But now the mystery has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory. It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me.Col. 1: 26-29
On a certain sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.Luke 6: 6-7
The author of the letter to the Colossians, whether Paul or someone influenced by him, seems to have profoundly understood the deepest significance of the revelation of Jesus for humanity. The riches of the glory of the Mystery of God is known in the realization of Christ in us. It is “in Christ” that we are perfectly present to God and in the world. Yet, as it is labor and struggle to preach this mystery, so it is to realize it in our actual lives.
The struggle of our own formation and that of the world “in Christ” is presented in the ongoing conflict in the gospels between Jesus and some of the religious leaders of his time. Today we read in Luke of how the scribes and Pharisees so closely watch Jesus to see if he cures the man with the withered hand “so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.” Both within each of us and between and among us there exists a “spirit” that will consistently be “accusing” the mystery of Christ in and among us. The Christ form in us, our true original calling, comes to birth in us with the same kind of pain and terror that accompany our bodily birth. Most of this pain and terror, however, is self-inflicted. We are at once the healing, loving, forgiving and animating life of Jesus and the accusatory vigilance of the scribes and Pharisees.
In his reflection for today, a reflection on the psychology of Carl Jung, Richard Rohr offers us a simple and clear truth about the struggles of our own human and spiritual formation: “The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world.” According to Adrian van Kaam, our unconscious consists of both an infra-conscious and a trans-conscious. That is, our own pain, fear, and self-loathing (our infra-conscious) and our distinctively human ongoing presence to and resonance with the Mystery (our trans-conscious) are inseparable parts of that depth that lies ordinarily outside of our awareness. As the self-hatred of the scribes and Pharisees is manifest in their suspicion and hatred of Jesus, so too our own denial, refusal, and despisal of our own “shadow” side is manifested in our despisal of others, especially those whose acceptance of and response to the mystery within threatens us.
When young and first being exposed to the gospels, we learn that certain religious leaders hate Jesus because they fear he is a threat to their status and power. And so it is. Yet, using our “analogical imagination,” we understand that beyond the question of social status this antagonism is an existential reality in each of us. As the scribes and Pharisees watch Jesus “in order to discover a reason to accuse him,” so we can watch the manifestations of the mystery in ourselves in order to suppress or repress from our awareness what it is in them that threatens our own current sense of identity and illusion of control. At least for me, one of the greatest paradoxes of human and spiritual life and formation is our intense suspicion and even fear of what is deepest in ourselves. For Freud, this was always about the repression of our unfilled infantile sexual longings, which is largely true enough. But, our unconscious is not only repression of unfilled longing and trauma, it is also our potential awareness of the Mystery in which we live and move and have our being. It is where we know our proper relationship to God, to the world and so others, and to ourselves. In moments of deep silence, meditation, and prayer this ground of our being becomes figural to us.
In domesticated religion we often think of our encounter with the Mystery, with our own sacred ground, as peace, joy, and contentment. I had a confrere who used to describe taking time for prayer, usually in a tone of irony, as “thinking beautiful thoughts,” usually for him in contrast to working hard as most people were required to do. But this is not prayer in the deepest sense. If it were always so “beautiful,” why wouldn’t we do much more of it? The “problem” that the scribes and Pharisees had with Jesus is that his very being was a threat to their own internal order. That may have been manifested to a degree in the concrete fact that he would take away “their” followers. But the deeper fear was that he challenged their very way of being. Without the order and rules which they imposed on life, mere “chaos” might ensue. And that chaos would be experienced not only externally, but internally. Last week we quoted from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. Merton there says that at a moment of true awakening I may discover that “I am my own mistake.” Reformation, conversion, metanoia are at the heart of the Christian way because we must always be turning from our own mistaken self-creation and returning to our origin. And this cannot be directed only from our own focal consciousness. We must learn to be open to and befriend our unconscious as both infra and trans consciousness.
Both in our personal and in our lives together we must be aware of and relating to what is unconscious in us, or else we shall merely live out the needs and the drives of our own infra-conscious. When we gather together, we must acknowledge the presence of these forces in and among us, or else anything we do will be the product of the force and violence of these drives and of our own self-hatred. It is difficult to be with ourselves, let alone to attempt to create a common project with others, because we lack trust in ourselves and so in each other. That lack of trust is really a lack of faith, because we can’t believe that in the reality of our vulnerability and our inability to truly know and understand, let alone control, life and world, God will take care of us. Someplace in us we know that our sense of management and control is illusion. We repress this awareness, however, because the terror of our own smallness and fragility is unbearable. In fact, we tend to hate that in ourselves.
And so, “the face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world.” The violence we impose on ourselves will inevitably be inflicted on others and the world. When Jesus prays on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he is recognizing the power of the unconscious in the world.
Transformation of consciousness requires of us that our infra-conscious be increasingly imbued over time with the Divine light of our trans-conscious. If deep prayer is openness to that trans-consciousness, it will also open our infra-conscious. This is not a matter of “thinking beautiful thoughts,” because “God’s ways are not our ways; and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.” If we are thinking our own beautiful thoughts, or our own ugly thoughts for that matter, we are not really praying. Adrian van Kaam says that “prayer is form openness.” As the author of Colossians says, there is “labor and struggle,” not only in preaching the Mystery but in being formed into it.
We are not who we think we are. To truly live in faith, hope, and love is to live not fearful of this truth, not reacting in self-loathing to the one we don’t know or don’t want to know. It is to develop a gentle, open, trusting, and compassionate face toward our own unconscious, that we may then be able to turn such a face toward the world.
The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. Read that twice! As Jesus said, “The lamp of the body is the eye” (Matthew 6:22). People who accept themselves accept others. People who hate themselves hate others. Only Divine Light gives us permission, freedom, and courage to go all the way down into our depths and meet our shadow.Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, September 9, 2019
For Jung, the God archetype is the whole-making function of the soul. It’s that part of you that always wants more, but not in a greedy sense. God is the inner energy within the soul of all things, saying, “Become who you are. Become all that you are. There is still more of you—more to be discovered, forgiven, and loved.” Jungian analytical psychology calls such growth and becoming “individuation,” which I like to think of as moving toward the life wish instead of the death wish. The life wish teaches us not to fragment, splinter, or split, but to integrate and learn from everything; whereas the ego moves toward constriction and separation or “sin.” The God archetype is quite simply love at work calling us toward ever deeper union with our own True Self, with others, and with God.