Experiencing God Today

The following was written by Anthony Massimini, Ph.D.

We experience God within ourselves and in today’s society and culture. Part 1

Within Ourselves:  No one experiences God directly, but indirectly.  We experience God in terms of ourselves, others, and the world/universe.  Concerning ourselves, this means we have to get to know ourselves as deeply and truthfully as we can.  Our true self is not our shallow ego that pushes us, e.g., to “look good,” to “be No. 1,” or to be the first to have the latest gadget, etc.  We see and find our true self in our ever-evolving journey toward becoming genuinely fulfilled as the person we truly are.  It is to evolve daily, together with others and the world, toward wholeness-in-love.  

  We are everyday mystics.  To be a mystic is to see what is hidden.  Our faith opens us to look into ourselves, others and the world/universe and to “see” God, Christ within ourselves, others and the world–i.e., to see what is hidden from atheists and agnostics. 
    If we look deeply into ourselves, we will see our gifts, talents, possibilities, and opportunities, and we will feel a desire to fulfill them.  Even more deeply, we will feel ourselves being called into the future from the future,, i.e., we are being called to transcend our present self and move forward in our lives. We are being called, invited, to go deeply into ourselves where our core energy is, where God waits for us in the pregnant silence of our of who we are and who we can become.  And in the creative, healing and self-and world-transforming love of God, we are being called to  grow and evolve into our fullest self–to move more lovingly and effectively toward wholeness-in-love. 

   It is precisely within our gifts and talents, possibilities and opportunities, and within our deep desire to respond to the call to become our fullest and truest self, that we experience the presence and intentions of God within ourselves.  
   In particular, we experience God’s presence and intentions within ourselves according to:

1. Our Age:  For example, children experience God in terms of their parents.  Adolescents, in their desire to find their individuality and personality.  Young adults, in their search and dreams for a career and life-path.  Adults, in their concern for work/profession/civic engagement, and marriage.  Seniors, in the wisdom of life experience.

2.  Our Gender:  Males and females have their unique way of experiencing themselves, the world, and God.  Both male and female experiences must be equally respected.

3.  Our Race:  For example, Hispanics, African-Americans, Whites, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and all others, experience God in their own way.  These culturally colored experiences reflect the different aspects of the one, rich human experience.  All must be equally respected.

4.  Our Personal History:  Every life is a journey.  The spiritual journey for each one of us is unique.  We respect everyone’s uniqueness as we walk our spiritual journeys together toward wholeness-in-love.

5.  Our Personality Type:  For example, the extrovert, the introvert, the leader, the follower, the caretaker, etc. express different ways of experiencing and expressing the presence and intentions of God.

6.  Our Culture:  We experience God e.g., in our family and social life, education, politics, economics, science, arts, entertainment, etc.  In the mid-20th century, agnostic philosopher, Martin Heidegger noted that if God exists, he is known by his absence.  This sad fact is even more poignant today.  Today’s hyper-individualized, fast-moving, changing, noisy, shallow greed corrupted culture can drown out our experience of God.  We are daily challenged to find the place of quiet within ourselves, the “still point of the turning world,” (T. S. Eliot) where we can see how to respond to God’s presence and intentions by fulfilling our true selves in today’s society and culture.

Imagine a child as being made of energy, and then imagine that energy as light. 

  Imagine a child that is made of light.  Now imagine that there is an even brighter Light shining within the child, entirely filling the child from head to toe.  And finally, imagine that at every point where the greater Light is touching the child, that touch is immaculate.  Now we have a picture of a child in whom God is present.  The Light that is filling the child is the Light of Infinite, Eternal Love.  


   To complete the picture, imagine the entire world made of light, within which a brighter Light of Love is shining.  Stretch your imagination to include the entire universe.  And then stretch to see that the Light that is God not only fills the entire universe but extends infinitely beyond the universe.
   Let yourself feel some awe and wonder at God’s intimate, loving presence within every person and even the smallest thing that exists, along with God’s intimate presence within the stars and galaxies and all that exists.  
   As we live in our finite world, with its limitations and temptations, the light that we are can dim somewhat, but it never goes out.  And it can always be restored to brightness.  God never abandons us and we never become totally corrupt.  The light within us is always there to illuminate our way and call us back. 

   This is one way of seeing what our faith gives us.  This way of seeing is the basis for our sense of the faith.  It is the start of our ability to “see” God, and to know, understand, interpret and apply God’s revelation and intentions for us, in our everyday lives.

   Now let’s get back to the child.  Let’s consider ourselves as adults who are responsible to form and nourish the child.  As adults, we already know ways to form and nourish children.  As people of faith, we will check to see that the ways we form and nourish the child are in full accord with the intentions of God who is dwelling within the child.  God’s presence within the child is not some “nice thing” that the child can do without.  It is not the “icing on the cake” that we can remove and still have the cake.  God’s presence is the essential and necessary basis for the child’s very existence and the child’s life, growth and fulfillment.    

   Shining within the child, the Light that is God is calling the child to his/her greatest and richest fulfillment, as an image of Eternal, Infinite Love.  In today’s evolutionary world, we say that God, who is in eternity, i.e., not/space-not/time, is present within the child now, and is also calling the child from within the child’s future.  As adults, we are able to “hear” God’s call to the child and ensure that the child responds as fully as possible, and thereby becomes as fully as possible who God has called the child to become.  

   Through knowledge and experience we know a great deal about how to raise a child.  Our sense of the faith, which is our intuitive instinct concerning God’s existence, presence, truth and intentions, enlightens and strengthens our knowledge and experience, so we can raise the child as successfully as possible.  We will, for example, see that the child is properly nourished and cared for; that he/she goes to school and studies well.  In general, we will see to it that the child lives in an environment that is ordered, peaceful, just, safe,hopeful,  joyful, and loving. We will take special care to nourish the child’s sense of awe and wonder, because these are beautiful emotions to feel toward the world and indeed, the entire universe, and they are the basic emotions that we feel toward God.  Every individual decision we make for the child will be the best decision we can make in line with our faith enlightened knowledge and experience.  

Now we can switch the example to ourselves and become that child. 
   Let’s pay attention for a moment to the way many of us were raised in the faith.  If you’re old enough and lived in a big city, you will remember growing up on a “Catholic island.”  For younger readers, please put up with us for a moment.  

   Just about everybody on the “island” was of the same ethnic background.  Discipline and compliance were in the very air we breathed.  Adults were watching everywhere, so if we got into trouble, our mothers knew about it before we got home.  The church took care of almost all our needs:  Catholic school, Mass and the other sacraments, sports activities, dances and other social events, dating the boy or girl down the street, etc.  Adults left the “island” to go to work, and then came back in the evening.   

   After World War II, many veterans took advantage of the GI Bill, went to college and started on upwardly mobile careers.  Catholics began moving off the island and into the greater population.  The social bonds that kept much of the faith alive disappeared as Catholics now lived among people of various ethnic backgrounds and religions–and of no religion–neighbors whom they liked and respected.  

   Their sense of the faith moved into a “dark night.” Old spiritual customs and consolations died.  The new experiences should have been the raw material for a new, more individualized sense of the faith that necessitated a deeper understanding of what it meant to be part of a spiritual community that was not socially/physically present on an everyday basis.  Now or faith presented itself in a different, less established way, e.g., in our work, our politics, our schools, our regard for women’s rights, for world peace, etc.  And many of us began getting spiritually lost in this new world. 

The Male-Dominant Problem in Experiencing God                                                              
   The subjugation of women in society and in the church, along with predominantly male images of God, have weighed heavily on women’s experience of God and their sense of faith.  It all started when the male dominant Hebrews imaged a male God as creating the universe.  A female-imaged God, e.g., would have birthed forth the universe from her womb. The male God created the dominate Adam, and then took the dependent Eve from Adam’s rib.  In the Garden of Eden, Eve seduced Adam into eating a piece of fruit.  Eve, the woman, and all women after her, are blamed for the Fall.  In the male-dominant, patriarchal culture,  blaming the man was unthinkable.  Eve became the seducing sinner, and gave that image to all women.   (See the page, An Evolution Story, for a contemporary look at the “Fall.”)

   To make matters worse, St. Augustine, troubled by having begotten an illegitimate son, later added that original sin was sexual.  So Eve, the seducing woman, became the seducing, sexual sinner, giving that image to all women.  Eve was offset by the Virgin Mary, the ideal woman.  Women then took on both aspects and developed a self-conflicted, Madonna-Whore image, elevated to the highest expectancy by men, while at the same time disrespected by men.      

Now, given the evolution of our understanding of humans and human nature, and given the teaching of Vatican II, let’s be clear:  women enjoy equal human and baptismal dignity with men.  Women are images of God, in their own way, as clearly and fully as men are in their own way.  The truth from God is that there is neither Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free; there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28).

Christianity’s loss because of the curse of sexism has been immense.  For example, Professor Karen L. King of Harvard Divinity School lists a series of views that were put forth by early Christian women.  How different would women’s experience of God and sense of faith be today, and how different would the church be if these views had been taken to heart:  
   –Jesus was seen primarily as a teacher and mediator, rather than a ruler and judge
   –People can have direct access to God through receiving the Holy Spirit
   –Those who are spiritually advanced freely give their gifts to all, without claim to a fixed, hierarchical ordering of power
   –An ethics of freedom and spiritual development is emphasized over an ethics of order and control
   –Both women and men could exercise leadership on the basis of spiritual achievement apart from gender status and without conformity to established social gender roles
   –Overcoming social injustice and human suffering are seen to be integral to spiritual life.

Diversity Diverse Ethnic Ethnicity Unity Variation Concept

 Race and Our Sense of our Faith 
The outline above states that we understand, interpret and apply our sense of the faith, in part at least, according to our race.  An outstanding example of this was the Civil Rights movement led by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the 1960’s.  This movement expressed the faith of African Americans as applied to the American experience, and also went beyond the particular needs of African-Americans–as immense as they were!–to include and embrace the needs of every American for freedom, fairness, brother-and-sisterhood, and good will.  Today’s expression of African-American Liberation Theology carries on the work of  freedom from racism.  One mark of our faith is that, while it pertains to every individual person and race, it is always universally applicable.

  Hispanic-Americans are expressing their sense of the faith in their own way.  Elizabeth Johnson, in her outstanding book, Quest for the Living God, mentions the Hispanic-inspired God of the Fiesta, i.e., of the beauty and celebration of our experience of God’s presence in today’s world; and of la lucha, the Hispanics’ struggle to engage in today’s society.  She also mentions the Hispanic devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is an expression not only of Mary, but of the Holy Spirit. 

   Many white Americans are struggling to clarify their sense of the faith today.  Sadly, for all too many, fear, prejudice and even hatred are resulting from the rising numbers of non-whites in our society.  Also, white Catholics are having trouble discerning the aspects of our faith that are being continually hidden or drowned out by the noise, shallowness, super-competitiveness, etc., that mark today’s culture.  This blog is my way of showing that much of this did not have to happen.  If Vatican II had been fully implemented, Catholics of all races would have clear and effective ways to sense, understand, interpret and apply our faith in today’s society.        
We understand, interpret and apply our faith in accord withour personal life history.  Every life is a journey, and every journey is unique.  This is one important reason why the church should be an open, collaborative church in which every member contributes his or her own life experience. Our individuality should be respected, and when we make our own individual decisions and act in our own way in particular situations, we should be able to have access to personal guidance and encouragement, along with general rules.   

   At present, the church is not set up to provide this kind of interaction among us.  In fact, the horrifically bad treatment of the sex abuse victims shows that the bishops’ had a callous disregard for people’s personal experience.  And the present conflict between the Vatican and American nuns shows how badly church authorities do not know, understand or appreciate, and therefore are prejudging, the individual discernment and actions of some of our most discerning and prophetic Catholics.

Guidance and Counsel is one the the Spiritual Disciplines.  We should all have someone with whom we can discuss our personal, spiritual journey.  Ideally, that person would be a person of deep spiritual experience and knowledge, but all of us could use our personal sense of the faith and common sense to engage in richly rewarding conversation.    

  It would be ideal if parishes were set up to provide spiritually mature and knowledgeable people who can guide others in their journeys, and help them become guides themselves.  More generally, for example, parents could discuss, in person and/or through email groups, the sacred meaning of raising children; teachers could discuss how to apply their faith in the classroom without imposing their religion on their students; business people could discuss their views of business ethics, etc. 

   In the absence of an open, collaborative church, we can look to help one another on our spiritual journeys.        
God does not reveal doctrines and theological formulas to us.  God reveals him/herself to us–his/her life and love.  We in turn assent to God’s self-revelation by believing in God and returning our life and love to God.  

All of creation is a manifestation of the Divine.
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A New Age, A New World, a New God??

“In the case of a world which is by nature evolutive. . .God is not conceivable (either structurally or dynamically) except in so far as he coincides with (as a sort of “formal” cause) but without being lost in, the center of convergence of cosmogenesis. . . .Ever since Aristotle there have been almost continual attempts to construct models of God on the lines of an outside Prime Mover, acting a retro.  Since the emergence in our consciousness of the ‘sense of evolution’ it has become physically impossible for us to conceive or worship anything but an organic Prime-Mover God, ab ante.  Only a God who is functionally and totally ‘Omega’ can satisfy us.  Who will at last give evolution its own God?” Teilhard De Chardin in Christianity and Evolution

   In the last century, philosopher Martin Heidegger is reported to have said that if God exists, he is known by his absence.  At the same time here in America, the “God is Dead” notion was very popular, especially among young people.

    Today, however, it seems that rather than being absent or dead, God is woefully misunderstood and mocked.  For example, literal Fundamentalists believe that God created the universe in six day; God told Abraham to kill his son, Isaac, God told Noah to build an ark, etc.  Some Christians see God as a strict and fearful judge.  Some see God as a heavily politicized figure (who is on their side).  And some see God as a Happy Someone who wants us to be rich and comfortable, or as a Fearful Someone who is about to end the world in fire and brimstone–on a date the continually miss.  Admittedly, there is much to mock in these distortions of who God is.  (In fact, part of the “God is Dead” notion was an outcry that the word, “God” had become so distorted that is had been rendered meaningless in everyday society.)

Also, many envision God as Someone Up There or Out There whom they expect to “come down” and fix our problems.  (We Americans claim to be one nation under God.)  This God is like a daddy who is absent most of the day but then comes home from work and fixes the problems the family faced while he was away.  Such people lament, “If God is all powerful, why doesn’t he prevent sickness and wars?”  “Why does he let children suffer?”  This distortion of who God is sadly leads to much pain among many people.

   Distortions like these arise from  a poor understanding of the true God of faith as presented by our religions and denominations.  Faith is different from religion.  Catholic faith may be described as the loving acceptance of God and God’s teachings, particularly as presented to us in the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.  Religion, then, is our faith as it is organized and presented to the world.  Religions can and sometimes do distort the understanding of the true God.  

   Who is the true God?  Since, in today’s culture we prefer to understand through personal experience, a description of the true God can depend on our experience God. 

We experience the true God as the presence of Eternal, Infinite, Overflowing Love is in the universe and the world:  in ourselves and in all people and things.  Without this experience of God, we have only an abstract theological notion of God or a Catechism description of God, neither of which would have much effect on our lives.

   More fully, the true God is Living, Conscious, Eternal, Infinite Overflowing Love.  “Living Love” can be a substitute for the word, “God,” because the distortion of the name has become an obstacle to our experience of the true God.   

Love is the most powerful and still most unknown energy in the world.Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

   Living Love is the Creative process of the universe and of the world and us in and through the universe’s evolution, which Living Love set in motion and watches lovingly as a parent, from within the evolving world.  Our own experience of our creativity is an image of Living Love’s creativity and presence within us.  

   Living Love is Healing and Spiritual Well-Being.  In and through Jesus Christ, the world is rescued from sin.  Living Love, alive within us and all the societies of the world, gives us the graced discernment, responsibility, creative ingenuity, and power to work to heal others’ physical, mental and spiritual anxieties and illnesses.  Our experience of wanting to reach out and help others and bring justice and peace to others and the world is our experience of Living Love within us and the world.

   Living Love is World Transforming and Evolving.  Living Love within us and the world is calling us from the future.  From within us, our families and nations, corporations, governments, schools and universities, science and technology labs, professional offices, our trades and service industries, etc., Living Love is attracting and “pulling” us into the future, to build an ever new world of luminously humanizing justice, peace and progress, as we move the world’s inter-connected and inter-related evolution forward toward it’s one blessed goal of Wholeness in love/Love.  Our inner sense of attraction and call into our future growth and fulfillment is our experience of the presence of Living Love within us and the world.

  Living Love is also alive within criminals, war makers and terrorists, calling and empowering them to come out of their darkness into the light of a true, loving, luminously human life.  Their response to the call to peace, humanity and compassion is the sign of the truth of their God. 

   Rather than “coming down” to fix our problems, (intervention) Living Love is showing us great respect, giving us the discernment, energy, talents, freedom and responsibility to build our lives, society and world in ever growing peace and justice. (collaboration)

It is up to us, Living Love’s graced and empowered image and likeness.  As spiritual adults, would we really want to be spoon fed like helpless children?  It is in recognizing our call, opportunities, talents and responsibilities toward ourselves, others and the world, and in carrying out our call in strength, justice, humility, peace and love, that we experience Living Love within ourselves and today’s world–and tomorrow’s.                      

   The extent to which we distort and/or reject our experience of Living Love’s call and empowerment to live lives of life-giving, energizing, healing, peaceful and just, world-transforming  love, that we distort who Living Love is, and then possibly even blame Living Love or deny Living Love’s very existence.  In the process, we dehumanize ourselves.  (Our religions and denominations should take note not to distort our true faith and dehumanize us in any way.)

  We must heed the words of Paul to the Colossians: “The Son (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  Colossians 1:15-18

All of creation is evolving toward fulfillment in Christ the Alpha and the Omega- our beginning and our end.  I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Rev 1:8

“Everything in the universe ultimately proceeds towards Christ-Omega; since the whole of cosmogenesis is ultimately through geogenesis, biogenesis, noogenesis to Christogenesis.” Teilhard De Chardin The Phenomenon of Man

by Anthony Massimini and Ernie Sherretta

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The “Whole” Family of Jesus

Remember- to Jesus, Family was more than parents!

Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”

Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.

For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

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Christmas Musings

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jn 1:1-5

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” Jn 1:9-10

Christmas, celebrates the birth of Jesus, the TRUE LIGHT that gives light to everyone.  More particularly, Christmas celebrates the coming of  that which is the Sacred Good, the Infinitely Divine to earth in the form of a human, a Hebrew baby who was named Yeshua ben Yosef, known to most Christians as Jesus Christ.

Most people believe that Jesus was born on December 25 and that the Christmas story is a factual account of that event. Actually, scripture scholars have concluded that the gospel writers or authors knew nothing about Jesus’ birth other than the obvious fact that his parents were Joseph and Mary and that he lived in Nazareth and was most likely a carpenter. Jesus is identified as “the carpenter’s son” (Matt. 13:55) and “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3).  In these references to Jesus as a carpenter or the son of one, the Greek word used both times is more correctly translated as “craftsman” or “artisan.” In those days and in that culture, sons usually became an apprentice to their fathers.

So, why December 25th for the date of Jesus’ birth? It is a conjecture based on the assumption that the church in Rome began formally celebrating Christmas on December 25 in 336, during the reign of the emperor Constantine. As Constantine had made Christianity the effective religion of the empire, some have speculated that choosing this date had the political motive of weakening the established pagan celebrations. The date, December 25 is further explained below.

The English word “Christmas” is a shortened form of “Christ’s Mass”. The word is recorded as Crīstesmæsse in 1038 and Cristes-messe in 1131. (Martindale, Cyril Charles (1908). “Christmas”. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

“The form Christenmas was also used during some periods, but is now considered archaic and dialectal.The term derives from Middle English Cristenmasse, meaning “Christian mass”Xmas is an abbreviation of Christmas found particularly in print, based on the initial letter chi (Χ) in Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός) (“Christ”), although some style guides discourage its use. This abbreviation has precedent in Middle English Χρ̄es masse (where “Χρ̄” is an abbreviation for Χριστός) ” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas#Etymology

Back to the stories of Jesus’ birth. I say stories because the traditional account that we usually hear or read is actually a combination of two stories: Matthew 1.18–2.23 and Luke 1.26–2.52,  The other two canonical gospels, Mark and John, add some information about Jesus’ home life, but nothing about his birth. Here’s how the gospel stories compare.

Reign of Herod or Archelaus: Angel visits Mary (the Annunciation). 1.26–38
Mary visits Elizabeth; birth of John the Baptist. 1.39–80
Reign of Herod: Engagement of Joseph and Mary; Joseph plans to end engagement because of pregnancy.1.18–19 
Angel visits Joseph in dream, tells him to go ahead with marriage.1.20–25 
(Fulfilment of prophecy: Isaiah 7.14.)1.22–23 
Governorship of Quirinius: Quirinius conducts a census. 2.1–2
Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem. 2.3–5
Birth of Jesus; no room at the inn. 2.6–7
The shepherds hear the news and visit family in Bethlehem. 2.8–20
Circumcision of Jesus. 2.21
Family stops off in Jerusalem to present Jesus at temple; episode of Simeon and Anna. 2.22–38
Reign of Herod: Magi visit Herod in Jerusalem.2.1–7 
(Fulfilment of prophecy: LXX Micah 5.1, LXX II Kings 5.2.)2.5–6 
Magoi go to Bethlehem, offer gifts, then return home without visiting Herod.2.8–12 
Angel visits Joseph in dream to warn him of Herod’s rage; family flees to Egypt.2.13–15 
(Fulfilment of prophecy: Hosea 11.1.)2.15 
Herod’s rage: massacre of the innocents.2.16–18 
(Fulfilment of prophecy: LXX Jeremiah 38.15.)2.17–18 
Reign of Archelaus: family returns from Egypt after Herod’s death.2.19–21 
Family doesn’t return home to Judaea, for fear of Archelaus, but instead goes to Nazareth in Galilee (since Galilee was no longer under Jerusalem’s control).2.22–23 
Governorship of Quirinius: Family carries on home to Nazareth. 2.39–40

Both gospels give patrilineal genealogies that make Joseph a descendant of king David (Matthew 1.1–17Luke 3.23–38). But the genealogies are totally different. If they’re both true, then Joseph had two fathers. More information and interpretations of the inclusions of the “three Wise Men”, shepherds, Herod and the census and “killing of newborns” can be found in many scholarly works such as the following:

  • Brown, R. E. 1993 [1977]. The birth of the Messiah. A commentary on the infancy narratives in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, updated edition. Doubleday.
  • Elliott, J. K. 1993. The apocryphal New Testament. A collection of apocryphal Christian literature in an English translation. Clarendon Press. (Protevangelium of James at 46–67)

Rather than comment about the significance and meaning of the gospel stories, I present the following thoughts offered by several different people.

Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!
― Henry van Dyke

Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.
― G.K. Chesterton

Christ always seeks the straw of the most desolate cribs to make his Bethlehem.
― Thomas Merton

Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don’t light a candle in a room that’s already full of sunlight. You light a candle in a room that’s so murky that the candle, when lit, reveals just how bad things really are.
― N.T. Wright

Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out.
― Max Lucado

As I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog.
― Philip Yancey

God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. ~Bonhoeffer”] At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.
― Mother Teresa

Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate.
― G.K. Chesterton

But when finally the scrolls of history are complete, down to the last word of time, the saddest line of all will be: “There was no room in the inn.”…The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world’s moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But there’s no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is a place for outcasts, the ignored and the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born in an inn; a stable would certainly be the last place in the world where one would look for him. The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. So the Son of God made man is invited to enter into his own world through a back door. 

—-Archbishop Fulton Sheen

 “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

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The Reason for the Incarnation: Sin or Love

“He has become like a man, so that men should be like him.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Here are several quotes that you can use to reflect on the meaning of the Incarnation.

For Anselm, sin is the reason for the season. He believes that if humanity had not sinned, if we had continued to enjoy the rectitude and right relationship Adam and Eve are said to have enjoyed with God before the Fall, the eternal Logos would never have needed to become human. The Incarnation is, for Anselm, a sign of God’s benevolence, but it is also entirely predicated on our disobedience, pride, sin and need for reconciliation. BY DANIEL P. HORAN National Catholic Reporter/ Opinio

“Franciscan John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) said the plan from the beginning was to reveal Godself as Christ. Jesus didn’t come as a remedy for sin—as if God would need blood before God could love what God created. The idea that God, who is love, would demand the sacrifice of his beloved Son in order to be able to love what God created is the conundrum that reveals how unsatisfying that quid pro quo logic really is.” Richard Rohr, osf, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking

“Christ took upon himself this human form of ours. He became Man even as we are men. In his humanity and his lowliness we recognize our own form. He has become like a man, so that men should be like him. And in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God. Henceforth, any attack on the least of men is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own Person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form. Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race. By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore. We now know that we have been taken up and borne in the humanity of Jesus, and therefore that new nature we now enjoy means that we too must bear the sins and sorrows of others. The incarnate Lord makes his followers the brothers of all mankind. The “philanthropy” of God (Titus 3:4) revealed in the Incarnation is the ground of Christian love towards all on earth that bears the name of man. The form of Christ incarnate makes the Church into the Body of Christ. All the sorrows of mankind fall upon that form, and only through that form can they be borne.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

“For our lives, incarnation means being focused on the spiritual and the eternal but bringing that focus deep into our life. … This is really the heart of the Christmas theological message: Live in two worlds that overlap but are distinct. Don’t be materialistic, but don’t sacrifice our ordinary physical life for any spiritual ideal. Be lowly and lofty.”
― Thomas Moore, The Soul of Christmas

“God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

“When spirituality becomes spiritualization, life in the body becomes carnality. When ministers and priests live their ministry mostly in their heads and relate to the Gospel as a set of valuable ideas to be announced, the body quickly takes revenge by screaming loudly for affection and intimacy. Christian leaders are called to live the Incarnation, that is, to live in the body, not only in their own bodies but also in the corporate body of the community, and to discover there the presence of the Holy Spirit.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership

“All true friendliness begins with fire and food and drink and the recognition of rain or frost. …Each human soul has in a sense to enact for itself the gigantic humility of the Incarnation. Every man must descend into the flesh to meet mankind.”
― G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World

“Christ is, then, the perfect art work in the sense of that reality in whom is realised those goals that all artistic making has as its explicit or implicit ends. Because he is infinite meaning, life and being perfectly synthesised with finite form, the cave painters at Lascaux, or Hesiod penning his hymns, or Beethoven working on his last quartets, were all gesturing towards him though they realised it not.”
― Aidan Nichols O.P., Redeeming Beauty: Soundings in Sacral Aesthetics

Disguise is central to God’s way of dealing with us human beings. Not because God is playing games with us but because the God who is beyond our knowing makes himself known in the disguise of what we can know. The Christian word for this is revelation, and the ultimate revelation came by incarnation. … God is the master of disguises, in order that we might see. Richard John Neuhaus

But when finally the scrolls of history are complete, down to the last word of time, the saddest line of all will be: “There was no room in the inn.”…The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world’s moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But there’s no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is a place for outcasts, the ignored and the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born in an inn; a stable would certainly be the last place in the world where one would look for him. The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. So the Son of God made man is invited to enter into his own world through a back door.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen

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A Soul-less America needs Jesus!


   In 1983, a study found our educational system so dysfunctional that it declared us, “a nation at risk.”  Today, when we look at our self-inflicted political, economic and cultural dysfunction, we can once again make that same judgment about our country.

   Our political, economic and social dysfunction is a mark of our nation’s spiritual dysfunction.  Our spirituality is not some ideal abstraction; rather, it animates the everyday, concrete situations of our everyday lives.  Jesus told us specifically, e.g., to love all our neighbors and even our enemies (including our political “enemies,”) and to show active, effective compassion to those who are poor, hungry, injured, ill or outcast.

   Nature tells us the same thing. The universe is an interconnected web of unity.  Here on earth, energy particles seek one another and join together to bring ever new seasons and ever new life into being.  Cosmologist-mystic Brian Swimme calls the built-in, mutual attraction of energy particles, “cosmic allurement,” that, e.g., forms atoms, molecules, cells and elements, and expresses itself all the way from gravity to human love.

   Swimme calls the natural, active harmony, “synergy,” i.e., the attracting energy that creates mutually enhancing relationships.  For example, soil, air and water work together to keep the earth ecologically alive and healthy.  Animals congregate in pairs, groups and herds.  People form families, friendships, communities and nations to nurture, protect and advance culture and civilization.  The Spiritual Disciplines can be said to describe synergy e.g., as order, peace, service to others, hope, joy of life, and love.

   In sum, both creation and Jesus unite science and spirituality into one beautiful, living whole.  So it should be difficult for discerning people to miss so basic and important a point.  Yet today, both our natural ecology and our human relationships are threatened by the dysfunction of human activity.  We are not only a nation at risk but a world at risk.

   For the spiritually mature, synergy in the form of love becomes the pattern and goal of our political, economic and cultural relationships.  As Teilhard de Chardin said, “Love is the affinity which links and draws together the elements of the world…   Love, in fact, is the agent of universal synthesis.”  Together with our political, economic and educational leaders, we are called and responsible to “build the earth.”  Again, as de Chardin said, “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.” That fire is the fire of the spirituality to which we are called and empowered.

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Waiting in Expectation

ADVENT by Anthony Massimini, Ph.D

   Some years ago I visited a rehab facility for people who suffered from severe accidents, especially head wounds.  A nurse took me around to visit the patients, many of whom could hardly lift their heads to see who was there before them.  I spoke to each one of them and offered a prayer and blessing for them.

   After we finished the rounds, the nurse told me she was going to resign the next day.  She said she had trouble coming to work every day because her work had so little success.  The job was simply too depressing for her.  It was Advent time, and the facility was decorated for Christmas.  That made her even more depressed.  “What does Christmas mean for my patients?” she asked sadly.  “Or for me?  I’m not really helping them.”

   For a moment I let her sadness touch me.  I told her I understood the great challenge she faced.  Then I disagreed with her.  “You’re here every day,” I said.  “So you’re accustomed to seeing your patients.  I just saw them for the first time, and I saw something that you’re not seeing.”

   Curious, she asked, “What do you mean?”

   “As we walked into each room and approached each patient,” I explained, “I saw that each one of them was sitting there in deep sadness and loneliness.  But then, as each one of them saw you, they lit up and smiled, obviously happy that you had come to see them–to be with them and minister to them.”

   My statement startled her into new awareness.  “Well I…  Well, I guess I’m so used to them, I don’t notice…”

   I continued.  “Your patients are like the world at this time of the year, waiting in expectation for Christ to come, to bring joy, peace, new life and salvation.  Every day, they live through their own, very personal Advent, and every day you come to them and bring them a Christmas moment of joy and peace.  In a way, that’s the most important thing you do for them.  For them, you are Christmas.  You come to them and stay with them for a while, and because of you, they know anew, every day, that they are not alone.”

   I wished her well, and left.

   A few weeks later, I returned to the facility for another visit.  To my surprise, the nurse was still there.  She greeted me with a big smile.  “I want to thank you,” she said.  “Every day now, I come to work with new joy and a renewed commitment to help my patients as much as I can.  I feel like a new person.”

   As we look forward to celebrating the coming of Christ, I pray that all of us will find renewed ways to brings joy and peace to the world. 

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Reflections on keeping the soul intact and alive and worthy of itself.


1. Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.

2. Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone. As Paul Graham observed, “prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.” Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night — and, in fact, they can often distract and detract from the things that do offer those deeper rewards.

3. Be generous. Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.

4. Build pockets of stillness into your life. Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential stage of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken. Most important, sleep. Besides being the greatest creative aphrodisiac, sleep also affects our every waking moment, dictates our social rhythm, and even mediates our negative moods. Be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about your work. We tend to wear our ability to get by on little sleep as some sort of badge of honor that validates our work ethic. But what it really is is a profound failure of self-respect and of priorities. What could possibly be more important than your health and your sanity, from which all else springs?

5. As Maya Angelou famously advised, when people tell you who they are, believe them. Just as important, however, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them. You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.

6. Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — for, as Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

7. “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.” This is borrowed from the wise and wonderful Debbie Millman, for it’s hard to better capture something so fundamental yet so impatiently overlooked in our culture of immediacy. The myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth — as well as a reminder that our present definition of success needs serious retuning. The flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny.

8. Seek out what magnifies your spirit. Patti Smith, in discussing William Blake and her creative influences, talks about writers and artists who magnified her spirit — it’s a beautiful phrase and a beautiful notion. Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance.

9. Don’t be afraid to be an idealist. There is much to be said for our responsibility as creators and consumers of that constant dynamic interaction we call culture — which side of the fault line between catering and creating are we to stand on? The commercial enterprise is conditioning us to believe that the road to success is paved with catering to existing demands — give the people cat GIFs, the narrative goes, because cat GIFs are what the people want. But E.B. White, one of our last great idealists, was eternally right when he asserted half a century ago that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down” — a role each of us is called to with increasing urgency, whatever cog we may be in the machinery of society. Supply creates its own demand. Only by consistently supplying it can we hope to increase the demand for the substantive over the superficial — in our individual lives and in the collective dream called culture.

10. Don’t just resist cynicism — fight it actively. Fight it in yourself, for this ungainly beast lays dormant in each of us, and counter it in those you love and engage with, by modeling its opposite. Cynicism often masquerades as nobler faculties and dispositions, but is categorically inferior. Unlike that great Rilkean life-expanding doubt, it is a contracting force. Unlike critical thinking, that pillar of reason and necessary counterpart to hope, it is inherently uncreative, unconstructive, and spiritually corrosive. Life, like the universe itself, tolerates no stasis — in the absence of growth, decay usurps the order. Like all forms of destruction, cynicism is infinitely easier and lazier than construction. There is nothing more difficult yet more gratifying in our society than living with sincerity and acting from a place of largehearted, constructive, rational faith in the human spirit, continually bending toward growth and betterment. This remains the most potent antidote to cynicism. Today, especially, it is an act of courage and resistance.

11. A reflection originally offered by way of a wonderful poem about pi: Question your maps and models of the universe, both inner and outer, and continually test them against the raw input of reality. Our maps are still maps, approximating the landscape of truth from the territories of the knowable — incomplete representational models that always leave more to map, more to fathom, because the selfsame forces that made the universe also made the figuring instrument with which we try to comprehend it.

12. Because Year 12 is the year in which I finished writing Figuring (though it emanates from my entire life), and because the sentiment, which appears in the prelude, is the guiding credo to which the rest of the book is a 576-page footnote, I will leave it as it stands: There are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives.

Figuring (public library) explores the complexities, varieties, and contradictions of love, and the human search for truth, meaning, and transcendence, through the interwoven lives of several historical figures across four centuries — beginning with the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, and ending with the marine biologist and author Rachel Carson, who catalyzed the environmental movement.” Maria Popova

13. In any bond of depth and significance, forgive, forgive, forgive. And then forgive again. The richest relationships are lifeboats, but they are also submarines that descend to the darkest and most disquieting places, to the unfathomed trenches of the soul where our deepest shames and foibles and vulnerabilities live, where we are less than we would like to be. Forgiveness is the alchemy by which the shame transforms into the honor and privilege of being invited into another’s darkness and having them witness your own with the undimmed light of love, of sympathy, of nonjudgmental understanding. Forgiveness is the engine of buoyancy that keeps the submarine rising again and again toward the light, so that it may become a lifeboat once more.

14. Choose joy. Choose it like a child chooses the shoe to put on the right foot, the crayon to paint a sky. Choose it at first consciously, effortfully, pressing against the weight of a world heavy with reasons for sorrow, restless with need for action. Feel the sorrow, take the action, but keep pressing the weight of joy against it all, until it becomes mindless, automated, like gravity pulling the stream down its course; until it becomes an inner law of nature. If Viktor Frankl can exclaim “yes to life, in spite of everything!” — and what an everything he lived through — then so can any one of us amid the rubble of our plans, so trifling by comparison. Joy is not a function of a life free of friction and frustration, but a function of focus — an inner elevation by the fulcrum of choice. So often, it is a matter of attending to what Hermann Hesse called, as the world was about to come unworlded by its first global war, “the little joys”; so often, those are the slender threads of which we weave the lifeline that saves us.

Delight in the age-salted man on the street corner waiting for the light to change, his age-salted dog beside him, each inclined toward the other with the angular subtlety of absolute devotion.

Delight in the little girl zooming past you on her little bicycle, this fierce emissary of the future, rainbow tassels waving from her handlebars and a hundred beaded braids spilling from her golden helmet.

Delight in the snail taking an afternoon to traverse the abyssal crack in the sidewalk for the sake of pasturing on a single blade of grass.

Delight in the tiny new leaf, so shy and so shamelessly lush, unfurling from the crooked stem of the parched geranium.

I think often of this verse from Jane Hirshfield’s splendid poem “The Weighing”:

So few grains of happiness

measured against all the dark

and still the scales balance.

Yes, except we furnish both the grains and the scales. I alone can weigh the blue of my sky, you of yours.

15. Outgrow yourself.

16. Unself. Nothing is more tedious than self-concern — the antipode of wonder.


What you do today can improve all your tomorrows. photo by EJ Sherretta

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Jung on Soul Tending

“Without soul, spirit is as dead as matter…because both are artificial abstractions; whereas man originally regarded spirit as a volatile body, and matter as not lacking in soul.” Jung (1938)[1]

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this post and member of the faculty at the Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences Whole Person Learning in a Jungian Context.

“The crime of the spirit was that the spirit brought about the fall of the soul. … Accordingly the soul, as the lapis pretiosissimus, has the significance of a redeemer.”

                                                                                                Jung (1954)[2]

“Soul” represents a higher concept than “spirit” in the sense of air or gas. As the “subtle body” and “breath-soul” it means something non-material and finer than mere air. Its essential characteristic is to animate and be animated; it therefore represents the life principle.”

                                                                                                Jung (1942)[3]

“… withdrawing the soul and her projections from the bodily sphere and from all environmental conditions relating to the body. In modern terms … would be a turning away from sensuous reality, a withdrawal of the fantasy-projections that give “the ten thousand things” their attractive and deceptive glamour. In other words, it means introversion, introspection, meditation, and the careful investigation of desires and their motives.”

                                                                                                Jung (1954)[4]

                Many essays that appear on The Jungian Center Web site originate as research for a course I am preparing, and so it is with this essay. As I prepared a course on soul tending, I wondered just what Jung had to say about the soul and how we might “tend” or care for it. Addressing this question proved to be a substantial endeavor, since the Index to Jung’s Collected Works devotes seven columns to the heading “soul.”[5] This list includes definitions, features of the soul, and why the soul is important, in addition to giving us suggestions for how to care for our souls. I’ll tackle each of these in turn.

Definitions of “Soul”

            The dictionary offers seven definitions of “soul:” 1. “the part of the human being that thinks, feels, and makes the body act; the spiritual part of a person as distinct from the physical;. 2. energy or power of mind or feelings; spirit; fervor; 3. the cause of inspiration or energy; leading spirit; prime mover; 4. the essential part; 5. a person, individual; 6. the embodiment of some quality; personification; 7. the spirit of a dead person.”[6] Our English usage clearly covers wide application.

            Jung’s definitions are far more focused, but required the Editors of the English transition of his Collected Works to append footnotes at various points[7] in order to address the “almost insuperable difficulties”[8] in translating Jung’s German Seele into English. There is no single English equivalent that combines both “psyche” and “soul” as Seele does. As “soul” is used “in the technical terminology of analytical psychology,”[9] it “refers to a ‘functional complex’ or partial personality and never to the whole psyche.”[10] In some citations, Jung used “soul” in a “non-technical sense,”[11] meaning “a psychic (phenomenological) fact of a highly numinous character.”[12] In other places, Jung used “soul” when referring to a transcendental (i.e. Neoplatonic or Christian) conception.[13]

            I went through all 15 of the volumes of Collected Works[14] that had any citations to “soul,” and came up with the following definitions: the soul is “a kind of life force,”[15] a “moving force”[16] and “a healing force,”[17] as well as “a function of relationship,”[18] “a ‘function complex’ or partial personality,”[19] whose nature is “as a vinculum or ligamentum,”[20] i.e. a binder or unifier.

            Elsewhere Jung defined it as “the active principle” (the body being the “passive principle”),[21] the “subtle body”[22] and “breath-soul,”[23] “that bodiless abstraction of the rational intellect,”[24] “the arcane substance,”[25] “a transcendental thing,”[26] “a volatile but physical substance,”[27] “the immediate datum of experience,”[28] “a semiconscious psychic complex,”[29] “a psychological function of an intuitive nature,”[30] “the birth-place of all action and hence of everything that happens by the will of man,”[31] “a fulcrum from which to lift the world off its hinges,”[32] “an agent of immortality and perfection, a mediator and Savior,”[33] “a living thing in man, that which lives of itself and causes life,”[34] “a life-giving daemon,”[35] “a spiritual substance of spherical nature,”[36] “a tacit assumption that seemed to be known in every detail,”[37] “the only experient of life and existence,”[38] “the body’s mistress and governor,”[39] “the salt of the earth,”[40] “a breath-body or a volatile but physical substance,”[41] and a “tremendous problem.”[42] Those of us of a more pedestrian mind-set than Jung would say he nailed this last definition: a problem indeed!

            Why a problem? Because, Jung felt, the soul is “very hard to find and to comprehend.”[43] Jung was loath to be labeled a “mystic,”[44] and so he tried to come up with a conception of the soul that was “purely phenomenological,” rather than “indulging in any psychological mysticism.”[45] He sought to “grasp scientifically the elementary psychic phenomena which underlie the belief in souls,”[46] and assiduously avoided anything that smacked of mysticism.

Features and Functions of the Soul

            What Jung meant by “soul” might be easier to understand if we examine the features Jung ascribed to the soul, and what roles he felt it played.

            Features. The soul is “paradoxical: black and white, divine and demon-like,”[47] standing “between good and evil,”[48] “consisting in a certain sense of two parts–one part belonging to the individual, and the other adhering to the object of relationship, in this case the unconscious.”[49] It has both feminine traits (the anima in men) and masculine (the animus in women), allowing men to feel and women to reflect.[50]

            With a “leaping and twinkling nature,”[51] the soul is “elusive as a butterfly,”[52] “quick-moving, changeful of hue, shifting and wily.”[53] As an autonomous being, “transcending the limits of consciousness,”[54] the soul is “chthonic,”[55]“intangibly interwoven with the world and with matter.”[56] Jung describes it as “in chains,”[57] “bound in the elements,”[58] of “a very fine substance”[59] that “is densior et crassior (denser and grosser) than the spirit.”[60] But it is not purely material: it cannot be located in space;[61] it is timeless,[62] eternal,[63] and “a being without extension,”[64] with “spiritual values… which elude purely intellectual treatment.”[65]

            Thanks to its “pneumatic nature,”[66] the soul “has the dignity of an entity endowed with, and conscious of, a relationship to Deity.”[67] Of “heavenly origin,”[68] the soul is “a particle of the world soul, a microcosm reflecting the macrocosm,”[69] and a “powerful”[70] part of the human being which is “naturaliter religiosa,”[71] i.e. naturally religious, “partaking of some supernatural quality.”[72] Originally created good, the soul can be “assailed”[73] by temptation, the devil can take possession of it,[74] and it can become corrupted by rathumia, i.e. “carelessness, indifference, and frivolity.”[75]

            Functions of the Soul. The soul “animates the body,”[76] and “she [Jung used the feminine pronoun to refer to the soul] tends to favor the body and everything bodily, sensuous, and emotional.”[77] The soul makes “man to be what he is, a reasonable being, capable of perception and of knowledge,”[78] having “within herself the ‘selfness’ of all mankind.”[79] Thanks to our souls, we are grounded in flesh-and-blood reality, as Jung notes:

“With her cunning play of illusions the soul lures into life the inertness of matter that does not want to live. She makes us believe incredible things, that life may be lived. She is full of snares and traps, in order that man should fall, should reach the earth, entangle himself there, and stay caught, so that life should be lived; …”. [80]

Quite different from spirit (which would carry us off into the ethers),[81] soul keeps us grounded and conscious, and its “discriminative function separates opposites of every kind, and especially those of the moral order personified in Christ and Devil.”[82]

            We can thank our soul for our libido, our psychic energy, “whose nature it is to bring forth the useful and the harmful, the good and the bad.”[83] Why both? Because the soul is paradoxical, and contains both. The soul is the source of our sense of meaning in life,[84] as well as our creativity,[85] thanks to how it fosters our relation to the “archetype of the God-image.”[86] At those times when we feel depressed, we may experience a “loss of soul,”[87] or what Jung calls “a noticeable dissociation of consciousness.”[88] Like the primitive indigenous tribesman, Jung recognized that “loss of soul” was a perilous state.[89] Which brings us to the next section of this essay.

Why Bother with the Soul?

            Given the materialism and greed which are so pervasive now in our culture, most people would answer the above question with “Why, indeed?” and shrug it off. Jung was quite clear about this:

“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. They will practice Indian yoga and all its exercises, observe a strict regimen of diet, learn theosophy by heart, or mechanically repeat mystic texts from the literature of the whole world–all because they cannot get on with themselves and have not the slightest faith that anything useful could ever come out of their souls. Thus the soul has gradually been turned into a Nazareth from which nothing good can come. … “[90]

But this attitude, pervasive throughout the world, has resulted in “neuroses and similar illnesses,”[91] the loss of meaning in life, “mental epidemics”[92] and the “restriction of consciousness”[93] which leads to emptiness in life.

            Jung warns us that our denigration of the soul has left us “alone and you are confronted with all the demons of hell,”[94] showing up as “anxiety neurosis, nocturnal fears, compulsions,”[95] and all of this due to the fact that our souls have “become lonely;”[96] they are extra ecclesiam, no longer involved in any sort of spiritual support system.[97] Jung regarded religions as “the great healing systems for the ills of the soul,”[98] but he recognized that we are living in a time when the dogmas of many religions have been questioned, to the point that they have lost their “healing power.”[99] This situation has left people “prey to their own weakness,”[100] and when they seek out therapists, they get labeled “neurotic.”[101]

            Jung disagreed with this label:

“As a matter of fact it is something quite different: it is the terrific fear of loneliness. It is the hallucination of loneliness, and it is a loneliness that cannot be quenched by anything else. You can be a member of a society with a thousand members, and you are still alone. That thing in you which should live[i.e. the soul] is alone; nobody touches it, nobody knows it, you yourself don’t know it; but it keeps on stirring, it disturbs you, it makes you restless, and it gives you no peace.”[102]

Our penchant for explanations and theorizing doesn’t help here: “Every time you accept that explanation [i.e. that you have a neurosis] … you have not helped your soul; you have replaced your soul by an explanation, a theory.”[103] And Jung regarded theory as “the very devil.”[104]

            Rather than the theories and diagnoses of our current system, Jung would restore the vertical orientation that once characterized our world, the loss of which St. Augustine warned against in his Confessions:

Augustine of Hippo

“And men go forth to admire the high mountains and the great waves of the sea and the broad torrent of the rivers in the vast expanse of the ocean and the orbits of the stars, and to turn away from themselves….”.[105]

Few people these days turn within and find nourishment in the “symbolic life.” Jung recognized this:

“Now, we have no symbolic life, and we are all badly in need of the symbolic life. Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul – the daily need of the soul, mind you! And because people have no such thing, they can never step out of this mill – this awful, grinding, banal life in which they are ‘nothing but.’ Everything is banal, everything is ‘nothing but;’…”[106]

In place of our current banal life, Jung would ask us to “embark on a great adventure of the spirit”[107] which would remedy our “loss of soul” and save it from “stultification.”[108]

            Countering the tendency to denigrate or dismiss the soul, Jung considers the soul “the lapis pretiosissimus,[109] the most precious “stone” (in the sense of the alchemists’ “philosopher’s stone” which worked to “redeem”[110] the soul and allow it to live). Jung reminds us that “Without the soul the body is dead, and without the body the soul is unreal.”[111] As our inner “eye destined to behold the light,”[112] the soul is the home of “supreme values,”[113] and serves as “a fulcrum from which [we can] lift the world off its hinges,…”.[114]    

            Why would we want to do this? Unhinging the world, to Jung, means achieving a different perspective from our materialistic concern with power and wealth–a perspective that shows us our true goal, which is “not in the mastery of this world but in the attainment of the Kingdom of God, whose foundations are in [our] own heart.”[115]

            Another way Jung felt the soul was important was in its ability to keep us in touch with reality. If we fail to value our soul, our spirituality “becomes ruthless, arrogant, and tyrannical.”[116] Our outlook on life becomes “unadapted,”[117] leading to a “state [of] definite pathos, a suffering of the soul, though at first it is not perceived as such because of a lack of introspection,…”,[118] but, over time, it shows up in conscious life “as a vague malaise.”[119]

            So the soul keeps us alive, keeps life real and meaningful, provides us with different perspectives, shows us our true goals, and helps to maintain our health, both physical and mental. Jung was very clear that soul is worth tending. Which leads to the final part of this essay: How to tend the soul.

Ways to Tend Our Soul

            Jung’s suggestions for soul tending are not original: He drew on the thousands of years of spiritual practices for his recommendations. For example, he speaks of the “withdrawal of the fantasy-projections that give the ‘ten thousand things’ their attractive and deceptive glamour,”[120] referring to the Buddhist teachings about the many ways we can be pulled off a focus on our inner life. Jung advises “introversion, introspection, meditation, and the careful investigation of desires and their motives.”[121] Such practices provide us with the “opportunity to discover the dark side of [our] personality, … inferior wishes and motives, childish fantasies and resentments, etc.; in short, all those traits [we] habitually hide from”[122] ourselves. In other words, we tend our soul by willingly, consciously confronting our shadow.

            Jung minces no words that such activities require “an unusual degree of self-abnegation to question the fictitious picture of one’s own personality.”[123] It is not easy to “emancipate the ‘cogitatio’ which is situated in the head,”[124] so as to “overcome the body.”[125] Nor it is comfortable to undertake the “adventure that carries us unexpectedly far and deep:”[126] it often leads to “a good deal of confusion and mental darkness, since it gives rise to personality problems which one had never remotely imagined before.”[127] Such is the nature of the nigredo phase of alchemical transformation.[128] I recall this well: in the first year of so of my analysis, to my consternation I did not feel better. Far from it! It seemed I just felt worse and worse, and I complained of this to my analyst. She acknowledged this was true (it’s archetypal, happens to everyone) and she assured me that it was not her role to make me feel better.[129] Duh??

            When we tend our souls, we make contact with the archetypes, those “numinous, structural elements of the psyche”[130] which “possess a certain autonomy and specific energy which enables them to attract… those contents which are best suited”[131] to our healing. These contents are symbols and they “act as transformers, their function being to convert libido [psychic energy] from a ‘lower’ to a ‘higher’ form.”[132] Archetypes are powerful because they hold stored-up energy, and, as a result, they can “seize and possess the whole personality,”[133] and they are “naturally productive of faith,”[134] i.e. they help us develop trust in the Self (our inner divine core).

            In tending our soul, we meet it on its own ground, which we are “bound to do… whenever we are confronted with the real and crushing problems of life.”[135] These problems are important: they are goads or incentives for us to undertake soul work. Without “crushing” problems we aren’t likely to summon the determination, tenacity and will to overcome the “carelessness, indifference, frivolity”[136] and sloth that are features of daily life.

            To determination, tenacity and will we should add courage, for it requires “daring–a daring which never leaves the firm ground of the real and the possible, and which shrinks from no suffering…”.[137] 

Business concept illustration of a businessman choose different way from other businessmen

It takes courage to stand against the crowd, to refuse to “dissolve in the featureless flow of unconscious community life”[138]–a life which poses “deadly peril to [one’s] soul.”[139] Jung was explicit that soul tending involves “endless suffering and toil in the struggle against all those powers which are incessantly at work persuading us to take the apparently easier road of unconsciousness.”[140]

            Hard though it is, we have help, not from without, but from within, in the form of the unconscious, “that spirit which we cannot control.”[141] From his many decades of work with patients, Jung recognized that “The cooperation of conscious reasoning with the data of the unconscious”[142] produces the “transcendent function,”[143] the “function [which] progressively unites the opposites,”[144] the function which “had … served as the basis of Hermetic philosophy for seventeen centuries.”[145] It is a “natural and spontaneous phenomenon, part of the process of individuation.”[146] And Jung notes that “Psychology has no proof that this process does not unfold itself at the instigation of God’s will.”[147]–an indirect way of suggesting that getting our act together might be something the Self wants to foster.

            Soul tending “entails the most painstaking self-examination and self-education, which can, however, be passed on to others by one who has acquired the discipline himself.”[148] This is one reason why Jung required his analysts to have undergone their own analysis. Only by experiencing the suffering, the toil and the struggle against the powers that would keep us in sloth can we understand what the work demands. Jung knew that “The process of psychological differentiation is no light work; it needs the tenacity and patience of the alchemist,”[149] i.e. the analyst, who helps the analysand withstand the heat and pain of the processes.

            Jung also understood that soul tending is not solo work: 

“… a radical understanding of this kind is impossible without a human partner. A general and merely academic ‘insight into one’s mistakes’ is ineffectual, for then the mistakes are not really seen at all, only the idea of them. But they show up acutely when a human relationship brings them to the fore and when they are noticed by the other person as well as by oneself. Then and then only can they really be felt and their true nature recognized. Similarly, confessions made to one’s secret self generally have little or no effect, whereas confessions made to another are much more promising.”[150]

In my experience, working with four analysts over years, tending the soul is made much easier by shared endeavor and mutual understanding. It also helps to have before one, in person, a living example that it is possible to go through this and live! We–my analysts and I–shared “the stillness of a colloquy, carried on in the healthful atmosphere of unreserved confidence,”[151] as “soul worked on soul,”[152] and “many doors [got] unlocked that [barred” the way to the innermost sanctuary.”[153] As Jung said, I found that “Psychoanalysis possesses the means of opening doors otherwise tightly closed.”[154]

            Does soul tending require the depth and intensity of analysis? No. Anyone can take the time to look within, to reflect on life’s meaning, to give time and attention to values, interest and activities that bring joy and fulfillment to personal life. Nourishing the body with healthful food, uplifting music, beautiful art, exploring and valuing our ethical depths in communion with others of like mind, and having contact with Nature–such activities are forms of soul tending open to anyone. In our Soul Tending course at The Jungian Center, we include concerts, poetry readings, regular “laughsitives” (e.g. savoring cartoons from The New Yorker), Nature walks, mandala making, dream work, and exploration of the myths we are living (as shown by our dreams and our natal chart). In such ways we strive to achieve the alchemists’ unio mentalis, “the attainment of full knowledge of the heights and depths of [our] own character.”[155]


Jung, C.G. (1961), “Freud and Psychoanalysis,” Collected Works, 4. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1956) “Symbols of Transformation,” Collected Works, 5, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1971), “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press

________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Development of Personality,” CW 17. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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Spiritual Fitness

To be open to the Spirit of the Sacred (aka, God) we must nurture our body, our mind, and our soul or human consciousness which makes us who we are. St. Paul compared spiritual development to a race toward a goal (Phi 3:14). Runner must train to develop and strengthen their energy for a successful run.

The spiritual disciplines (also called dynamics) are the various ways we develop the energy that the Sacred gives us to reach our goal of spiritual maturity. Such dynamics as wisdom, understanding, guidance, fortitude, knowledge, fervor, passion, wonderment, discernment, and awe, cultivate a mature spirituality that results in such human qualities or characteristics as Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Generosity, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Modesty, and Self Control.

Physical wellness requires adequate nutrition, exercise, and emotional health.

Mental health consists of self esteem, intelligence, prudence, altruism, perseverance, discipline, resilience, honesty, integrity, and character.

Altogether, this makes us who we are- our Self or Soul, our human consciousness or awareness of the Sacred. We are then capable of being the ultimate conduit of the Sacred presence in the universe. No other creature, or element of creation has this consciousness that enables us to unite to the Sacred which is our fulfillment. The Sacred is the alpha and the omega- that in which we have our beginning, and that in which we end in unity.

“Now faith is the assurance of {things} hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Heb 11:1 Faith is confidence in the power of the Spirit to enhance our consciousness of the Sacred. This then enables us to fulfill the mandate of Jesus–

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others.. Mt 5:14-16

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Planet Earth: Our Common Home

What is the Season of Creation?

The Season of Creation is a monthlong prayerful observance that calls the planet’s 2.2 billion Christians to pray and care for God’s creation. It’s a time to reflect on our relationship with the environment — not just “distant” nature, but, crucially, the place where we live — and the ways in which our lifestyles and decisions as a society can endanger both the natural world and those inhabiting it, both humans and other creatures.

The ecumenical steering committee that plans and promotes the season each year put it this way:

The Season of Creation is a time to renew our relationship with our Creator and all creation through celebration, conversion, and commitment together. During the Season of Creation, we join our sisters and brothers in the ecumenical family in prayer and action for our common home.

It’s a time of prayer, contemplation and, increasingly, calls to action.

Read more here: https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/what-season-creation

In sync with all of Creation

Christians around the world are called in this month of September to intensify their joint efforts and prayers in order to protect “our common home”

The World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, which is marked each year on September 1, is now well established among many Christian communities around the world.Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, established the observance in 1989 for the Orthodox Churches. And Pope Francis decided in 2015 that the Catholic Church would also participate in this annual global prayer effort.This day also marks the beginning of the Season of Creation, which ends on October 4 with the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

Read more at: https://international.la-croix.com/news/editorials/in-sync-with-all-of-creation/16529

Brigantine Beach, NJ USA July 2022
Brigantine Beach, NJ USA July 2022
Brigantine Beach, NJ USA July 2022
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