Monthly Archives: June 2020

Loving all of creation

As we continue to wreck the environment making it uninhabitable for so many animals and eventually for ourselves, it seemed timely to quote these two wonderful passage from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky:

Love all God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day, and you will come at last to love the world with an all-embracing love. Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and untroubled joy. So do not trouble it, do not harass them, do not deprive them of their joy, do not go against God’s intent. Man, do not exalt yourself above the animals: they are without sin, while you in your majesty defile the earth by your appearance on it, and you leave the traces of your defilement behind you – alas, this is true of almost every one of us! Love children especially for like the angels they too are sinless, and they live to soften and purify our hearts, and, as it were, to guide us. Woe to him who offends a child.

My young brother asked even the birds to forgive him. It may sound absurd, but it is right none the less, for everything, like the ocean, flows and enters into contact with everything else: touch one place, and you set up a movement at the other end of the world. It may be senseless to beg forgiveness of the birds, but, then it would be easier for the birds, and for the child, and for every animal if you were yourself more pleasant than you are now. Everything is like an ocean, I tell you. Then you would pray to the birds, too, consumed by a universal love, as though in an ecstasy, and ask that they, too, should forgive you your sin. Treasure this ecstasy, however absurd people may think it.

Compassion for creation

This is an extract from the writings of Isaac of Nineveh (who died around 700) that I found in a book of daily readings, in the section on readings from the Orthodox tradition. It seemed strangely moving to think about how far we have moved away from compassion for all of creation, and the damage this has caused, so seems relevant to how we find ourselves today. [I have changed it to inclusive language though].

‘What is purity, briefly? It is a heart full of compassion for the whole of created nature … And what is a compassionate heart? It is a heart that burns for all creation, for the birds, for the beasts, for the devils, for every creature. When a person thinks about them, looks at them their eyes fill with tears. So strong, so violent is their compassion … that their heart breaks when they see the pain and the suffering of the humblest creatures. That is why they pray with tears every moment … for all the enemies of truth and for all who cause harm, that they may be protected and forgiven. This person prays even for serpents in the boundless compassion that wells up in their heart after God’s likeness.’

Merton suggests that such openness and vulnerability comes from meditation. If we feel dry in our prayer life then he suggests that you can focus for example on a flower or a tree. Here he comments on the vase of flowers on the altar of the novitiate chapel:

‘Beauty of sunlight falling on a tall vase of red and white carnations and green leaves… The light and dark. The darkness of the fresh, crinkled flower: light, warm and red, all around the darkness…

This flower, this light, this moment, this silence: Dominus est. Eternity. He passes. He remains. We pass. In and out. He passes. We remain. We are nothing. We are everything. He is in us. He is gone from us. He is not here. We are here in Him … The flower is itself. The light is itself. The silence is itself. I am myself. All, perhaps illusion. But no matter, for illusion is the shadow of reality and reality is the grace and gift that underlies all these lights, these colours, this silence. Underlies? Is that true? They are simply real. They themselves are His gift. ’

Thoughts on the shadow

The world does seem a dark and difficult place at present though of course there are wonderful aspects too, but it seemed timely to have another look at the ideas of Carl Jung and about whether God is all good and if so what that might mean.

Basically Jung thought that the ‘shadowless’ spirituality of traditional Christianity means that good and evil have been split and so the church has denied its own collective shadow. Jung saw that failing to take its own evil into account, the community of faith frequently projects its negative side onto scapegoats and exercises the prerogatives of moral perfection at the expense of those it condemns. In other words righteous people become possessed and preoccupied by the inferiority and violence they wish to disavow.

If the world is not to be torn apart by the violent exercise of mutual projections, human beings must learn to tolerate their moral ambiguity and ambivalence. This for Jung was the aim of individuation – each person’s life journey was about acknowledging and incorporating all the different parts of themselves so that they stopped projecting out onto others all the parts that one doesn’t like about oneself. And of course this can apply to communities, societies, and countries too – there is always the personal and also always the collective.

Our hatred and dislike of others not like us and the violence that has taken place throughout the history of Christianity aren’t mere accidents, but rather the inevitable shadow side of trying to be ‘perfect’ – better to try to be whole even if that includes unattractive aspects. Jung believes in the process of becoming conscious of evil and bearing one’s own share of it – for him this includes God. To become a morally autonomous individual, Jung says is like being crucified because carrying one’s projections instead of letting them be carried by others is painful work.



Uncertainty and control

In an early letter written by Donald Winnicott to his sister Violet in 1919 when he was a medical student, he wrote about his interest in understanding the mind and the new treatment of psychoanalysis. Suggesting he might be accused by his sister of blasphemy, Winnicott writes that in his view ‘Christ was a leading psychotherapist’. He explains that most religious rituals and extreme acts are equivalent to mental disorders, but Christ was able to heal and bring people to a true and deep understanding of religion rather than superficially following unquestioningly what others told them to do. In psychotherapy, ‘many fanatics or extremists can be brought (if treated early) to a real understanding of religion with its use in setting a high ethical standard’. This would then allow them to stop causing a nuisance and religious contagion, and free them to develop along their own individual lines.

Twenty years later and now an analyst, Winnicott returns in a letter to a colleague Dr Kate Friedlander to the need for some people to hold to very definite opinions and refuse any discussion on them. This can happen in religion and during times of crisis such as war and pandemics where survival is threatened.

‘Why is uncertainty alarming? This in turn leads to the idea of control. The greater the uncertainty the greater the need for control, and one method of control is by ideas and statement of words; even evil, when it is predicted is better than the prospect of uncontrolled possibilities.’

Winnicott sees that some must control in this way, whilst others are under much less of a compulsion. The people who must have their opinions heard in religious or political circles are trying to control magically what is happening. This is because the situation represents a part of the person’s own inner world (or unconscious fantasy) for which they cannot bear full responsibility. ‘This is half way between depression and elation, between carrying the sins of the whole world, and denying responsibility for anything.’

The people who refuse any discussion of their opinions and views have in their fear and uncertainty ‘made the last possible consultation, they had consulted God. Beyond that is the threat of depression or madness…’

If we are less anxious we can entertain other opinions and think through different options, but when anxiety is great then the idea of magical thinking increases, it is as if we have become gods making absolute decisions.