Sometimes there seems a feeling in church circles that one has to be nice – very nice. perhaps this is what has been referred to as the vicar’s tea party syndrome (VTPS). This seems at odds with being human. After all being human is about having lots of different feelings and some are nice and some not so nice. Instead of beating oneself up about having the nastier thoughts it might be more helpful to accept them as part of what it means to be human. You can sometimes see the strain in the endless smiling and the positive speak and so on.
Strangely this ‘being nice’ is so at odds with the accounts we have of those who have really struggled in the spiritual life to become authentic. This often seems a path of great testing and involvement with all aspects of being human – instincts, desires, and so on. One of the best accounts is from the Quaker George Fox who writes that ‘his inward sufferings were heavy’ when he realized that everything that we decry and deny outside has its origins within the psyche. Using the language of the time George Fox writes in his Journal in 1647; ‘the Lord shewed me that the natures of those things which were hurtful without were within’. He asks why he needs to know about murderous rage, envy, hostility, destruction and so on as he didn’t want to ‘commit these evils’ and the reply he gets is ‘that it was needful I should have a sense of all conditions. how else could I speak to those conditions; and in this I saw the infinite love of God … and I had great openings’ .
And great openings is what analysis is about. Despite the embarrassment and the shame a great deal of the instinctual life is revealed in all its varied forms and if the analyst and patient can accept this with love then what has been split off and denied has a chance to become acknowledged and integrated. The primitive life of the instincts is there from birth and how it is managed by the parents then helps the infant either integrate this or to repress and deny these feelings. If they are split off then they emerge later usually in some perverted or distorted way.
Sorting all this out has to be the way to authenticity and the acceptance that even as Christians we are human, not plaster cast saints! The great thing about the account by George Fox is that as he sees all the awful things within his psyche – ‘an ocean of darkness and death’ so he also sees ‘an infinite ocean of light and love which flowed over the ocean of darkness’. So love is stronger but it doesn’t mean that the dark has to be denied.