14 May 2010

"You Are the Best of Both..."

Recently, getting a day off has been as difficult as finding hen's teeth. I have always found that analogy interesting...from my childhood days...but, when it comes to days off since Easter, it fits perfectly. Our parish has been through a series of critical, transformational events that would be fairly normal for a parish over a two year period. We have done it in five weeks! All of my clergy staff are feeling the emotional, spiritual and physical elements of fatigue. I carefully monitor how "my team" is working and how I am interacting with our daily work.

Yesterday, I struck "gold." I found that I could take a fair chunk of the day for personal, domestic and family care. Being by myself for most of the day, I decided to take in a movie. A perfect distraction! Denise generally does not care for action movies with violence involved. So, I found myself only one of two persons in a theatre showing Clash of the Titans. Anyone with some background reading in Greek mythology will know this movie...the story of Perseus, who finds himself in a triangle of confrontation between Zeus and Hades (Zeus's brother). As I teenager, I loved reading the Greek myths and read countless books and articles over a several year period.

As a college student, I began to take a second look at Greco-Roman mythology in the study of psychiatrist Carl Jung's research. I have now spent almost all my adult life exploring the psychological and spiritual implications of the psyche's role in forming and shaping our reality.

The truth is that the Greeks had a profoundly simple way of dealing with their internal, psycho-spiritual warfare. They projected the components of their psyche into the outer world and created the pantheon of gods, goddesses and demigods. The contemporary works of theologians like Thomas Moore, Morton Kelsey, John Sanford and a host of researchers like Isabelle Briggs-Myers, David Kiersey, Marilyn Bates, and Edward Edinger give us an ever deepening array of gateways into exploring the fullness of being human....using Jung's methodology.

But I digress a bit. On this Thursday afternoon, I simply wanted to see a good action flick and escape for a small time from the intensity of what the previous days had given us. It was working. Then I realized that this movie, Clash of the Titans, wasn't like all the previous epic screen renditions of gods, goddesses, monsters and dark caverns. I suddenly realized why a number of movie critics had panned it at release. This movie jumped square into the struggle of internal human balance between self as simply human and Self as integrated whole. Perseus was angry with the gods, but he was really angry at his own limitations. I was back at work...being a theologian, psychologist and professional journeyer of the soul-scape.

There is one line in the movie that I think summarizes the human condition. Perseus has just emerged from a portion of the underworld inhabited by Medusa (the beautiful woman with hair of snakes and a look that literally turned men to stone). He has successfully relieved Medusa of her head and emerged from the cave with only minor wounds. He used a sword given him by Zeus for the mission and, upon emerging, thrusts it into the ground in a moment of seeming rejection. At that moment, his demigod guide, Io is dealt a lethal blow (as such can be to one who is eternal), and she lays dying on the ground. Perseus is crushed and angry. Io grabs his arm and says, "You are not a god, and you are not a man....you are the best of both. Embrace it and fulfill your destiny." That's Jungian psychology in a sentence right there.

Perseus is the Greek counterpart of the Apostle Peter. Trust me on this. Peter had moments of profound insight and wisdom. Jesus commended him for this by saying, "This is not from mankind but from God..." Then, a very short time later, Peter will utter an entirely willful statement like, "You can't go to Jerusalem, because you will be killed....however, if you must, we will go with you and die as well..." Jesus response: "Get behind me Satan; for what you say is not from God but from mankind." Schizophrenic? Hardly! Peter wanted to control his own behavior; master his own destiny (and that of Jesus); but he also occasionally stepped into the place of allowing the depth of his psyche to function in its created order and reflect the truth of Self in God. In the end, Jesus confronts Peter with the three-part question, "Peter, do you love me?" Shortly after the Ascension, Peter found that place of being the best of both and is recognized as the functional icon of faith.

How is it best to understand and embrace Jesus? The post Reformation rhetoric has called forth phrases like, "having a personal relationship with Jesus." I do not, for a moment, condemn the real meaning of that phrase. But a personal relationship means something very different in the context I provide above. Listen to the words of Peter: "He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped; but he emptied himself and became obedient...even to the point of death..." Point One: The Transcendent God is not "out there" somewhere but very immanent...touchable. Point Two: The Transcendent God is not separate from humankind...but is a participant with humankind. Point Three: Jesus is the fullest possible expression of what it means to be The Best of Both. Jesus, as Paul would say later, is the "pioneer and perfecter of our faith..." In Jungian terms, Jesus is fully integrated Self.

I am willing to take the heat for what I am about to say, but it can be backed up. Most psycho-therapeutic modalities and most parochial pastoral/theological engagement is on the level of applying band-aids to human integration. I am a student of human systems psychology and, while it explains a great deal about relational dynamics in families, businesses and churches, it doesn't begin to challenge the deep level of engaging and embracing integration of the psyche. Most pastoral care and theology is the application of biblical verses and superficial prayer to the presenting problems of parishioners. These are not bad things, but they are ways we choose to deal with our deepest levels of pain, fear and dis-integration. Like Perseus, we find it more compelling to deny the sacred and trust only what is deemed human. Hebrew theology called it the "sin of Adam." Christians call it Original Sin. It is a profound act of willfulness that separates our self from our Self.

The character of sacramental life provides us outward signs of inward Grace. Like Greek mythology, these outward signs convey power, authority, transformation and nurture. Unlike Greek mythology, sacramental signs only tell a story. The real work (in theology, we call it "operation") is what the Spirit of God is doing within us or within the community. The sacramental principle is most accurately described as making us the best of both.

An afternoon away from the responsibilities and concerns of parish ministry became a time of insight and new struggle with images, character and integration. Maybe this vocation and its disciplines is God's way of saying, 'you are never really off...just taking a break from one reality to explore another for a little while.' So be it.


Fr. Fred+