Author Archives: Fiona Gardner

Finding our Way 3

 

Martin Israel did his find his way, but over his lifetime it proved to be a hard path, and in the second half of his life further difficulties, and the resurgence of the early childhood trauma returned. He writes that whilst being able to help unhappy, distraught people his intense sensitivity inevitably left him fearful of insults, misunderstandings, and hostility. He led highly valued retreats to hundreds of people, and offered many spiritual direction and healing. One person who saw him notes that in the sessions there were frequent long silences, but ‘people in their hundreds came to him for spiritual guidance … he seemed to have an intuitive (some would say psychic) understanding of them and their deepest spiritual needs’.

When it was suggested that Martin became a priest he was as he describes it, hastily baptized and confirmation was performed on one evening so that his Christian allegiance was established. He did not undertake ordination training, but was fast tracked through by church hierarchy; however, he was just as quickly dropped when he became ill with Parkinson’s and deteriorating health, and never felt quite the same about the church. He experienced an acute breakdown at this point, and an inability to walk which led to a dramatic near-death experience. He was later restricted to a wheelchair, and looked after by devoted carers.

When criticised for never seeming to enjoy himself, he responded with: ‘Both my misery and my hope are part of the universal scheme of becoming … I can only begin to be a proper person when I am no longer enclosed in myself.’ This last part served to refute the comments that he was avoiding his own inadequacy by involvement in the lives of others, as did: ‘The secret of happiness is to lose oneself in God’s business, which is the regeneration of the earth and the mending of wounded relationships.’ He believed that openness to suffering and vulnerability was the price to pay for spiritual understanding.

His beliefs rested on his personal experience, and included some outside the traditional Anglican belief system. For example, he exulted in what he describes as the mental freedom and mystical beauty of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita of Hinduism, alongside the Buddhist Dhammapada and the Tao. ‘There is breadth and tolerance in the pages of the Gita that have no equal in Western text.’

Unlike the mainstream Anglican church, he took a non-judgemental attitude to all forms of sexual behaviour, except, and quite understandably to the sexual abuse of children. His underlying belief was ‘The whole purpose of life is to know that transformation of fear to love.’

Martin saw evil as an integral part of creation – the dark force of reality; and understood we have to learn to live creatively with the whole: both good and evil. He believed that with mystical awareness and faith, God can be understood as beyond good and evil. ‘God’s grace is universal and eternal. It never fails. He is the universal creator of the bad no less than the good …’

In his book Life Eternal Martin explores what he calls ‘the great transition’ between life and the after-life. He looks at the evidence of near-death experiences, and draws from his own experiences of being alongside the dying, including after the person’s death when during sleep Martin found that he was accompanying them to the threshold of the after-life popularly symbolized as a door, but one that he could not then go through. He staunchly believed that God’s love decrees that all of his creatures, including animals, will eventually be saved, ‘the state of heaven has to include everyone because the absence of even one creature diminishes it’.

Finding our way: Martin Israel 2

 

Set design (1887) for a revival of the opera Oberon by Weber

Growing up it was very hard for Martin Israel to assert himself out in the world; he was inept at games and physical tasks leaving him a target for bullying at school. ‘I attribute my failures to physical incompetence caused by the abuse I had suffered at the hands of my father’. Feeling contempt for the insensitive, Martin retreated to academic work seeing himself as a strange child loving silence and all creation. ‘Each object, each flower, the sky and the atmosphere were bathed in a supersensual radiance … God had made it, and it reflected, in its own humility, the divine imprint’. This mystical reality stayed with him and influenced his later spiritual writings.

At the age of sixteen, Martin had a powerful experience while listening to the overture to Weber’s opera ‘Oberon’: ‘The music became blurred … the bedroom was bathed in a light of iridescent radiance.’ Initially afraid, Martin submitted to the experience and he was filled with a sense of deep peace.

I was borne aloft by a power that surpassed my understanding … it was the full measure of love, for with it were all things, and in it life found consummation … I was in the realm of eternal life … the ever-living present.

He divined during this mystical experience spiritual truths, including the ascending spiral of life, death, and rebirth as the destiny of all living things, and as part of their progress towards completion. Each he saw as part of the whole and in union with all creation – there was no loss of identity although private experience was transcended, and he felt that he had really experienced the identity of a whole person. The vision ended when God told Martin to return to the world of form, and to put into practice the teaching that he had been given. This revelation of the love of God for all creatures, he said remained the most important event in his life, writing over thirty years later that the memory of it was crystal clear.

He later studied medicine, but was plagued by terrible social inhibitions. Moving to England his psychological problems continued, but when having speech therapy for an inability to project his voice the therapist recognised Martin’s underlying deeper psychological disturbance, and encouraged by her he began to get in touch with his anger towards his parents, attending classes and reading about Freud and Jung and their theories on the unconscious and the inner world. His guide here was Mary Macauley:

I realised I was in the presence of a person I really knew, and could at last start being myself … I began to unburden myself of the knowledge that lay deep within me … for the first time in my life I had a real conversation about the profound issues of existence … and at last I began to move freely amongst people with whom I could converse with ease.

Martin saw that both the inner revelations and the outer suffering he had experienced could be ‘fertilised in service to those on the path of self-realisation … liberating others from the shackles of meaninglessness and fear.’ He developed two spiritual gifts: the first the ability to empty his mind in contemplative prayer, during which he could intuit other people’s needs and dispositions including at times the presence of evil. The second was an ability to give spontaneous inspirational addresses which further developed some years later into writing: ‘It was as if the Holy Spirit was speaking through me, and using the great store-house of wisdom and experience that my educated, sensitive mind had accumulated during the painful process of its growth.’ And he began a vocation of healing and ministry.

 

 

Finding our Way

‘… the knowledge of spiritual things is given through one’s experience of life.’

Martin Israel

Whilst the reasons for ‘losing our way’ in the previous posts were largely collective and societal, there are many individual accounts of people who have ‘found their way’, and these can offer us insight and indeed inspiration. Some of these are through suffering. One example of this is the story that the theologian Martin Israel gives in his privately published memoir.

Martin Israel, priest, healer, mystic, spiritual director, retreat conductor, and counsellor, was part of an emerging movement, where faith developed through integrating life experience rather than through rationalisation and theology based on doctrines and traditional teachings. In other words, he found his way through direct personal experiences. And some of these experiences from which his faith was constructed were hard to verbalise and process so he was involved with much personal struggle, developing a willingness to live with uncertainty.

His spirituality was founded on his traumatic and lonely childhood. He was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on 30 April 1927, the only child of liberal, affluent Jewish parents; his father an eye surgeon whose view of life Martin described as ‘shallow and materialistic.’ In his autobiography he recounts the loneliness of his childhood, the undesirable qualities of his parents and a very unpleasant family background.

‘My mother was quarrelsome and neurotic, and my father was a paedophile who practised fulsomely on me. My mother’s nature ensured that I would have no friends, while my father’s assault on my body degraded me so that I always felt inferior to my classmates at school. I have therefore had an inferiority complex.’

It is not clear when his father’s sexual abuse began, but it seems likely that it was from a young age, as Martin’s first spiritual vision took place when he was three years old when he heard a voice directly addressing him and that carried with it a radiant light. This vision gave the little boy a preview of his life, and the path he would follow to become authentic.

‘The path was a fearsome one. I was to pass along a dark and ever-narrowing tunnel, alone and isolated, and to move further and further away from all personal contact towards a dark, undisclosed future. There was to be no outer comfort … I would be lonely and often misunderstood, yet I would be driven on … compelled to go on in order to find and fulfil the real work in my life, even to its culmination in the darkness of death.’

From childhood Martin had an intimation that death was not the end, and that the suffering to be undergone was a precursor for glorification. The vision as a young child left him with a sense of dereliction: ‘The burden was almost too great to bear.’ Some solace came through the warmth of the African servants who worked in his home, and in whom he sensed a ‘spiritual reality’; some of whom seem to have been able to emotionally reach the traumatised little boy. One gave Martin an evangelical tract about Jesus.

‘The knowledge of this man pierced me to the marrow of my being. I knew in my depths that it was he who had spoken to me … I could never turn away from his life and his solemn witness to the truth.’

Losing our way – narcissism

A room full of mirrors

The writer Emmanuel Carrère (see previous post) readily acknowledges that there is a fair amount of narcissism in his books. Here he is not talking about what has been called narcissistic personality disorder where there is a serious inability to empathise, or see the view of the other person, but rather what we might call a more everyday narcissism, a form of self-absorption where our self and our ideas are put to the fore in a defensive way. This then excludes anything that might disturb the self, and so we are closed off from the world of human relationships and indeed from relationship with the divine. So, there is a tendency for this narcissism to deaden spiritual growth, and leave us stuck in a room full of mirrors.

Clearly, we all have some of this narcissistic tendency to different extents, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that we hold ourselves in high regard. Often there is awareness of some deficiency and something lacking within oneself; a brittleness and lack of resilience at the core. This narcissism inhibits us living life in a way that is openhearted, vital, and properly receptive to all that surrounds us.

In ‘The Seven Storey Mountain’ the early autobiography by Thomas Merton, he indirectly writes a bit about this, and also about the breakthrough in his narcissistic tendencies that took place just before his conversion to Catholicism. A student at Columbia University, Merton signed up for a course in French Medieval Literature and bought a book called ‘The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy’, Horrified that it turned out to be a Catholic book from the imprimatur at the front, Merton is tempted to throw the book out the train window on his way home, but in fact reads it and is deeply affected by some of it. Why?

In it he reads about a ‘big concept’ that ‘was to revolutionise my whole life.’ This is ‘aseitas’ which he explains as the:

‘… power of a being to exist absolutely in virtue of itself, not as caused by itself, but as requiring no cause, no other justification for its existence except that its very nature is to exist. There can be only one such Being: that is God.’

In other words, God, as an infinite Being who transcends all our conceptions, exists whether you or I, or indeed Merton, believe in Him or not. God is ‘more than ourselves’ and beyond the narcissism that tries to keep control of our thoughts, feelings, and events. Merton writes about how some people, perhaps especially intellectuals, are repelled and offended by statements about God which they are not able to understand or own, and which are experienced as an attack on the narcissistic constructed self, and, that has to be defended against. Merton writes:

‘They refuse these concepts of God, not because they despise God, but perhaps because they demand a notion of Him more perfect than they generally find: and because ordinary, figurative concepts of God could not satisfy them, they turn away and think that there are no other; or worse still, they refuse to listen to philosophy, on the ground that it is nothing but a web of meaningless words spun together for the justification of the same old hopeless falsehoods.

What a relief it was for me, now, to discover not only that no idea of ours, let alone any image, could adequately represent God, but also that we should not allow ourselves to be satisfied with any such knowledge of Him.’

Jimi Hendrix puts such an opening up away from narcissism like this:

‘I used to live in a room full of mirrors, where all I could see was me. I take my spirit and crash those mirrors and now the whole world is there for me to see’

Losing our way – intellectual cynicism

One of the more insidious aspects of contemporary secularism is intellectual cynicism. In the prologue to his rather extraordinary book ‘The Kingdom’, the French writer Emmanuel Carrère, who sees himself as a post-Christian, describes how when he outlines the idea for his book on the early Christian community as described in Acts of the Apostles, one of the friends listening to him responds in this way:

‘He says it’s strange, when you think about it, that normal intelligent people can believe something as unreasonable as the Christian religion, something exactly like Greek mythology or fairy tales. In ancient times people were gullible, science didn’t exist, but today! … Their pie-in-the-sky ideas coexist alongside perfectly level-headed activities. Presidents pay deferential; visits to their leader. Really, it’s kind of strange, isn’t it?’

In this book, Carrère retells the stories of Paul and Luke. He invents what isn’t already known and includes his own sometimes cynical speculations. Twenty years earlier he was a devout Catholic convert, but now he writes as an agnostic. He maps his personal conversion (and later deconversion) onto the story of Paul and Luke. The struggle to believe is the struggle with intellectual cynicism: “I don’t believe Jesus was resurrected. I don’t believe that a man came back from the dead,” he writes. “But the fact that people do believe it – that I believed it myself – intrigues, fascinates, troubles and moves me.” It is his rationalism, that diminishes his rather over the top piety to a state of disbelief, but there’s a wistfulness in the letting go.

At the end of the book, in the epilogue, Carrère, comments with insight first of all about the Church:

‘Christianity situates its golden age in the past. Like its most violent critics, it thinks that its moment of absolute truth, after which things could only go downhill, resides in the two or three years when Jesus preached in Galilee and died in Jerusalem. And by its own admission the Church is only alive when it approaches that moment.’

And then comments about the book:

‘I’ve done a good job. At the same time, I was nagged by an afterthought that I had missed the point. That with all my erudition, all my thoughtfulness, all my qualms, I was completely off the mark. Of course, the problem when you deal with such questions is that the only way not to be off the mark would be to go over to the side of faith – and that I refused to do, and still do. But who knows?’

Finally Carrère writes about being challenged to go on a retreat at a L’Arche centre with residents, most of whom are physically or mentally challenged, living with those who help them. There is a foot washing ceremony which Carrère finds both beautiful and embarrassing, but is relieved he’s not otherwise affected by it. The retreat ends the next morning with singing a ‘Jesus is my friend’ type hymn:

‘… everyone starts clapping their hands, tapping their feet and wiggling as if they were at a disco. … I can’t sincerely join in on a moment of such intense religious kitsch. I hum vaguely … waiting for it to end. Suddenly Elodie [a young girl with Down’s syndrome] … plants herself in front of me, smiles …encouraging me with her eyes, and there’s such joy in her look, such candid joy, so confident, so unburdened, that I start dancing like the others, singing that Jesus is my friend, and tears come into my eyes as I sing and dance and … I’m forced to admit that that day, for an instant, I got a glimpse of what the kingdom is.’

Losing our way 3

Aquarius – the water bearer

It has been pointed out that each generation throughout the ages have believed they were living in particularly crucial times – but it is also the case that some historical periods are more decisive than others – not only in shaping a particular nation, but for humanity as a whole.

Karl Jaspers a German philosopher and psychiatrist called the period between 500-800 BCE across Europe and Asia the ‘axial age’ when ‘thought turned back upon thought’. It was characterised by the flourishing of a new self-reflective attitude towards human existence, and with it an awakening to the concept of transcendence. Most major religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism can trace their roots back to this era, or were actually founded during the axial age, while others such as Hinduism began to reform to become more like those axial age religions. This was the era of thinkers such as Confucius, Lao Tzu, Buddha, Zoroaster, Heraclitus, Plato, and Socrates.

In the West this period also gradually led to the development of what Georg Feuerstein, who writes about yoga and Hinduism, sees as,

‘the enthronement and autarchy [autocracy] of cold reason and the subsequent suppression of nonrational modes of consciousness. … this …lies at the root of today’s moral and spiritual bankruptcy, and its disastrous effects can be witnessed all around us (and in us if we care to look).’

Feuerstein sees that we are well into the ‘dawn phase’ of what the Hindu pundits call the ‘dark age’ or the kali-yuga – the last of the four world ages. According to Hindu mythology the dark ages began on February 18, 3102 BCE – the date of the huge battle recorded in the Mahabharata epic. ‘At that time- just as today – the evil machinations of a few power-hungry individuals with no regard for the larger good had created an intolerable situation demanding to be redressed.’ The kali-yuga dark age is a sinister time where the moral order is reduced: ‘plagues, disease, sloth, blemishes such as anger, as well as calamities, sickness and afflictions prevail’. Perhaps even more daunting is that it lasts for 360,000 years!

Apparently, and hopefully there is not total spiritual darkness as the darkness is pierced with shafts of light – there are counterbalancing influences – partly because the Divine has critically intervened in human affairs. In Hinduism this is in the form of the God-man Krishna. Later, Christians would see that the incarnation of Jesus Christ enters as light in the darkness. Feuerstein writes: ‘… all spiritual teachings affirm that we must do our utmost to cultivate spiritual values in the midst of the great darkness surrounding us … by an inward act.’

In contrast to the Hindu time frame, Western astrologers see the age of Aquarius as ushering a new age symbolised by the Water bearer who irrigates and fertilizes nature, there is something new trying to emerge. The Hindu philosopher Sri Aurobindo and the French priest Teilhard de Chardin were also optimistic of the spiritual evolution of humanity with a tendency to a more benign future. The message is to choose to increase the light in the world.

Losing our way 2

The sacred in flowers 

photograph by Gordon Humphreys

The ideology of scientism, so prevalent in our thought and culture especially in the west, has obscured the most fundamental dimensions of existence – the sacred – which includes our connection with the rest of creation. To restore the sacred to our lives is imperative, and it is possible for this to happen as the sacred is not annihilated, but merely buried. For sacred wisdom is within each person,  and in all of creation – that of God in every one as the Quaker George Fox puts it. Interestingly the original is the two words ‘every’ and ‘one’ (possible to include all creation), whereas it got changed to ‘everyone’ (possibly implying just the humans).

Finding our way again is about re-establishing this sacred wisdom – different from intelligence and knowledge-based thinking. Rather wisdom is a way of knowing that transcends and unites. This quote from Thomas Merton is helpful, he says wisdom,

‘ … dwells in body and soul together and which more by means of myth, of rite, of contemplation, than by scientific experiment, opens the door to a life in which the individual is not lost in the cosmos and in society but found in them.’

Our response in life is not then from an objective detached position, but rather about an intuitive, participatory awareness of what Merton calls ‘the hidden wholeness’ of all reality. In other words, the world is so much more than facts and material existence, but includes this vast dimension of ‘more than ourselves’ with all the associated wonder and reverence. The cosmos becomes spiritualised, and transfigured, and divinised. Through contemplation, Merton writing as a Christian monk, but also in dialogue with the great traditions of the East sees growing in wisdom, (he also uses the terms sophia and sapientia) as linked to increasing conformation to the figure of Christ. Yet this wisdom or sapiential orientation is found in all religions, and links to understanding that creation is in itself a manifestation of divinity.

‘The forms and individual characters of living and growing things, of inanimate beings, of animals and flowers and all nature, constitute their holiness in the sight of God. Their inscape is their sanctity. It is the imprint of His wisdom and His reality in them.’

Merton is seeing here a dimension that reveals harmony, a pattern and a deep sense of order. Pat O’Connell describes Merton’s insight this way: ‘The same mystery of Being that that finds its definitive manifestation in Christ also is disclosed in many different forms through the natural or cosmic revelation available to all.’

Merton associated wisdom from his reading, dreaming and reflections on the figure from Proverbs chapter 8 who is playing and delighting in all of creation – wisdom is in the feminine, and in play celebrating joy, spontaneity and freedom. Harmony, personal, collective, and cosmic, comes from balancing wisdom with scientific knowledge: balancing the intuitive, spiritual, and spontaneous with the objective, analytic and abstract. Wisdom is needed to counteract the current state of the world, by keeping alive ‘an intersubjective knowledge, a communion in cosmic awareness and in nature … a wisdom based on love.’

Losing our way

 

Smokestacks and rubbish – nature on the eve of destruction from the UN Extinction Report

I recently heard from a psychologist who really dislikes the word ‘spirituality’ because it’s something that cannot be proved by scientific research. This made me wonder about how mainstream science has relentlessly focused on the material and the physical, with an insistence that consciousness only exists in the brain, and so has created a one-dimensional view of life and what happens in life, and indeed what happens after life.

Anne Baring, a Jungian therapist and writer, includes this quote in her book on ‘The Dream of the Cosmos’

‘Western thought has committed itself to a vision of reality that is based almost entirely on the daylight world of ordinary states of consciousness, whilst systematically ignoring the knowledge that can be gained from the night-time sky of non-ordinary states … Trapped within the horizon of the near-at-hand mind, our culture creates myths about the unreliability and irrelevance of non-ordinary states. Meanwhile, our social fragmentation continues to deepen, reflecting in part our inability to answer the most basic existential questions.’

This of course is exemplified by our separation from the rest of the created world and our treatment of nature. In this secular culture the rational mind is seen as of supreme value – recognising no power or consciousness beyond itself; this means we have become disconnected from the deeper matrix out of which we have evolved and on which we depend. We have been reduced as human creatures to a biological mechanism as exemplified in this statement from Stephen Hawking: ‘Brains are like computers. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark”.

Francis Crick one of the discoverers of DNA put it equally bleakly:

“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and associated molecules.”

However, there is another view increasingly prevailing and one where the ‘evidence’ of the destruction caused by our one-sided consciousness is only too clearly revealed. I like this quote from the Catholic theologian Thomas Berry representing what has been called ‘Ideational culture’ which is a move away from rigidity of beliefs in both religious and secular worlds and towards values of responsibility towards creation.

‘Suddenly we awake to the devastation that has resulted from the entire modern process … In relation to the earth, we have been autistic for centuries. Only now have we begun to listen with some attention and with a willingness to respond to the earth’s demands that we cease our industrial assault, that we abandon our inner rage against the conditions of our earthly existence, that we renew our human participation in the grand liturgy of the universe.’

Blessed greenness 4

17th century Greek painting of Christ as the true vine by Leos Moskos

The colour green as signifying the divine spirit of life in all things, becomes a central metaphor for Barbara, a woman in therapy with the Jungian analyst, Donald Kalsched. Following a traumatic childhood with a mentally unstable mother and an emotionally distant father, she remembered being beside herself with fear when her mother acted out manically, often actually tearing the house apart. As a child Barbara hardened herself on the outside, trying to be good, whilst removing a part of herself emotionally on the inside. She described this as going to a cold remote place.

As an adult Barbara dreamt that she was on a cold, dying planet, invited to rescue any surviving creatures, and bring them back to earth. The only being on the planet is one known as ‘the emissary’, which she cannot see, but she can hear the voice. At the end of the dream, Barbara sees that the emissary is a green monster with a tentacle that wraps itself around her, and around the bundle of repulsive rescued animals that she carries. She deduces that in the dream she both suffered the monster, but also loved him fiercely; somehow the green monster was part of her that needed to be brought to earth and to dry land.

In the process of her long analysis, new understanding emerged when Barbara learnt that at 16 months, she had been separated from her mother for six weeks, suffering a serious rupture in her early attachment; a pattern that was repeated in subsequent relationships and situations, and that left her with a deep sense of insecurity, and an abiding threat of loss of love. Towards the end of her work with Donald Kalsched, Barbara dreamt: ‘Green tendrils of a plant were waving in the breeze, with an accompanying voice-over that said: “I am the true vine”.’ Whilst a simple image it was clear that it was a further and meaningful development of the earlier dream of the green, tentacled monster. In the therapy session, Donald Kalsched immediately linked this to John 15, 1-11; he found the excerpt, and read this section to Barbara:

Jesus said:

‘I am the true vine and my Father is the vine-grower. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit … Just as the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. If you abide in me, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.’

Kalsched writes that for both him and Barbara a deep spiritual truth flooded into the space after he had read this – like a blessing:

‘… though neither of us could grasp its full meaning … In that moment, the wisdom of the psyche came into full view. It was as though the benedicta viriditas – the blessed greenness – had settled over us both, blessing us, and filling the “third” space between us with a beauty and a mystery whose meaning could only be sensed and felt, not fully known.’

 

Blessed greenness 3

 

Carl Jung around the time of his vision

Blessed greenness – Carl Jung’s vision of Christ

‘Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.’

In 1939 whilst Carl Jung was researching for his work on Psychology and Alchemy, he woke from sleep and saw bathed in a bright light the figure of Christ on the cross at the foot of his bed. The figure was not quite life size but quite distinct, and Jung saw clearly that Christ’s body was made of greenish gold. Whilst the vision was remarkably beautiful, Jung felt deeply shaken by what he had seen.

Jung had also just given a seminar on the ‘Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola’, and his first thought about the vision was to link it to the Anima Christi, one of the meditations he had been thinking about. But it seemed as if the vision was a reminder too – Jung deduced that he had overlooked the analogy of Christ with the alchemists search for gold.

Jung explains that the serious alchemists realised that essentially their attempts to turn base metals into gold wasn’t so much to do with either ‘common gold’, or ‘philosophical gold’, but rather with spiritual values and psychic transformation. It was the psychic transformation between patient and analyst that particularly drew Jung’s interest. The vision, Jung writes, points to the central vision of Christ as an alchemical symbol – a force for transformation.

Here the green-gold is the life spirit that animates the entire cosmos.

‘This spirit has poured himself out into everything, even into inorganic matter; he is present in metal and stone. My vision was thus a union of the Christ-image with his analogue in matter …  If I had not been so struck by the greenish gold, I would have been tempted to assume that something essential was missing from my “Christian” view – in other words, that my traditional Christ-image was somehow inadequate and that I still had to catch up with part of the Christian development. The emphasis on the metal, however, showed me the undisguised alchemical conception of Christ as a union of spiritually alive and physically dead matter.’

Jung was grappling with his understanding of the symbolism of Christ: the gold at the heart, and the green of the living water, and the animating spirit that gives life to everything in creation – including all that seems to us as dead matter. The spirituality pervades everywhere and everything. The Kingdom of God is everywhere, and as Thomas Merton says: ‘Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand. It is wide open.’