How can we know where we are? There seems a refusal in our contemporary world to see anything below the surface. Merton put it like this: ‘All we will see is the image, the image, the absurd image, the mask over our own emptiness’. In psychotherapy the manifest level is only of interest where it points to what might be going on underneath at the latent level. Similarly in religion and spirituality if we just keep to the surface then the whole thing is merely a presentation – a show rather than touching the depths of our inner being.
It’s the whole question of the Emperor’s new clothes and so we need the eyes of the child to see below the brand and the logo and the mission statement; to see underneath the glossy exterior and the judgements that are made about appearance, forms of apparent success and so on. Perhaps that’s why it’s easier in nature… there are the birds being birds and the flowers fulfilling their destiny as flowers. ‘Consider the lilies’ – yes and see in them the essence of the life force. How to get back to a sense of connection with nature? How to let go of the image and see our deep connection with all living things?
Try this online exhibition – touching the core…
Palm Sunday sometimes feels like a moment to take a pause and to stand and look ahead at the next seven days. And what a week it is… for those who feel caught up in it it can feel like the most dramatic week in the world…where the world is redeemed. It is a week of roller coaster emotions ending in apparent tragedy only for the most extraordinary happening to occur.
In his sermon yesterday the Rector of Bath Abbey Edward Mason spoke about the ending of Mark’s gospel where the story ends with the empty tomb: ‘for terror and amazement had seized them: and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’ Mark 16, v. 8. And yes to be be afraid when the world is turned upside down, to be very afraid and filled with amazement is the only possible human response to the events that took place.
When asked to stock Easter Eggs with Christian symbolism on them one sales manager is reputed to have responded ‘what’s Easter to do with the church!’ And how casual we are in accepting what surely is out of our understanding.
Yesterday I had a clear sense that the church and all the representations and symbols that are made and used as a way of trying to frame and start to understand the inexpressible are such pale shadows and surface manifestations of the most powerful and mysterious forces – yes to be afraid and amazed seems about right.
Exploring our inner geography – both the far horizon and the immediate scenery can sometimes be rather a challenging and humiliating experience. There are times when I think that the false self that predominates can also be quite unpleasant….in fact I know that is the case. As Baron Von Hugel said: ‘Another little humiliation thank you God’. So I guess it’s good to see it and through the knowing of our inner world comes the possibility of changing or at least evolving … it’s a deepening of the perception of who we are. Sometimes it feels as if the skin merely holds together an odd assortment of partially constructed and partly long established experiences. They seem to cohere into different formations at different times and things that I thought I had sorted re-emerge with an added intensity. it was Harry Guntrip who so memorably said that ‘water can always flow again in the dried up river bed’.
Whether through meditation or through analysis there can be an opening up an easing of the taut and tense aspects of the personality, this can be space not for our own manoeuvrings or attempts at manipulation but for God’s transformational action. As Jeremy Taylor wrote in the 17th century: There should be in the soul halls of space, avenues of leisure, and high porticos of silence, where God walks’. What a wonderful space that would be….
Looking at chapter 43 of The Cloud of Unknowing I wondered about the description from the unknown author to ‘see that nothing is at work in your mind or your will but God alone’. The suggestion is to overthrow other knowledge and feelings trampling it deep beneath what the writer has called ‘the cloud of forgetting’. Further thinking is about loathing finding ‘wearisome everything that is at work in your mind and your will accept God alone’. The reason is that whatever separates us from God is not helpful so the idea is to break down all the obstacles that prevent us from being close to God – transparent with God. If it’s possible to push away all the clutter that gets in the way of true contemplation then there may be a glimpse of what has been called ‘naked knowledge and feeling of your own existence’ it seems that that too needs to be destroyed and only then can there be the experience of ‘perfect contemplation’.
I’m not sure what the psychotherapist and analyst would make of that it’s certainly true that we need to clear away obsessional thinking, repetitive dulled ways of being in order to feel fully alive it’s allowing enough space in the psyche to find the true self and within that true self spark of divinity. And of course this is a lifetime’s work.