Stirring the Imagination, Shaking the Unconscious — Center for Action and Contemplation

By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies and our Privacy Policy.

Stirring the Imagination, Shaking the Unconscious

Apocalyptic Hope

Stirring the Imagination, Shaking the Unconscious
Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Let’s further distinguish the character of apocalyptic literature from prophetic literature in the Bible. Since the Western mind is literal and analytic, it usually misunderstood both types of literature. We viewed apocalypse as threatening and prophecy as foretelling, and our understanding of both missed the point. Prophecy came to mean predicting things and apocalypse came to mean the final destruction of things—both in the future. We projected everything forward, instead of realizing that these writings were, first of all, present descriptions of reality right now. We did the same thing with heaven and hell. In terms of the actual biblical message of transformation and enlightenment, this approach is largely useless, in my opinion, and often even harmful. They just reinforced our reward/punishment story line which keeps us at an immature level of development.

Through apocalyptic literature, the Scripture writers were finding a language and set of metaphors that would stir the power of the imagination and shake the unconscious. The Book of Apocalypse or Revelation was written almost entirely in this apocalyptic style, with archetypal symbols of good and evil such as the Heavenly Woman, the Lamb of God, the Mighty Warrior, and the Red Dragon. The genre we are familiar with that comes closest to what Revelation does is science fiction—but please don’t think I’m dismissing the divinely inspired character of the book. The well-known Bible translator Eugene Peterson (1932–2018) understood the symbolic power of the Book of Revelation:

I read [John’s] Revelation not to get more information but to revive my imagination. “The imagination is our way into the divine Imagination, permitting us to see wholly—as whole and holy—what we perceive as scattered, as order what we perceive as random.” [1] St. John uses words the way poets do, recombining them in fresh ways so that old truth is freshly perceived. He takes truth that has been eroded to platitude by careless usage and sets it in motion before us in an “animated and impassioned dance of ideas.” [2] . . . Familiarity dulls my perceptions. Hurry scatters my attention. Ambition fogs my intelligence. Selfishness restricts my range. Anxiety robs me of appetite. Envy distracts me from what is good and blessed right before me. And then . . . St. John’s apocalyptic vision brings me to my senses, body and soul. [3]

To change people’s consciousness, we have to find a way to reach their unconscious. That’s where our hearts and our real agendas lie, where our mother wounds, father wounds, and cultural wounds reside. The unconscious is where it all lies stored, and this determines a great deal of what we pay attention to and what we ignore. While it took modern therapy and psychology for us to recognize how true this was, through apocalyptic literature, the Scripture writers were already there. We can’t get to the unconscious logically, literally, or mechanically. We have to fall into it, I’m sorry to say, and usually by suffering, paradox and the effective use of symbols. Until our certitudes and our own little self-written success stories begin to fall apart, we usually won’t touch upon any form of deeper wisdom.

[1] Wendell Berry, Standing by Words: Essays (North Point Press: 1983), 90.

[2] Paul S. Minear, review of A Commentary on the Revelation of John, by George Eldon Ladd, Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 26, no. 4 (October 1972), 487.

[3] Eugene H. Peterson, Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination (HarperOne: 1988), xi–xii.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, In the Footsteps of St. Paul, disc 1 (Franciscan Media: 2015), CD.

Story from Our Community:
I discovered CAC and Fr. Richard years ago and deeply resonated with non-dualism. Critical to my growth has been the melting away of certitudes and expanding openness and inclusiveness of radical love. As a pastor’s spouse, I’ve often felt invisible, but now see how walking under the radar and sitting with folks in luminous liminal spaces has been a beautiful gift to share. —Linda C.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, Frost – Touched Grass (detail), 1972 photograph, public domain, National Archives.
Image statement: This image may not present itself clearly upon first glance. With a closer look shape, color, recognition and new understanding fall into place.
Join Our Email Community

Stay up to date on the latest news and happenings from Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation.

HTML spacer