Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Practicing Reconciliation: Love and Work

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Practicing Reconciliation: Love and Work

Article excerpt

Because the psyche exists as unconscious and conscious kinds of mentation, we must include it if any gesture of reconciliation is to succeed. When we are grounded in awareness of psychic reality, a malignant chain of psychic causality can transform into a benign movement toward reconciliation with estranged neighbors, nations, and parts of ourselves. Inquiry into psychic roots ought to be accompanied by prayerful reception of what is communicating to us through our psyche. Religion names this reality and thus brings it closer as we appeal to God for help.

The psychological dimension in practicing reconciliation is, to me, the crucial one. Without it, good ideas are floated, but the actual doing of it, the suffering of it being done to us, does not happen. In the technical language of the work of therapy, we stay above the level of conflict. Including the psyche brings in our selves, conscious and unconscious, and the selves of our neighbors, both near and far. Then we are in the fire, our toes singed, our hearts aflame. This very fire relates to Christ who says in the Apocrypha, "He who is near me is near the fire, and he who is far from me is far from the Kingdom."1 To be close to Christ is to find our feet in his fire, in the passion of his existence which we register when we consent to the passion of our own existence. Here psychology and theology meet.

The Psyche as Objective

I begin, then, with this cardinal point: the psyche exists objectively, like the body. We can speak of "my body," but a lot of events that make for health and illness go on in it outside awareness and knowledge. Similarly, we speak of the psyche as "my psyche," but a lot goes on in it outside awareness that makes for health and illness. And psychic reality cannot be reduced to only the physical. For example, new brain research that can locate the place in the brain where we dream tells us something important, but it does not substitute for our learning what the dream means. Or psychological theory may reduce the psyche to past relationships, often with the pivotal people in our childhood. That, too, is valuable knowledge, but it does not substitute for hearing what the psyche is saying to us today.

To say the psyche exists does not mean that its reality is only an inner one. Psychic reality is part of reality inside and outside us, between us and within us. Thus working to relate to psychic reality is a form of social justice, because left-out parts of ourselves, if driven into exile, will burst into the social scene, like the Columbine students who, treated violently as "the scum of the school," took violent revenge by shooting other students indiscriminately. The unconscious psyche does not differentiate the way we do in consciousness. For these two boys, any student is a satisfactory victim; the victims did not have to be the specific jocks who razzed them. In Iraq in July, the murder and mutilation of two soldiers was cast as retaliation against the same military company who raped and murdered an Iraqi teenage girl and her parents and younger sister. Consciously, this sequence does not hold, because the violence done against the girl was not made public until after the brutal killing of the two soldiers. But from an unconscious point of view, the soldiers of the same company were guilty by association. The unconscious admits no past, present, or future; temporality blends together into a "now." Logic does not obtain, nor reason. Affect reigns.

Practicing reconciliation must include the psyche because the psyche makes things happen, such as terrorist attacks on civilians. Such happenings cannot be explained only rationally or politically, important as those explanations may be. Terrorism requires a psychological move, a religious element, and a group consciousness. To make people dead in the name of a living God indicates that the killers are caught up in unconscious identification with a primordial image of the transcendent (however defined) and participate in a group consciousness that supports such images and actions. …

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