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In the story of Dumbo, we have the little elephant with giant ears (even for an elephant) born into a circus family. His ears are so big that while his name is Jumbo, he earns the nickname Dumbo. His mother is soon imprisoned for standing up for him when he is ridiculed. Maybe she overreacts but who can blame her? Dumbo is then forced to join the clown act where he endures more laughter at his expense.
His well meaning friend, Timothy Mouse, while trying to make sense of how they ended up in a tree together, reasons that they must have flown up! Dumbo’s big ears must be like wings. He wants to convince Dumbo of this and with the help of the birds, he gives him what he claims to be a magic feather that would help him fly. Dumbo believes his friend and in the power of this magic feather and he does fly!
“Well, you gotta use a lotta ‘cology, you know, psychology”
He then puts this new skill to use in his clown act to awe the crowd and escape being the butt of yet another joke in the circus! This becomes quite a spectacle and he is known as the elephant who flies! The trick is this magic feather. This feather which he fully believes in, is not in fact magic, and does not give him any special capabilities. As Timothy later confesses, “The magic feather was just a gag” . Dumbo is the same elephant with or without the feather. It is not the feather but the act of believing itself that has the power. This is proven in dramatic fashion when he is set to fly and drops the feather! In a panic he believes he will not be able to fly without it. Luckily, he is convinced by the mouse that it was an ordinary feather all along! He must believe in himself rather than believing in a feather. He learns this important lesson and impossibly takes flight without the magic of the feather! He now flies with the magic or power he finds in himself or the power of belief itself.
This shows that believing in something can actually make a tangible difference in reality. Real things can happen even if belief is perhaps misplaced. (Especially at first) it is easier to believe in something external than it is to believe in one’s own power. The feather here is like a preparatory faith. The hard part though is to continue to believe even though the object of belief is exposed as false. Once something you believe in is lost, how do you continue believing. What do you believe in, what can you continue to believe in?
Dumbo shows us to not hate the feather, but use it as long as it is needed. If it is lost before we are ready to fly without it, believe anyways. No longer in the feather though, but in ourselves. Let the feather fall, let it go. It’s not needed, it has served its purpose, it has taught you to believe in something. It has taught you the powerful things you can do simply by believing. No matter the object of that misplaced belief, it had no magic whatsoever. It was only a device. Let it go. You did wonderful things despite the misplaced faith. It was inside you all along though! Now, imagine once you have realigned you belief to give yourself authority and power, what can you do. What is possible now that you are free to drop the feather.
Losing faith in a church or a church narrative or priesthood or other supernatural or superstitious powers or any other cultural construct does not mean we must not believe in anything. Where would Dumbo be if he lost all his beliefs? He would have fallen and his story would have ended tragically and abruptly.
The story is instructive because he defies logic and his conditioning to continue believing in something. He is able to redirect his belief with the realization that the feather is nothing, only an inanimate object of superstition. He lost faith in the feather, but what about in himself? He knew he could do wonderful things because he already had. His previous beliefs even though in something false hadn’t stopped him.
The power wasn’t the feather, it was his own soul. He, like you, is fully capable on his own. Dumbo believed and he flew (with and without the feather). You too can do great things when you believe in you (with and without the church).