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Center for Action and Contemplation

Only the Beginning  

Sunday, June 16, 2024

In growing psychologically, one moves toward increasing autonomy and independence. In growing spiritually, one increasingly realizes how utterly dependent one is, on God and on the grace of God that comes through other people. —Gerald May, Will and Spirit 

Over thirty years ago, Father Richard gave a talk at the 20th anniversary of Sojourners magazine and community. He affirms the benefits of psychological growth but urges us not to become stuck in individualistic worship of the self:  

When subjectivity became the reference point for human behavior, the psychological age began; by the late 1960s it became the language of the mainstream. It was a revolution just as profound and maybe more far-reaching than political revolutions or religious reformations. All of us are deeply affected by it; it is the air we breathe.  

The Jungian psychologist James Hillman summarizes it well:  

It’s the prevailing opinion we encounter anywhere in the therapy world, the self-help world, the afternoon talk-show world. All make clear the importance of childhood, of coming out from disempowerment (“be in control”), recovering from past abuses, working through to self-acceptance (“I can be comfortable with that”), and the confessional witness of “my own journey.” [1]  

These things are good to a certain point, and have helped countless people, but are only the beginning of the journey. The subjective self in our day is sometimes treated as objective truth. It becomes the unassailable “ground of being” which often cannot be questioned or left unaffirmed.  

It seems that it has become an accepted truth that the best thing one can do is “work on oneself.” Often it’s frowned upon in some circles to repress any feelings, fears, or sexual fantasies, while it may be totally acceptable to repress the objective issues of famine, habitat destruction, access to medical care, and weapons sales. 

When psyche meets psyche there is usually insight, communion, expansion, or at least distraction. It feels alive and will always lead us to another level of revelation or confrontation. But sometimes there is no goal beyond the process itself or that elusive thing called healing. This sounds a bit hard perhaps, but the enduring philosophical traditions have never confused existence with essence as we do today. We attach enormous significance to passing feelings, hurts, and experiences, things which the great world religions have called illusion, temptation, trial, grace, opportunity, passion, or “shadow and disguise.” They are means, not ends; windows and doorways perhaps, but surely not the temple itself. 

At best, the search for understanding or sobriety or healing is seen as the early “purgative way,” but not yet the classic “illuminative” or “unitive” paths. In these, we less and less need explanations, success, or control. Healthy spirituality points us through ever-changing psyche to never-changing Spirit. The Mystery has shown itself. It’s okay. It’s enough. No one, including the self, needs be blamed, shamed, or worshiped. If that’s not the freedom of the children of God, what would it possibly be?  

[1] James Hillman, reply to Jim Ralston, The Sun 188 (July 1991): 4–5. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Why Does Psychology Always Win?,” Sojourners Magazine 20, no. 6 (November 1991): 10–15; and Near Occasions of Grace (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993), 11, 12, 13. 

Image Credit and Inspiration: Angelo Pantazis, untitled (detail), 2018, photo, Unsplash. Click here to enlarge image. We continue down our pathways, step by step, through both the drying and the greening seasons

Story from Our Community:  

Going through the process of aging has been unsettling for me. But each day, as I read the CAC’s Daily Meditations, I am reminded that hope emerges through despair, life springs forth after winter, joy arises even within grief, and love can overcome hatred and violence. I am slowly being guided to a new way of looking at life, even as the world discourages and confuses me. Instead of hiding from the turbulence of reality, I am learning to be more resilient.  
—Debbie J. 

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