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Carl Jung

Inner Authority

Sunday, November 21st, 2021

Carl Jung

Inner Authority
Sunday, November 21, 2021

Father Richard often credits the Swiss psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) as one of his primary teachers, who greatly influenced his understanding of the human psyche, religion, and theology.

I first read Jung’s work in college, and again and again he would offer concepts that I knew were true. At the time, I didn’t have the education to intellectually justify it; I just knew intuitively that he was largely right. Jung brought together practical theology with very good psychology. He surely is no enemy of religion, as some imagine. When asked at the end of his life if he “believed” in God, Jung replied, “I could not say I believe. I know! I have had the experience of being gripped by something that is stronger than myself, something that people call God.” [1] I’m convinced he is one of the best friends of the contemplative inner life. He suggested the whole problem is that Christianity does not connect with the soul or transform people anymore. He insists on actual “inner, transcendent experience” [2] to anchor individuals to God, and that’s what mystics always emphasize.

One of the things Jung taught was that the human psyche is the mediation point for God. If God wants to speak to us, God usually speaks in words that first feel like our own thoughts. How else could God come to us? We have to be taught how to honor and allow that, how to give it authority, and to recognize that sometimes our thoughts are God’s thoughts. Contemplation helps train such awareness in us. The dualistic or non-contemplative mind cannot imagine how both could be true at the same time. The contemplative mind sees things in wholes and not in divided parts.

In an account written several years before his death, Jung described his early sense that “Nobody could rob me of the conviction that it was enjoined upon me to do what God wanted and not what I wanted. That gave me the strength to go my own way.” [3]

We all must find an inner authority that we can trust that is bigger than our own. This way, we know it’s not only us thinking these thoughts. When we are able to trust God directly, it balances out the almost exclusive reliance on external authority (Scripture for Protestants; Tradition for Catholics). Much of what passes as religion is external to the self, top-down religion, operating from the outside in. Carl Jung wanted to teach people to honor religious symbols, but from the inside out. He wanted people to recognize those numinous voices already in our deepest depths. Without deep contact with one’s in-depth self, Jung believed one could not know God. That’s not just Jungian psychology. Read Teresa of Ávila’s Interior Castle. The first mansion, where we first meet God, is radical honesty about ourselves, warts and all. Similar teachers include Augustine, Thérèse of Lisieux, Lady Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, and Francis of Assisi.

References:
[1] C. G. Jung, quoted in “The Old Wise Man,” Time 65, no. 7 (Feb. 14, 1955), 64.

[2] C. G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self, trans. R. F. C. Hull (Little, Brown and Company: 1958), 24.

[3] C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ed. Aniela Jaffé, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (Pantheon Books: 1963), 48.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, unpublished “Rhine” talk (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2015).

Story from Our Community:
The Daily Meditations help me keep the strength to work with my clients. I’m a Jungian and Art therapist and people are so distressed and desperate. More than ever, faith is playing an important role in the therapeutic process. I always thought I was alone in my way, until I started reading the Daily Meditations. Thank you. —Isa C.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Rose B. Simpson, Holding it Together (detail), 2016, sculpture.
We featured the artist of these sculptures, Rose B. Simpson, at our recent CONSPIRE conference—so many of us were impacted by her creations that we decided to share her work with our Daily Meditations community for the month of November.
Image Inspiration: How many ways can I express myself? People ask me “who is your work modeled after?” And they’re all self-portraits because the only story I can really tell is my own. And so they’re all about different journeys I’ve had in my life. —Rose B. Simpson, CONSPIRE Interview, 2021
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