Reformation or re/formation can take place in both religion and in psychotherapy and in both it demands an authentic and real, lived experience. Reformation comes from the heart of individual experience. It can be personal but it can also be collective and in both it is an event that springs from the present moment. Something is happening.
The teachings of Jesus, or Paul, or the Buddha, or in psychotherapy the writings of Freud, or Jung, or Winnicott can all be edifying and open up new areas of knowledge and thinking but in itself the reading does nothing. After all Paul himself had a sudden revelation and the best psychoanalytic insights come from the very practice and experience of the therapeutic relationship. Unless there is a personal experience nothing happens. Carl Jung talking about this thought that a numinous experience can take many forms, for instance falling in love. What matters is that it is really lived. In the experience one is fully alive and present to what is being felt.
In conversation with C. G. Jung, E.A. Bennett notes that Jung told him that when he published his work on alchemy people said it was nonsense. A professor in Oxford wrote saying that he had read the book and found it most interesting, but no proof was given. ‘But,’ said C.G., ‘the book is full of proofs! What could he have wanted as a proof? Something he could explain “scientifically”, or take a photograph of?’ What C.G. regarded as important was that people thought as the alchemists had done – they had certain experiences, and as indeed we still have experiences.
So the real interest is in the experience, not in ‘proving’.
But often we doubt our own spiritual experiences, perhaps because as Thomas Merton put it we suffer from the disease of absolutes. All uncertainties are intolerable and we want answers that are right and final. Our experiences in spiritual life are about deepening our relationship with God and we are invited to turn trustingly again and again towards the light.
In the foreword to the book ‘Loving God Whatever’ by Sister Jane of the Sisters of the Love of God, Mother Rosemary writes about how our big commitments are lived out (in other words experienced) inch by inch, day in day out, and step-by-step. One of these big commitments may be to God and as Sister Jane counselled one man, ‘we cannot know for sure if God is Love, but we can live as if he is anyway’. That surely is the way of re/formation.