I am not a Jungian therapist, I am a storyteller. I believe that storytelling helps us to understand the lives we live. You might say it is another form of therapy, listening and telling stories. I begin a new exploration of a Jungian concept with this personal story.
My wife, Nancy, recently invited me to accompany her to an ordination service for a group of new Episcopalian priests. I was reluctant to go because of my contenious relationship with the Christian Church, but in a marriage you try to support your mate. This was part of my reason for agreeing; also, intuitively and unconsiously, I felt there was a reason for me to experience the service.
The Episcopal Cathedral for the Diocese of Pennsylvania is in west Philadelphia near the campus for the University of Pennsylvania. We arrived early enough to find a choice location for experiencing the pageantry of the service. I love organ music; Froberger’s Organ Voluntary was being played as we settled into our seats. The service began with a procession: lead by a dramatic display of incense dispensed from the censor- a flying silver ball and chain; lay presenters, priests, the candidates for ordination- all dressed in a variety ecclesiastical garb and all manner of gold and silver crosses; and finally, the bishop with his regal miter and shepherd’s crook- symbolic of his role as leader of the flock. For two hours we were witness to the ritual and pageantry. At one point the bishop passed through the congregation sprinkling the community with an aspergillum. More lovely organ music, medievel chant by a cantor, and more incense accompanyed the procession from one station of the cathedral to another for a variety of rites, rituals, and prayers.
Like a physician monitoring his own illness, I observed my emotions throughout the service. At first, I felt envy of this community and its celebration. There were families and friends of the candidates, one group sitting in front of Nancy and I, who were so proud of their member receiving this honor in the greater community of the Church. There were presenters of candidates, mentors of the new priests from local churches and other times in their lives. There was the priest chosen for her oratory who delivered a folksy homily full of humor and wisdom for the ordinands and their community. During the consecration, the new priests lie prostrated at the altar as an act of humility and supplication to God while the cantor and community sang the Veni Sancte Spiritus-a lovely expression of spirituality.
Slowly I noticed that my envy was turning to loneliness. This is how I feel every Sunday when I sit in a small Episcopal church in New Hope, Pennsylvania and wait for the community to complete the sharing of communion. You might ask why do I attend church every Sunday. The simple answer is that I attend because my wife wants me to: but there is another answer, and it has to do with waiting and listening for the angel of God to speak to me- whatever that means for me. It is why I am attracted to the archetype of the Annunciation. So at the ordination service, as they came to the sharing of communion, I felt a strong sense of loneliness, a wish to have a community, to have someone to share my spiritual journey in this life.
After the service was over, the community gathered to share a meal that was not sacramental. Nancy wanted to greet and visit with a variety of people including the cantor and her friend who had just been ordained. I tagged along, but I could not escape the profound sense of lonliness I felt inside.
It was about this time that I noticed my loneliness was turning to a form of anger, anger with myself because I have come to the age of seventy-one and not found a spiritual community. On the drive back to Doylestown, and for several more hours, I could not talk with Nancy; I could not express the emotions I was feeling related to the experience at the Episcopal Cathedral in Philadelphia. Late in the afternoon, we went for a walk and I was finally able to articulate many of the ideas expressed in this essay.
Yesterday I had conversations with two of my best friends. I shared my story of the visit to the Episcopal Cathedral. When I shared my anger, or perhaps better described as angst, one reminded me that I have a spiritual community, the storytelling community. I agreed, but I said, it is not a Christian community; I need to resolve my feelings about the Christian Church. The other friend said, well you know the plight of the artist is to stand outside the community and to reflect back to it- it is a role that often leaves you lonely and angry. I said, I have never identified with the role of the artist in the community, too much ego involved with that identity. Later after reflecting on my friend’s idea of the artist, I said to myself, the issue is ego, my spiritual identity is predicated on my own experience of the divine, not my experience of a ritual or understanding of dogma. I am better suited to being a mystic rather than a cleric.
The truth about my wholeness, the center of my being, is somewhere between the two poles. And here I should give thanks to another friend who left a book under my Christimas tree. The book is titled, DOUBT, a history, by Jennifer Michael Hecht. It explores the history of philosophy and religion through the filter of doubt. It seems I am known for my expressions of doubt whenever friends in my community share their deepest, most ardent beliefs. Anyway, I think my reading of this book unconsciously encouraged my visit to the Cathedral.
And this leads me to my intended subject for this essay: the subject of psychic wholeness, or what Carl Jung calls, the process of INDIVIDUATION. The above story is an attempt to share my own struggle with the process of individuation as it relates to the spiritual life. The process of individuation is related to all aspects of life, not just spirituality. How we attune our selves to this process is as varied as the different aspects of life: being open to imput from the unconscious through dreams and other intuitive influences, the influence of family and community, our power to reason, and our basic human curosity. Again, I mention the archetype of the Annunciation, that is recognizing the opportunities available to us when we live an open and full life.
As I consider the process of interviewing people about the subject of individuation, I recognize it is broad and generalized, and not as easy to introduce as the subject of numinosity that we explored for the past year. Nevertheless, I have to begin somewhere, and I will begin with this prompt:
Tell me about you.
Tell me about the you, you like,
And the you, you do not like.
And tell me the story of how you discovered this you.