Monthly Archives: April 2021

The Quest for Home and Self

The Jungian analyst and Roman Catholic priest John P. Dourley who died in 2019 wrote a pamphlet for the Guild of Pastoral Psychology in 1982 about this psychological and spiritual quest drawing on the writings of Paul Tillich and Carl Jung. I must have bought it fairly soon after that, when, as a young adult, I was at the start of my own searching for deeper meaning. Coming across it nearly four decades later it still makes a lot of sense.

I like the way that Dourley understands that the very searching implies an experience of a certain fullness or well-being from which life is currently somehow removed – in other words the energy for the quest becomes the energy for looking for this absent abundance.  We already have a distant sense of what we are looking for. ‘Homelessness implies a sense of home in however many different places the human spirit may locate it.’ The looking is the basis of both the possibility and the necessity of the spiritual searching. ‘This remains true even though the pilgrim may come to this recognition only toward the end of the journey, and possibly after passage through many homes on the way.’

Dourley sees transformative experiences in the depths of the psyche as being connected to both psychic and spiritual conversion – what he calls ‘the unity of the psychological and religious in one’s own person’ where the searcher is being led to their truest home.

‘Which way does one turn toward home and self? Are they to be found in a transcendent country foreign to the land of our present exile? And do we go home with the gratuitously given energy and light of a power drawing life to itself from a position totally beyond it? Or is the way home to be found in a turning within to meet there a part of ourselves which has never been away from home and drives us from the depths of our existence to unite ourselves more fully with it?’

In the first God is a stranger – in the second God is one from whom each of us has been estranged. As we discover God, we discover ourselves – something similar or even identical from ourselves although God infinitely transcends us – God from whom we have been estranged but never have been nor ever can be separated.

This is then a radical understanding of divine immanence where the search for the essential self and the search for God become the ultimate concern in the quest for home. Tillich thought that ‘to be human is to be concerned with the ultimate because the ultimate is that power in the human driving humanity to itself.’ The search for the infinite is fired by its presence in the depth of each person: ‘God is the presupposition of the question of God.’

Raissa Maritain and the Fourth Notebook 1924-1926

In 1924 Raissa was in her early 40s and suffering from repeated ill health but dedicated to her contemplative and intellectual life. She writes how she awaits all from God: ‘For from me to Him, it seems that all the bridges are cut. But not from Him to me … Direction and light from God alone …  entirely open to God’. Her experiences have deepened so she can write about the ‘reassuring darkness / insensible delight / incomprehensible communion’. In this darkness the soul can only subsist on the sole will of God. She interpreted her illnesses as ‘salutary’.

She distinguishes between love and friendship between humans and then from again her own deepest experiences in solitude with God, she writes how God loves us with friendship:

‘by providing for all our necessities and by dying for us on the Cross. God loves us with love by making us participate in his nature by grace – by making the sanctified soul his dwelling. By making himself known to us through supernatural Revelation … And what does he demand of us ourselves? Our heart.’

Raissa was repeatedly drawn inwards and became withdrawn – an inwardness that set her apart from others.

Judith Suther interprets Raissa’s long spells of illness (and Jacques Maritain said that illness became the constant trial of their household – he and Vera Raissa’s sister were also not spared) as setting the pace of the salutary withdrawals from the world which illness allowed. It was the prolonged effects of illness, not illness itself, that established the pattern of meditation and prayer that made possible the rather extraordinary record of her spiritual life. Suther writes: ‘She [Raissa] made constructive use of the body’s fragility and transformed suffering into a holy state, an imitatio Christi. Once experienced, extended convalescence began to alternate with physical well-being, defining thereby an essential condition of her survival.’ The battleground between the physical material body and the spiritual meant that over time she became ‘a pilgrim of the Absolute’ and a spiritual exile – praying along even from those she loved most. She did emerge to connect with people from time to time but not for long and with only limited endurance – she referred to herself as ‘a bird with broken wings.’ She died in 1960 leaving her journals, a wonderful book Les Grandes Amities – translated into English by Julie Kernan We Have been Friends Together, and many poems – some of which have been translated by Thomas Merton into English.

Raissa with Jacques Maritain in later life

In the preface to her journal Rene Voillaume a follower of Charles de Foucauld and the founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus, writes:

‘What distinguishes Raissa’s witness and what makes it rare is that it proceeds from an authentic experience of God’s mystery, as well as simply human realities, with unfailing precision of thought. The clarity of an extraordinarily vigilant intelligence, guided by the love for truth, is always there.’


Raissa Maritain third notebook


Raissa muses on the search for truth and true knowledge and where to find it.

 ‘At twelve, I thought it lay in medicine; at eighteen, in the natural sciences; at twenty, in metaphysics; at twenty-two in theology. I know now that it does indeed lie there, and that holiness, when added to it, infinitely increases it, and that the wisdom proper to it can do without everything… It was not enough for me to live, I wanted a reason for living and moral principles which were based on an absolutely certain knowledge.’

Raissa thanks God for instilling in her such a desire for truth but her times of ill health bring her to a deeper sense of God. Early entries are full of book quotes but as her health begins to fail these give way to feelings. She writes that her inner prayer remains the same, but with long periods of ‘dryness’ nevertheless

‘however arid it is, I cannot replace it either by reading or by meditation which would do violence to my feelings and which tire me greatly; whereas arid silence with God sustains me, rests me and I would not give it up for anything. … I reproach myself for having too often tried to read in order to excite myself to devotion; it has only succeeded in tiring me.’

She struggles with some of the demands on her ‘the management of oneself and of things’ where there is always the possibility of ‘imperfection’ and in 1921 decides that to love and to abandon oneself to God is the only necessary thing – even more than being silent with God.

A year later she writes that everything must be based on ‘the presence of God’ – the soul has to become simple and unified:

‘Once it seemed to me that I was on the brink of an ocean of love, that it only needed a little, a very little of me to be engulfed in it … Jesus, my God, make me all yours! … When you are there, making the soul rest in silence with you, drawing it to you and uniting it, there is no room for doubt. But when one finds oneself alone again, seeing how great is the poverty of the soul and remembering one’s sins, one doubts the graces received on account of their divine value.’

Raissa adds that she could not live without God, her only hope lies in God.


Raissa Maritain second notebook

Raissa Maritain Second notebook

The second notebook covers the period from 1918-1919 – the last year of World War 1. Early on Raissa writes about the vocation of a Christian which is to ‘walk on the waters … With no human support, in pure faith, in hope and pure charity. With no feeling sometimes, simply keeping one’s eyes raised to God …’


Despite being always in poor health Raissa journeys with Jacques to Rome in connection with his theological work, and there it’s initially more difficult to find the solitude and silence she needs. Once she can, she deepens her time of contemplative prayer, commenting on the necessity of this time of silence. This is alongside theological study, writing prose and poetry. Raissa sees that contemplation is the foundation of everything, for even if it dispenses with external activities and takes place in isolation it means that there is a stronger connection with others. She sees this as loving others more for God and ‘to esteem them much less in themselves. Their judgement matters little to me, at least fairly little. What matters to me from now on is to be with my God, and to learn to love him truly. To make his Love and his Mercy known, by becoming kind and merciful myself, by living only on his Love.’

God is in us she writes ‘by grace. It is a question of descending into ourselves, to the bottom of our soul, and that, once again, by sweeping away obstacles.’ She feels discouraged looking only at herself so vows to leave the care of herself to God and abandoning her attempts to do anything through her own strength she sees this as a form of surrender.

In her biography of Raissa, Judith Suther raises questions and gives the contradictory views held about Raissa Maritain. She sees that a physically frail highly intellectual woman living an unconventional life will always be the subject of criticism and divergent judgements. By various people seen as a saint, a snob, a hypochondriac, a genius or an eccentric. Her experience of having felt lost in her desire to be with God and her deepening sense of the joy of his presence meant that her spirituality carries an intensity and strength and this evoked strong feelings in others.

In 1919 she lays out in her journal her resolutions; these are just some of them:

self-examination every day at a set time; very frequent short and fervent prayer; total abandonment to God; free my heart from everything it clings to most …; consent to be completely inactive and useless better to allow God to work in me; be attentive to divine impressions; be attentive to all movements of my heart; see to the purity of intention of all my acts, to perfect sincerity.

And there are more …


Resurrection experiences

Extracts from the further notebooks from Raissa Maritain will be posted in the future, but as this is Eastertide the reflections by Stephen Verney on the resurrection seemed timely to write about.

His book Water into Wine is about John’s Gospel and he shares two experiences of his own whereby he came to know what he had previously believed as an article of religious doctrine, ‘that those who have died really are alive, in another order of being, and in communication with us within a new consciousness of faith and prayer.’

The first account follows the death of his first wife, who after an operation felt that she had lost her inner spring of energy and used to say, ‘They have taken away my horse’. After her death, Stephen Verney and his children spent a week together at a place where the family had holidayed every year in Anglesey.

‘We were walking round the cliffs and had come over a little rise, when suddenly I saw, two fields away a horse grazing. I have walked round those cliffs almost every year of my life, and I had never seen a horse in that field before, and have never seen one since. It raised its head, saw us, started whinnying, and galloped across the fields, through a gap in the wall, and up to the stile … she pushed her muzzle over the fence, and snuffed us with delight. I cannot say, “It was as though my wife, my children’s mother, had come to greet us”, the experience was far more powerful than that. We knew that she had come to greet us, and that she was saying, “Look I’ve got my horse back, and I’m so happy you are here on holiday.”’

The second experience involved the death of a day-old son born to Stephen Verney before writing the book and with his second wife. Born, baptized in an oxygen tent, he died – this was the extent of the baby called Harry Stephen’s earthly life,

‘and we were left in a dark place where things did not seem to make sense. One morning, some weeks later, I got up early and was walking along the landing when I looked out of the window, and saw in my garden two sheep with two little black lambs. There have never been sheep in my garden before, and never again since that morning. I went outside, but they had gone leaving their footprints in the soil’.

It was the fortieth day after Harry’s death and Stephen Verney remembered the Eastern Orthodox tradition that the fortieth day after death the soul is set free and enters into anew relationship with heaven and with us. The scripture reading for the day was about the Good Shepherd who carries his lambs in his arms. Stephen Verney’s wife who was Welsh and to whom he had given when they were engaged a dress made of black Welsh sheep’s wool told him that she had always thought of Harry as a little black Welsh lamb.

‘Again, I cannot say, “It was as though Harry had come to tell his parents that he was alive and happy and cared for.” He had really come, using a language which would make sense to his mother and father on that particular morning.’

The veil between this world and the next can becomes very thin in times of deep loss,

‘They have gone through it, and they draw us with them into an intensity of awareness, so that in the depths of the present moment we become open to another order – “the inrush of timelessness” where everything is held together in the mind of God’.