Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Interlude between Day/Week 3 and Day/Week 4 - The Reluctant Psychoanalyst Continues on Retreat

In a five day retreat that is to cover a 4 day program, there is a little room in the middle. Last night, the retreat director announced that we would not start the didactic programs for week 4 of the spiritual exercises until this afternoon, giving us this morning as a break period. In the full month long exercises, apparently there is a day off in the middle. In a compressed version of the exercises, like the one we are undertaking, this afforded me an opportunity to catch up with myself. It also offered a chance to meet with my director at our usual time and to talk about my concerns about facing the fourth day/week of the exercises, the day when faith itself becomes most prominent because it is the period of time set aside to meditate on the resurrection - to imagine the period of time after the crucifixion when Jesus appeared to the disciples in his resurrected form.

I approached the conversation this morning, then, with caution. In our first meeting, my spiritual director, herself a psychologist, had talked about her work with clients before and after working from a spiritual perspective, stating that the work improved after working from a more spiritual point of view. I feared that I heard in that an evangelical voice - the call to join the team of believers. I am leery of this call. It always carries for me overtones of my mother's voice - and her mother's voice. Each of them, early in my life, encouraged my becoming a believer, and my response was a powerful, visceral "No." Even when I was interested in religion, I could not worship their God. I could not imagine being connected to them through my faith. That felt too close, too personal, too vulnerable.

As I understand that now, faith is just that - it is a belief system. I don't think that I was mature enough to articulate and defend my own belief system, and I wasn't trusting enough to take on someone else's. My mother's and my grandmother's loves for me were very powerful, sustaining, and I, if not needed, wanted them desperately. I think that I may have sensed - I certainly couldn't have articulated it - but may have sensed - that I would bend myself into a pretzel to achieve that love - and that bending - or more precisely the fear of that distorting of myself, of that losing myself, was perhaps the only thing more powerful than my desire to feel their love. The result of the clashing of those two (unconscious) forces (I am hypothesizing) was the simple declarative, "No."

So, my spiritual director, someone that I have just met - someone whom I have entrusted in a very brief period of time with important aspects of myself - is someone that I have to confess to - to tell her that faith is not something that I am able to profess. I am, on the surface, comfortable with this statement. It is true. But I am also afraid. Will I be rejected? Can I be accepted as I am? Her response, that faith is not an issue for me, brings considerable relief. Do I know completely what she means? In context, yes. We are talking about my approach to analysis, my approach to relationships - an approach characterized by, in its best moments, an openness to surprise, and engagement with the other person where they are. This is the interaction between two people of faith. But her response allows me to articulate more clearly than I have to myself: that to state that I believe something I do not know to be true feels less certain - less integrity based - than to wonder about something that I hope to be the case, and to act as if it were, without needing to believe that it is - and being open to revising it as the spirit (as it were) demands.

What a feeling of relief and appreciation this experience led to. If God turns out to be the God who would send me to hell for sharing communion without believing that the bread and wine I consumed were the flesh and blood of his son, so be it. But I think the God that I would worship, if I had the opportunity, would be a more loving God than that. And so, until proven otherwise, I will dance for the God of my own creation, and deeply appreciate the support of those who have let me do that. And I will share a cup of wine and a bite of bread with them, when they are willing.

This is a personal illustration of the power of an idealizing transference - my experience of my spiritual director as confessor, confidante, maternal figure - to free me to more fully proclaim myself - to articulate my spiritual position - a position of hopeful doubt - a position of positing, and hoping for, a beneficent God - and operating on the premise of one - without needing to believe that my affirmation of him or her is necessary for him or her to appreciate me as one of his or creatures. My God, if he or she exists, is a self confident God. And, fortunately for me, my spiritual director is a self confident spiritual director.

After this interlude, I feel much more ready to take on the task of the fourth week - to appreciate the stories of joyful reunion that occurred after finding that what the disciples thought to be an ending was only a beginning...

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