Forget my theory of ecclesiastical hirsuiteness; I guess Mr M’s powers of observation may have been skewed by one too many “wee drams.”
The course down in the land of seabirds and brisk sea breezes continues apace, weather notwithstanding. In the end, we didn’t combine Carmelite with Evangelical and Charismatic spirituality. (Shame – that would have been fun!)
Since then we’ve worked our way through an excellent session on spirituality in later-life, followed last weekend by a morning dealing with postmodernism. With apologies to any readers who hold this last topic dear – up to now I’ve thought of this as being something rather vague and amorphous; hard to catch hold of, and, which tends to make my head go round and round with the effort needed to understand it. Happily, this weekend helped clarify my understanding, if not my thoughts!
The session began with a swift, but thorough overview of the origins, background, and characteristics of pre, modern, and postmodern schools of thought. The morning continued with a more in depth study of two exemplars of postmodernity – Thomas Merton and Etty Hillesum, presented by the author of “Etty Hillesum – A Life Transformed,”. >. Whilst I’d read fragments of her writings, what I hadn’t appreciated was that hers was a spirituality shaped largely over only a few short,(too short) years. This search for identity and integration (“God is what is deepest and best in me.” ) resulted in a transformation of her inner life that enabled her to transcend the violence and horrors of the Holcaust and offer hope to those whose sufferings she shared.
Etty wasn’t conventionally ‘religious,’ (she was a non-practicing Jew), with none of the points of reference one would expect, and the focus of her search was as much “Who am I?” as Who is God?” She needed to ask the former in order to reach the latter; to reject the norm in order to travel beyond it and integrate the psychological and spiritual in a new understanding. The means by which she reached this were equally unconventional (her relationship with therapist Julius Spier, for instance, would definitely raise a few eyebrows today).
I was struck firstly by the shortness of her journey from a deeply troubled young student to somebody with more sense of self than many of us attain in a lifetime, (she was only 29 when she died at Auschwitz). As we reflected, some never embark on the rejection needed for the first part of this journey. Then again others become stuck in this stage and never move beyond it!
Secondly it reminded me, not for the first time that a proper interiority always results in a movement outwards in compassion and practical action and compassion towards others; the first is a prerequisite for the second. An encouragement for those of us more contemplative souls who sometimes feel vaguely (or not so vaguely) guilty about our meanderings.
Another point that we noticed was the necessity of the whole cycle of rejection/deconstruction/rebuilding for healthy spiritual development; implications which IMHO aren’t always taken into consideration in our religious institutions. It reminded me of philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s “second naïveté,” the theory that, having distanced ourselves from those elements we once held as ‘truth,’ we come to a place when we wish to be ‘called again,’ to reengage with and reinterpret them on a deeper, more symbolic level. A cycle which repeats itself over and over again. Believe me, I’ve been there!
So, all in all, a valuable session which has helped clarify some parts of my own journeying, introduced me to much else, and, as all good teaching should, left me with as many questions as answers. (And poor Ms M with a headache as Mum enlivened Saturday dinner with such delights as “overarching metanarrative”, “micronarrative,” and “deconstructionist,” concepts which, as an ex design student she’s only too familiar).