lewis had that idea, and expressed it better about 80 years ago. But let me give you my idea.

Justin Brierley: Go on.

Martin Shaw: My idea... I think Christianity is in danger of forgetting that it's a dream. It's in danger of forgetting it's a dream. Now, what on earth do I mean by that? To understand in a way that would probably stabilize a Christian listening to this, go back and read Lewis's "Pilgrim's Regress", which my dad prompted me to read a few months ago. And towards the end of it, Lewis through the characters, makes a point where he says, Mother Kirk, which is his word for the church, is a combination of two things. It's what he calls the big pictures of the pagans combined with the road, the Jewish people.

And when you have a road under your feet, something happens. But it is the nature, it is the nature of Mother Kirk that every few 100 years she starts to crumble and she grows into crisis. And at that point, the landlord starts to secrete the big pictures into people's hearts and minds again. And I really believe, and I would call it big dreams, this is a big dream moment. And something is actually happening. It's absolutely unarguable in my own life.

So there's a lot of us looking around and saying, Yeah, this is a moment both of tremendous adversity, but incredible possibility. Now, Justin, every single myth I've ever told begins when you are outnumbered and outgunned. Nothing happens until you're at that moment. So this isn't an incredible time to be born into.

But that would be my point, is that Christians are great at vision, you know, mobilize, but the dreaming underneath that, that ferment that is not just worked out in the daylight, you know, we need nighttime Christians as well as daytime Christians. That's an aboriginal indigenous idea. I think it's a very good one. The early desert sisters and mothers and desert fathers, they understood that. You go out, sit quietly, and listen to what God is trying to communicate through you. And sometimes that comes through these stages.

To go back, I think as Christians, we need to remember we're made of mud and holy wind. And I think that that part of us, that part of our actual consciousness and our mind is being on something of a starvation diet in the West.

Justin Brierley: Because to some extent, the church has sort of, I suppose, adopted the empirical enlightenment kind of values of the general culture and sort of transpose that all into a Christian key, and potentially forgotten that actually, as you say, Christianity was a dream, it was birthed in a kind of imaginative sort of sense of what God is and what God can do. I mean, that's fascinating to me.

And interesting that you feel like we may be standing on the edge of, as we see, the crumbling have perhaps one form of church happening. And you know, we could list all kinds of issues going on in the global church as we speak. But there's that hopeful note, you sound. That perhaps this is what has to happen for a new move of the Spirit, essentially, in our day.

Where are you seeing it happening? I am aware, for instance, one connection I've made is someone you know very well, Paul Kingsnorth has a very similar story to you. He's also a sort of imaginative soul, a poet and author, and who, interestingly, also gone on a journey, quite unexpected journey to Eastern Orthodoxy as well. Do you want to talk a little bit about the connection there? And perhaps who else you're meeting as you make your journeys these days.

Martin Shaw: Well, you know, Justin, only two weeks ago, I was with Paul Kingsnorth and a man called Jonathan Pageau in Dublin. We had the Vatican reporter for CNN turned up. We had all sorts of folks, the actor Jerome Flynn. Do you remember Robson & Jerome?

Justin Brierley: Mm. Oh, yes.

Martin Shaw: He was there. All sorts of folks were coming, and no one quite knew why they were there. There was just this bubble of excitement. There's all these Dominican monks at the back. It was absolutely wonderful.

And whilst there was no mission statement read, mercifully, and there was a kind of good-natured chaos about the event, there was a sense of people wanting to think symbolically, mythically in a storified fashion, in a contemplative fashion about the greatest story ever told. And I don't think, in all honesty, at the moment, at least, it's not necessarily about some radical new slammed that no one's ever thought of before because they probably have. But I do think we need a new vocabulary.

I think words matter. How you tell stories matter. And I think we've taken to some degree a really wrong turn. We've [de-robed?] ourself of the weird so effectively that people think they can draw Christians with one line now. And that's a dreadful thing. I think actually to mention someone that many of the watchers would probably know is Bishop Barron.

Justin Brierley: Bishop Robert Barron.

Martin Shaw: It's really worth watching Robert Barron talk about philosophy, picking his way through union mythology or something like that, and not immediately trying to ward it off as an aberration. That's very healthy. I also want to get... You know, you're doing something similar. You're planting yourself endlessly in the most diverse of situations to see what happens. God bless you.

Justin Brierley: Wow, thank you. I would say a lot of the names you've mentioned obviously are or have been on a journey to Christian faith. I interestingly see, in my conversations, all kinds of interesting people who wouldn't necessarily wear that label but who seemed to be somewhere sympathetic to or have at least turned away from a more atheist materialist sort of perspective on reality, and are kind of re-engaging the imagination and how they would like the world to be almost.

And I'm thinking of obvious characters like Jordan Peterson, who is, again, one of these big platform people asking questions in this sort of area about the symbolic and faith and religion and so on. You've already mentioned Tom Holland, who's I think done an amazing service in kind of just pointing out the fact that we live and essentially many of our deepest instincts are Christian, they're theological in nature, and that we can't just assume that, you know, we inherited all this from some sort of enlightenment rationality.

Likewise, there are other people. I'm sure you're familiar with Iain McGilchrist, the neuroscientist and psychiatrist again, who's just I think fascinatingly taking the scientific stuff and melding it somehow with a sense of, Well, who are we and what is this life about? And are we just thinking machines set to kind of propagate our DNA? Or is there a bigger picture? Is there something that these brains are pointing to that is actually about the imagination, something holistic?

He's obviously done this amazing work in pointing out the fact that we're meant to be controlled really by the right brain, but we live in this left-brain culture where everything just gets broken down into tiny pieces of data that we think can explain everything. So I feel like there's something bigger foot, Martin. I don't know if that's your sense as well.

Martin Shaw: I agree. The God-shaped hole, the meaning-shaped hole, for me, the myth-shaped hole is not going to go away. An interesting little development is the father of a teenage daughter, the father of a little digital native. For the first time, I'm noticing more ambivalence for young people around technology than the ones that are slightly older. It's as if they're so used to it now they can actually identify it, rather than being this sort of horrific idea that we're getting sort of brought endlessly into the sort of the frame of a computer where we're sort of AI beings. They seem still to have discernment, they still seem to have a sense of things that value and matter that you can't find on a screen. So that's a hopeful thing. And you're right.

I mean, McGilchrist is extraordinary really what he's doing. I would hope actually... we've talked about it, you know, you're hearing it here first, but fingers crossed myself, McGilchrist, Kingsnorth will do something together. I hope that comes to pass.

Justin Brierley: Well, this has been such a fun, interesting conversation. I mean, you've obviously made all these new connections and exciting sort of collaborations and partnerships and dreaming dreams, I suppose with some of these folks. I just love to explore briefly, what was the negative reception to this? You kind of briefly alluded to that earlier, Martin. I'm guessing there were some people who thought, "Oh, my goodness, Martin, you've been taken in. Christianity is so conventional. It's so tame. It's so domesticated. We thought more of you than this."

Martin Shaw: Yes, yes. I mean, that absolutely was the message from certain quarters. Not all. Not all. But there was some pushback from my first nations friends in different tribal groups who I've loved and been in great fellowship with over the last 30 years. That was heartbreaking to me. There was the sense that I'd immediately become a kind of woman-hating, nature-hating, you know, patriarchal character. Of course, I'm now part of Orthodoxy, we're quite into the patriarchy.

Justin Brierley: Yes sure.

Martin Shaw: That's something to chew on. But yeah, there was pushback. There was financial consequences. There were books not selling. There was a few premises for books that never went anywhere. I have to say the winds have certainly changed. They've certainly changed.

But I did a long tour... I've been on the road since April, and I only finished on Friday, where I went across Canada, Wales, Ireland, England, the Mediterranean, I met thousands of people. And it's the question no one can bear asking. So after a while, one hand will come up at the very back and they say, is it true you're a God-botherer? Is it true you're a God-botherer? And then we pick it from there.

But between me and you, the ripples, not just, of course, in my own small story, but the ripples of what happens when someone you trust, you know isn't crazy makes that kind of step, it sets up all kinds of other conversations. And that is what I'm in the middle of.

Justin Brierley: And that's what I love about talking to people like you. You're not someone who, as it were, is known for being a Christian in the past. Likewise, Paul Kingsnorth, likewise Nick Cave. There's a credibility that comes with someone who's already established an audience because of something they've done that has brought value and meaning and purpose to people's lives, and then suddenly they start talking in terms of God and Christianity. I think sometimes that's the only way.

If it comes from the usual places, then people kind of tune it out. I'm excited by the fact that you and other folks have got something to say, and an audience that I think is suddenly open to hearing it perhaps for the first time in a long time.

Martin Shaw: Well, thank you. I'm delighted to hear that.

Justin Brierley: Well, God bless you, Martin.

Martin Shaw: Thank you.

Justin Brierley: It's been so interesting to hear of your journey. I hope we can catch up again at some point in the future. But all the very best as you continue exploring what may be. Any sorts of particular projects that you would like to let people know about, at this point, ways in which they can continue to engage with your story and the work that you're doing?

Martin Shaw: Most importantly, subscribe to my Substack-

Justin Brierley: Good.

Martin Shaw: ..because that is something where every Sunday, if you don't go to church at nine o'clock every Sunday, you're gonna get a little... you know, I call it the parish, you know, The House of Beasts & Vines, where my own Christian explorations are moving along. Of course, He's the patron saint of this conversation.

Do you remember Lewis said that... he said, Christ is the Son from which I see everything else? Well, I'm taking that to heart. And I'm not convinced at the moment that necessarily I have anything terribly shattering to say about the Bible itself that hasn't already been combed through. But as a Christian now, the way I see life in general, the way I see the fairy tales and the myths, I see all of these implications that would have been hidden from me three years ago. So I think that'll be some part of the work.

I am writing a big book at the moment. It was amazing after slightly being in the wilderness with publishers that one that you would of all know about, came along and said, Actually, we're going to get behind you and support you. It's wonderful. But Substack, Martin Shaw, The House of Beasts & Vines, that's the place to go.

I'll be at Greenbelt in about a month. What's wonderful is across the gamut I'm meeting Christians from all sorts of political persuasions, and I can't be compartmentalized into any of them. But across the board, something is afoot. And for that, I'm just grateful to be part of it.

Justin Brierley: Well, thank you for taking some time to talk me through your journey, Martin. We will make sure there are links to your website, your Substack, and so on from today's show. But for now, God bless you and see you next time.

Martin Shaw: Thank you.

Julie Mirlicourtois: This episode of Maybe God was produced by Justin Brierley, Julie Mirlicourtois, and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Our editor is Justin Mayer. And we'd like to welcome to the team our brand-new social media lead, Adira Polite. For more information about Maybe God and to sign up for exclusive updates and content, head to maybegodpod.com today. And don't forget to follow and engage with us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Thanks for listening, everyone.