Monthly Archives: August 2015

Singing the requiem for the arctic

Greenpeace are organising protests outside Shell headquarters in London against Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic. Each day different musicians are playing a requiem for the Arctic and it is such haunting and melancholy music. Charlotte Church who is singing today said that the organisation is so powerful – as are all these multinationals – and so any protest feels such a hopeless gesture against the greed of the relentless money making destructive machines.

I had the same feeling last week when I helped briefly at a protest against TTIP. And what’s TTIP? I didn’t know much about it initially but this is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States. If, and sadly when I suppose, it goes through, it would increase corporate power and make it more difficult for individual governments to regulate markets for public benefit. What seemed particularly upsetting is that any current bans on pesticide use could be overthrown… those poor paralysed bees how have they a chance? And yet, and yet, it is so very strange as it is in all our interests that there are bees and that crops are pollinated. Is this an example of what Freud called the death drive: the endless route to self-destruction and extinction that humankind is constantly involved in? If it’s not warfare it’s destruction of the environment – people in power or who want power like killing things …either way it’s about death.
Thomas Merton wrote to a disheartened peace activist that you had to let go of any vision of success and just feel that you had done a good or right thing even if it apparently made no difference and who was to know what the outcome of that act might be anyway…and that’s what the musicians and singers outside Shell are doing whether anyone inside hears them or not… the requiem is now in the air and circulating through the world … perhaps the polar bears and bees can hear a faint echo of it and know that some humans were and are on their side.

Inspiration for August

Here are some inspirational thoughts for August. They are taken from seven people who are poets, contemplatives and a Jungian analyst. Each has given me much nourishment and a focus for reflection and thought.

First of all the Sufi poet Rumi who urges us to awaken and break free into the truth:

Why when God’s world is so big,
did you fall asleep in a prison
of all places?
The Jesuit Gerard Hughes who reminds us of our littleness in the light of Christ:
I looked at the candle in the darkness and recognised the darkness in all the bewilderment, numbness, frustration, helplessness and anxiety I had experienced…
The light came into the darkness and I felt the joy of it, an inner certainty in all my uncertainty, a hope when everything seemed hopeless, an assurance that all manner of things will be well and that Christ is greater than all my stupidity and sinfulness. I knew then that I was caught up in something far greater than my mind can ever grasp.
One of my favourites is the poet and contemplative Raissa Maritain who was the wife of the theologian Jacques Maritain and who understood that both poetry and contemplation gives us a direct line to God. Thomas Merton translated some of her poems from the French:

My God I am here before thee
I crumble into nothing before thee
I adore thy greatness
My need is immense
Have pity on me

In her Rule of Life Raissa wrote,
‘Accept all as coming from God
Do all for God
Offer all to God’.
Evelyn Underhill who wrote on mysticism and then under the spiritual director Baron Von Hugel became increasingly awakened and aware. Her letters and retreat notes are wonderful:

The light comes, when it does come, rather suddenly and strangely I think. It is just like falling in love; a thing that never happens to those who are always trying to do it.

You may also take it for granted, of course, that so long as you want peace and illumination for your own sake you will not get them. Self-surrender an entire willingness to live in the dark, in pain, anything – this is the real secret. I think no one really finds the Great Companion till their love is of that kind that they long only to give and not to get.
Robert Johnson, a Jungian analyst, had a period in his life when he stayed and worked in a Benedictine monastery running a therapy practice and retreat centre. He describes an experience when walking through a street he heard a demand in his head,

‘Now make up your mind: either everything in the world is the body and blood of Christ, or nothing is. Make up your mind’. He remembers that this was such a shock that he can still recall the external scene vividly. For him it was a terrible, and at the same time wonderful moment. As he says he knew the answer immediately, but he didn’t know what to do with it. If he said that nothing was he would die immediately from a lack of meaning in his life, ‘it was clear that Christ must be everything. But how could I live with that truth? It seemed too big to take in. I have been struggling since with the implication of that vision’.

Bede Griffiths the monk who embraced the life of an Indian holy man and so fused within him the experiences of both Hinduism and Christianity to reach a place of non-duality:
I had been striving to come to terms with it, to allot it a certain place in my life but it had shown me that it would accept no compromise. I had wanted to keep my own will and to direct my own life; but now I had been forced to surrender. I had placed my life in the hands of a power which was infinitely beyond me and I knew from this time that the sole purpose of my life must be to leave myself in those hands and to allow my soul to be governed by that will.

Finally Jean Sulivan the religious and author of Morning Light:

So Jesus’ word touches you like a hand on your shoulder, a threat as well as a friendship, a fraternal and dangerous invitation that leads from the known world and the deciphered text and makes you cross over to a land that is both here and elsewhere, whose image you carry deep within you.

The Wounded Stag and the Unicorn

The metaphor of the wounded stag and the unicorn
‘The wounded stag appears on the hill’.
St John of the Cross
The poet and mystic St John of the Cross tells us that the wounded stag is Jesus. The reason he is wounded is because we too are hurt but his wounds come from his love for the other. In his commentary the Spanish mystic explains that it is characteristic of the stag to climb to high places and, when wounded to race in search of refreshment and cool water, but if the stag hears a cry and senses that his mate is wounded he immediately runs to her to comfort and embrace her:
‘Beholding that the bride is wounded with love for Him, He also, because of her moan, is wounded with love for her. Among lovers, the wound of one is a wound for both, and the two have one feeling.’
The Jesuit William Johnston writing about this says that it shows that all Christian mysticism has its origin not in our love for Jesus but in the mystery of his great love for us.
I was reminded of this when reading again a much loved children’s classic The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. In it there is a mysterious horse – small and white that appears magically and rarely to the heroine but appears at times of great trouble. The little white horse that is eventually revealed to be a unicorn helps to unite and heal the good and the wicked to make a whole. But long after all the drama the heroine still sometimes dreams of standing beneath the branches of a mysterious wood looking into a moonlit glade, her eyes straining after something that she cannot see….
‘She knew that one day, when she was a very old woman, she would dream this dream for the last time, and in this last dream of all she would see the little white horse, and he would not go away from her. He would come towards her and she would run towards him, and he would carry her upon his back away and away, she did not quite know where, but to a good place, a place where she wanted to be.’

Making Space

Making space
Making space inside one’s head is central to finding God. If we are all filled up with what is happening inside us, our feelings, concerns and cares, or alternatively what is happening outside us and to us there can be no space for anything other than our self.
I like this quote from a psychoanalytic paper written in 1991 by Peter Fonagy ‘Thinking about Thinking’.
‘There was a silence but also a sense that our minds had met. Eventually he said that he         could not imagine that coming to analysis could ever make him feel happy but he did feel that he had more space.’
The quote encapsulates that experience where it is possible to have some capacity to observe and so some insight into what one is doing and feeling. In other words a space opens up and through beginning to know oneself and see one self in this way there is also a possibility for something other… or as I like to describe it ‘something more than oneself’. There is a space for God to enter.
I think it was Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471) who wrote, ‘A humble knowledge of yourself is a surer way to God than an extensive search after learning.’ Psychotherapy offers that opportunity.