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Spiritual homelands 4

Carl Jung’s spiritual homeland was a specific area along the upper lake of Zurich, at a place called Bollingen where he eventually built a tower. ‘I had always been curiously drawn by the scenic charm of the upper lake of Zurich … situated in the area of St Meinrad and old church land, having formerly belonged to the monastery of St Gall.’ Over the years Jung built on to the original round house which was begun in 1923 after the death of his mother, and so by 1955 after the death of his wife he added a further tower to the two already in place ‘the maternal’ and the ‘spiritual’ – a place connected with the dead.

Jung saw the place and the surrounding water and land as somewhere he could be himself, and that it represented for him the process of individuation, where he could become ‘what I was, what I am and will be. It gave me a feeling as if I were being reborn in stone … I built it in a kind of dream. Only afterwards did I see how all the parts fitted together and that a meaningful form had resulted: a symbol of psychic wholeness’. It became a mandala in stone.

It was at this place that Jung felt in the midst of his true life and could be most deeply himself.

‘At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons. There is form over the decades, nothing with which I am not linked. Here everything has its history, and mine; here is a space for the spaceless kingdom of the world’s and the psyche’s hinterland.’

Jung did without electricity, tending the fireplace and stove himself, and using old lamps – the water was pumped form the well, and he chopped the wood and cooked the food – he thought that such simple acts make people simple, and that it is difficult to be simple. It was also where ‘silence surrounds me almost audibly, and I live, “in modest harmony with nature”. Thoughts rise to the surface which reach back into the centuries and accordingly anticipate a remote future. Here the torment of creation is lessened; creativity and play are close together’. Jung experienced in a wakened state a visitation from souls from the past – coming he thought out of curiosity to see what he had built.

On his 75th birthday Jung inscribed a stone with different quotations on each side. The side facing the lake reads:

‘I am an orphan, alone; nevertheless I am found everywhere. I am one, but opposed to myself. I am youth and old man at one and the same time. I have known neither father nor mother, because I have had to be fetched out of the deep like a fish, or fell like a white stone from heaven. In woods and mountains I roam, but I am hidden in the innermost soul of man. I am mortal for everyone, yet I am not touched by the cycle of aeons.’

Bollingen was Jung’s spiritual homeland where he could ‘live life in the round, as something forever coming into being and passing on.’

Spiritual homelands 3

In 1898 when the theologian and writer on mysticism Evelyn Underhill was 23 she went abroad with her parents to Switzerland and Italy. This was the start of her recognition of a need for the deeply spiritual nourishment that can be found there. She visited the Alps and beyond the Alps was Italy. She wrote in her notebook the rather stiff sentence: ‘I entered Italy’. Later she was to add, ‘Italy, the holy land of Europe, the only place left, I suppose, that is really medicinal to the soul … There is a type of mind which must go there to find itself.’

When her parents left Evelyn Underhill went on alone to Florence where she wandered around the galleries and churches. In an early novel that she wrote, she attributes to her hero the feelings that she herself experienced when coming face-to-face for the first time with a panel called ‘The Madonna adoring the Infant Christ’. She describes the picture where,

‘the mystical, reasonable, and austere come together … in its joyous purity of outline, the intimate holiness … the strange majesty of the rapt Madonna … the wistful angels who lean against the side of her throne are hushed by her intense stillness. They are spiritual persons who cannot understand the earthly love which blends Mother and worshipper in one. She dreams of her Child, lying very helplessly and gladly upon its mother’s knees, as all that is holy lies upon the lap of perfect beauty.’

In the novel the hero is deeply affected, ‘something unearthly, something remote from life laid its quieting hand upon him. These things had not been conceived in the petty agitations of ordinary life. The Beyond had been at their birth, and left a token of its presence.’

After this visit to Italy, Underhill returned home longing to penetrate into that Beyond. She returned the following year to Florence and then in 1902 went with her mother to Umbria which from then on she especially claimed as her spiritual homeland.

‘Umbria, where the little hills reach up towards the kiss of God, bearing her small white cities nearer heaven … where Francis walked … there is a Peace of God eternally established. In this country, long beloved of the dreamy arts, spirits wearied by dark journeyings may still feel the quieting touch of Immanent Peace.’

She wrote in her diary of Assisi:

‘Assisi is well called La Beata for its soul is more manifest than any other city that I have ever known … [Assisi] expresses the heart of Italy. I think after careful consideration that St Francis must rank with Our Lady of Chartres as one of the two most beautiful churches that I have seen.’

Spiritual homelands 2

India was another spiritual homeland for Kathleen Raine and she describes what she calls the ‘India of the Imagination’ in her book India Seen Afar. It is for her the Orient, ‘the Golden Dawn’. In the west we have lost our orient – hence we are disorientated.

Raine only visited India in reality when she was over seventy, but for decades before she saw it in her mind as: ‘another country; everywhere and nowhere … universal … the place of every arrival, the term of every spiritual quest … the frontier between this and other worlds. But that frontier too is everywhere, is in ourselves.’

For her India is the goal of the human journey of the soul, and as Raine writes, ‘the soul has an instinct, like animals, for where water is to be found’. Raine said that she had to make a lifelong detour through her work for example of Blake and her own poetry so that she could ‘weave that slender bridge’ … ‘there are no short cuts to our destined times and places.’

Interestingly India (as indeed I also found) is not a comforting spiritual homeland. She writes:

‘Those who make the passage to India can expect no simple answers, no answers at all; rather perhaps to become more aware of the mystery. Those who want answers had better go elsewhere… In India [William] Blake’s dread forms of certainty’, melt away. Certainties are lost, rather than found.’

India is as Raine describes it, rather a state of mind and in this way is a paradox that throws us ultimately back on ourselves, but Indian civilisation and culture does offer and embrace a knowledge of mysticism that has not been really encouraged by Christianity and that has been largely destroyed by Western secularism. Of course she notes that this too could destroy ‘in India the wisdom of ages’, but that before it does the wisdom of mysticism could restore a spiritual vision to the West.

‘Christian Vedanta may indeed offer a way of release to those who are “stuck with” the Church so to speak … no Hindu would after all, ask any to deny the Lord Jesus. India has seen many divine incarnations and has taught that whenever the world’s darkness is greatest, then the ever-living will assume human form to restore and heal the sad soul of the world … In arriving in the India of the Imagination those who wish to do so will find the Lord Jesus already there. Not indeed the fictitious demigod of the Church or the ‘historical’ figure of the seekers for “factual” evidence that He lived, but an aspect of “MY divine life”’.

The India of the Imagination is a homecoming for those of mystical persuasion: ‘for “home”, by whatever way we reach it, is everywhere and nowhere.’

Spiritual homelands 1

What is a spiritual homeland?  I suppose it means somewhere one’s spirit feels at home. The sensations are deep and resonate within. What emerges in these posts is that one also doesn’t have to live there to access it.

Like the poet Kathleen Raine, I too was born in Ilford, Essex. Raine is rude about Ilford as a spiritual place. She writes,

‘Ilford, considered as a spiritual state, is the place of those who do not wish to (or who cannot be) fully conscious, because full consciousness would perhaps make life unendurable … It is no wonder that in the Ilfords there are more who fear than who desire the stirrings of consciousness. For one who escapes, many more must be thrown back to suffer in a prison-house made only more intolerable by every glimpse of the world of unattainable freedom.’

So how is it that some places feel spiritual, and even from far off and rarely or never visited still become a spiritual homeland? Raine’s mother was from Scotland, spoke Scots, and from her Raine inherited a love of poetry and the past. There is a melancholy to the Scots language mainly because it has been so taken over by English, it’s not the Gaelic of the islands but the language from the North East coast and the southern borders – Kathleen Raine says it is because the Scots language is so entwined with the hills and mountains and streams. It is not the language of the town, or the suburbs, though some is spoken in Glasgow.

For many Scottish people who moved south there is a lingering sense of displacement. I have lived in England all my life, but every summer we went to Montrose, on the NE coast where my father came from, and where Scots is still spoken, and once or twice to the Highlands to see my other relatives. Something of what Scotland meant got into my psyche (as it clearly did for Kathleen Raine) and experiences of past generations rise up from the collective unconscious.

The poet Violet Jacob (1863-1946) was born in Montrose and her poem ‘I saw the wild geese’ especially the sung version is about this sort of longing and yearning for a spiritual homeland.

‘Oh tell me what was on yer road, ye roarin’ norlan’ Wind,
As ye cam’ blawin’ frae the land that’s niver frae my mind?
My feet they traivel England, but I’m deein’ for the north.’
‘My man, I heard the siller tides rin up the Firth o Forth.’

‘Aye, Wind, I ken them weel eneuch, and fine they fa’ and rise,
And fain I’d feel the creepin’ mist on yonder shore that lies,
But tell me, ere ye passed them by, what saw ye on the way?’
‘My man, I rocked the rovin’ gulls that sail abune the Tay.’

‘But saw ye naething, leein’ Wind, afore ye cam’ to Fife?
There’s muckle lyin’ ‘yont the Tay that’s mair to me nor life.’
‘My man, I swept the Angus braes ye hae’na trod for years.’
‘O Wind, forgi’e a hameless loon that canna see for tears!’

‘And far abune the Angus straths I saw the wild geese flee,
A lang, lang skein o’ beatin’ wings, wi’ their heids towards the sea,
And aye their cryin’ voices trailed ahint them on the air –’
‘O Wind, hae maircy, haud yer whisht, for I daurna listen mair!’

the wounded stag 4

William Johnston writes of Mary as our mystical companion – ‘one whose eyes are fixed on the wounded stag’ and who tells us how to live when she says ‘do whatever he tells you’. Johnston says that Mary is an atmosphere of love in which we can walk, and an atmosphere in which we can be spiritually guided. Jesus came from her and she was with him at his death, she too is part of the resurrection. ‘She is always there – because she shares pre-eminently in the mystery of Christ into which the Christian mystic is necessarily drawn’. It is, he says, nothing initially to do with loving Mary but rather in accepting her love which appears gratuitously. ‘As the wounded stag appears on the hill, so also on the hill appears one of whom it was said, “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also”. As Jesus was wounded with love, so Mary is also wounded with love for us.’ Then perhaps in being loved we are able to reciprocate.

Carl Jung was very taken in the 1950s by the increasing evidence in the catholic church of the importance of Mary for people. He believed that the reintroduction of the feminine went some way to provide a balance to the heavily masculine aspects of the church. He saw that there had been a deep longing in people for the glorification of the feminine (perhaps after the bloodbath of two world wars dominated by men killing each other, and indeed anyone else who got in the way). Jung welcomed the idea to recognize Mary as the Queen of Heaven. ‘Anyone who has followed with attention the visions of Mary which have been increasing in numbers over the past few decades, and has taken their psychological significance into account, might have known what was brewing. The fact especially that it was largely children who had the visions might have given pause for thought, for in such cases the collective unconscious is always at work’.  Jung saw that this sort of movement was a balance to the patriarchal arguments of reason and history. More recently there has been acceptance of the feminine principle of Sophia as the Holy Spirit. Here is the cool breeze and the gentle healing.

The wounded stag is Jesus, and Mary ever alongside him is wounded in turn. And then opening to mystery in contemplative prayer we too become aware of our wounds and also wounded all over again by our increasing awareness of the wounded world in which we live. Then there comes a change of heart and a change in consciousness. Johnston sees that it is this woundedness that demands of us a total commitment to justice and non-violence, if we allow ourselves to know our own pain, then there can be no alternative to knowing the pain of others and our fellow creatures and trying not to make it worse.

The wounded stag 3

If God is more present in darkness than in light we are encouraged to stay with the shadow to go through it – rather than run away or repress it. This is what William Johnston calls the night of the senses where all our faculties expand helping us to receive communications which come from the wounded stag – from the darkness of God that becomes a light for us.

Two stanzas from the Spiritual Canticle by St John of the Cross describes this time of spiritual nourishment:

‘My Beloved, the mountains,

And lonely wooded valleys,

Strange islands,

and resounding rivers,

the whistling of love-stirring breezes,


the tranquil night

at the time of the rising dawn,

silent music,

sounding solitude,

the supper that refreshes, and deepens love.’

The soul is graced and blessed by closer connection to the peace of God. This is a giving God who feels present and who helps us. Johnston distinguishes this healing night of the senses (it reminds me of Thomas Merton’s piece on the night spirit and the dawn air in the Ox Mountain parable) with the night of the spirit.

The night of the spirit is concerned with meaning. Traditionally religion provides the symbols for our spiritual nourishment such as ‘God our Father, Jesus our saviour, the story of scriptures and the story of life after death’ but the deeper we go into ourselves and into the shadow and the more we expand spiritually so the symbols come to lose their meaning.

‘They no longer talk to us about God, or anything. Only one symbol remains: emptiness, darkness, absence. A terrible night is now caused by loss of meaning.’

In other words everything we thought we believed in looks hollow, empty, and insubstantial as if it turns to ashes… Our clear beliefs become faded as we enter a thick, thick cloud. This is the cloud of unknowing where all the sweet comforting beliefs seem to dissolve into uncertainty.

Johnston quotes the experiences of Therese of Lisieux who in spite of the darkness continued to write and speak enthusiastically about the love of God and His mercy – though at heart she felt an atheist. What had initially felt for many years as a warm sense of loving presence created an upsetting sense of absence – her reasons for belief fell away. Yet she claimed that she now made more acts of faith than at any time before. This became a faith that was therefore pure as it was without cultural or social props, or symbolism, or feeling good or because of theology or mystical experiences. ‘She believed because she believed. She believed God for God. And this is pure faith.’

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‘The wounded stag is in sight on the hill, cooled by the breeze of your flight’.

The mystery of Christ is the mystery of love. In the same way that the wounded stag is wounded by the wound of the other so Christ is wounded by our wounds. Through contemplation, we in turn open ourselves up to the wounds in nature and in our fellow creatures – the wounds of all sentient beings. Contemplation and also awareness of our inner world leads us to be more aware of others, more vulnerable and more sensitive – sometimes this feels too much. The news is full of suffering – the suffering of people, animals, the environment and the pain inflicted by greed, hate and destruction. What to do? How to cope?

In his stanza John of the Cross uses the word ‘cooled’ and his commentary says that ‘as a breeze cools and refreshes a person worn out by the heat, so this breeze of love refreshes and renews the one burning with the fire of love’. Our woundedness is met in a deep connection with Christ.  ‘The breeze of love’ – is here the love of God. What John offers us is the experience of Jesus who was once pinned down and is now free and this can help us believe in the possibility of change. So strangely we become more vulnerable, in greater touch with suffering but also offered healing through the same spiritual practice of contemplative prayer.

William Johnston sees that God is present in all wounds and all hurts. This is why he believes that God is more present in darkness than in light and in times of desolation than in times of consolation. He sees that contemplative prayer has much in common with psychotherapy. ‘In both cases one is painfully and inescapably brought face to face with one’s shadow.’ However for Johnston there is a difference in that ‘the mystic is healed by calling with faith on Jesus the saviour … psychologists will never understand the human psyche with all its altered states until they look carefully at the mystical journey towards wholeness’.

The wounded stag

Environment creates religious experience. If you put that theologically you might say there is a revelation of God in nature, and through nature God draws us into his presence. I’ve never visited a desert, but can see how that might lead to a feeling of being emptied out; in the same way walking in a forest you can have a feeling of the richness of God’s creation. In this way nature which is God’s creation can become a symbol of our inner frame of mind – including the unconscious, and affects us spiritually and psychologically.

In his discussion of Christian mysticism William Johnston uses the symbol of the wounded stag – he takes this from a line from St John of the Cross:

‘the wounded stag is in sight on the hill, cooled by the breeze of your flight.’

John of the Cross tells us in his commentary on his Spiritual Canticle that the wounded stag is Jesus himself – he is wounded because we are wounded. This seems so apt in our current situation. We have deeply wounded nature and so we too are deeply wounded. Our very destruction of God’s creation inevitably leads to our own suffering. The virus is merely a symptom of the terrible actions we have taken.

In his commentary St John of the Cross writes:

‘It is characteristic of the stag that he climbs to high places and when wounded races in search of refreshment and cool waters. If he hears the cry of his mate and senses that she is wounded, he immediately runs to her to comfort and caress her.’

In the same way Jesus hearing our wounded cry is wounded with love for us and joins us in our suffering.

‘Among lovers, the wound of one is a wound for both, and the two have but one feeling’.

In contemplative prayer John says we can take our selves spiritually to a high place where God begins to show himself to the soul in this life, but not completely. We can glimpse him, like the wounded stag, but as if from a great distance. Our relationship is not about our love for Jesus but rather is about the mystery of his great love for us. The flight of contemplation causes a breeze and this is the spirit of love – the Holy Spirit who refreshes, heals and sustains us in the deepest part of our soul.

Going inwards

Going inwards is one way of coping with what is happening outside. Rather than a retreat or a withdrawal I think it can be a way of balancing the destruction that we see in the external world with creativity in the inner one.

William Johnston, Catholic and Zen mystic and writer who lived and worked in Japan for most of his life quotes the idea of ‘the shift to interiority’ – following Jesus who tells us to go into our room and pray in secret this is the inner room that the Indus call ‘the cave of the heart’. In our deepest being we will meet our Father. He also refers to John 7 verse 38. In the NRSV it reads: ‘out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’ which in the St James’ version is translated as ‘he that believeth in me, as the Scriptures hath said, out of his [her] belly shall flow rives of living water.’ Johnston imagines a stout Japanese bodhisattva sitting ‘gloriously in the lotus posture while rivers of ki (energy) flow from his hara or tanden (belly) to the entire universe’.

What happens when we go down to the true self? Johnston says we have to try and discern whether this inner voice is indeed the true self and not a vicious super ego. It is here that knowledge of the unconscious can play a part.

Johnston distinguishes or discusses the idea of ‘ordinary prayer’ which takes place from our own efforts assisted by ordinary grace and then occasional times of ‘extraordinary prayer’ that is a gift and a grace from God. Practicing ordinary prayer leads to acquired contemplation and Johnston found this was very common in Japan where there was this level of awareness. It has been acquired through the different rituals such as the way of tea, and the way of Zen. ‘These so-called ways (Japanese do and in Chinese tao) are among the richest flowers of Sino-Japanese culture.’

The deeper that we can go into the cave of the heart then human effort becomes less and less necessary because of the action of God … ‘and then there comes ‘infused contemplation’ which is pure gift.’

These difficult times 3

It becomes increasingly clear that we cannot go back to the way things were before the current pandemic, and if we do then more difficult times will happen. Yet humans are a species that find change difficult – yes we can adapt, but reluctantly, and often only by small incremental steps. Perhaps this is the same for all created beings.

In 1955 Carl Jung wrote about how the wheel of time cannot be turned back. ‘Things, however, can be destroyed and renewed. This is extremely dangerous, but the signs of our times are dangerous too. If there was ever a truly apocalyptic era, it is ours. God has put the means for a universal holocaust into the hands of men.’  Jung was referring here to nuclear warfare. Whilst the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is now 75 years ago the threat remains, with even more missiles with greater capabilities, and perhaps a diminishing awareness of the total destruction and horror of it all.

Jung describes how pessimistic he is about the future and the darkness of knowing about this level of destruction: ‘My thoughts about “this world” … are not enjoyable. The drive of the unconscious towards mass murder on a global scale is not exactly a cheering prospect.’ Taking the long view Jung comments how transitions between the aeons always seem to have been melancholy and despairing times, and now we are moving into Aquarius and here Jung quotes from the Sibylline Oracles: ‘Aquarius inflames the savage forces of Lucifer’.  He jokes that this could be a case of senile pessimism if he had not seen the evidence of nuclear weapons, and the unconscious drive towards ‘the great genocide’.

The destruction of nature and the habitats of our fellow creatures is also another form of this unconscious desire for destruction, but there is always the opposite too which is creativity, and this is an energy towards life and living. Jung would say that both have to be in balance and perhaps the current difficult times are forcing us to see differently how we might live.

We are he says also irresistibly attracted to God who invites our creativity. ‘I would feel it the most heinous sin were I to offer any resistance to this compelling force. I feel it is God’s will that I should exercise the gift of thinking which has been vouchsafed to me. Therefore I put my thinking at his service…’

Jung’s thinking was about the integration of the shadow, in other words owning the destructiveness both individually and collectively, bringing the dark destructiveness into the light. The psyche – the unconscious –is not man made, but is part of the divinely created nature which for Jung includes evil and destruction. The aim is not to deny this and so find a false goodness or perfection, but rather for completeness or wholeness, Jung called this individuation.

‘In so far as God is wholeness himself, himself whole and holy, man [and woman] attains … wholeness only in God, that is in self-completeness, which in turn they attain only by submitting to God’s will … For me the state of human wholeness is one of “completeness” and not of “perfection”, an expression like “holiness,” I tend to avoid.’