Friday, 22 July 2016

151: Lectio Divina in daily life 4: Lectio as a Therapy

Continuation of 102: Lectio Divina in daily life 3 (please click here)

II - Lectio in the course of time

1. Lectio as a “therapy”

a) Lectio and psychology

Lectio is a therapeutic method. In fact, Christ is the Doctor, who knows us perfectly, and who daily speaks words to us in conformity with our needs as he sees them. Usually doctors of psychotherapy do not know us well enough and, ignorant of our true needs, do not know how to determine what should or should not be done; they cannot see the hidden recesses of our souls. But here Christ himself is at work… Moreover, the two dimensions, both the psychological and the spiritual one, are wholly present. Obviously this pertains to the broadest band of people, who are healthy; those suffering from pathological illnesses should seek medical help.

Beyond this, the Word of Christ has a purifying action. “Already you are clean, because of the word that I have spoken to you” (Jn 15:3). Lectio, which is an encounter with his word, also has this purifying effect.

This section will be of interest to all those who deal with psychology.
Today, thanks to progress in the field of psychology, we can easily recognize how Christ’s words bring psychological healing to the soul, psychological healing to our blindness. He works in the human soul, and enters deeply into the psyche. In the Sermon on the Mount, he shows us that not only our acts call for healing but our hearts also need to be healed. “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment” (Mt 5:21-22). But Christ also deals with the little Pharisee who is in each of us, and in doing so he unveils the mechanisms of the human soul. For example, in the St. Matthew’s Gospel, an entire chapter deals with the mechanisms of hipocrisy which divide the human soul (Mt 23). Their unveiling leads to the unifying work in the depths of our being. But in other passages, Christ speaks to the Pharisee in us, to “the prodigal son”, to “the adulteress who has been forgiven”, and so on. To the outside world one wants to appear pure, but the deepest roots of our being are entangled in contradictions. Instead of imagining a world that is pure, or barren, or black on one side and white on the other, filled with people who are either bad or good, Christ wants us to learn to become aware of our shadows, our undisclosed motivations, which we do not normally acknowledge or quite simply ignore although very real. When you fast or do good works (Mt 6) do not seek to blazon it abroad nor attract approval or praise.
Christ came to free with his power the depths of the human heart, and this is precisely what the Sermon on the Mount is all about: “and I say to you”… I will reveal your depths to you… if you are willing to see them.
Thus we come to understand that not only the world is a mix of black and white, but we too are. This discovery is quite an uncomfortable one; and yet, without it we would be in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater: the evil and the author of this evil, the wheat and the chaff!
Entering into our depths is therefore a healthy thing to do, enabling us slowly to be freed, as we discover at once our wretchedness – our “nothingness” as St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus put it – and the great mercy without which we could not otherwise bear to confront the depths of our nothingness.

This therapy leads us to the humility of God and to the charity that comes from Him. We become like Mary, the poor Virgin who is nonetheless “full of grace”.
In fact, neurosis is the result of an opposition between the conscious soul and the unconscious spirit at the roots of the soul. On one hand, by our conscious part we build a “persona”, an image of ourselves, a social image, and on the other hand, the reality deep down our heart is quite different. The conflict between the inside and the outside (cf. the “outside and the inside of the cup” in Mt 23:25) erupts, creating neurosis, a disequilibrium in our psychological life. Now, through lectio we free ourselves by listening, so that the Lord may unify our being (“He who of the two has made one” cf. Eph 2:14).

Jesus heals our soul
So lectio is a very powerful means of psychological healing. It allows us, through our encounter with Christ, to discover a higher degree of unity, by the integration of our entire being. Marie-Louise von Franz, a disciple of C. G. Jung, compared Scripture with the unconscious self in a judicious and profound way! Let us not forget that the unconscious, taken as a whole – at least in Jungian psychology (the collective unconscious) – is mysterious and vast, and cannot be comprehended (in the sense of being contained) by human reason.

Again and again Holy Scripture as a whole is referred to by the Church Fathers in images that, taken psychologically, we would today regard as symbols of the unconscious: as spring, the labyrinth, endless sea, unfathomable heaven, impenetrable abyss, or as a wild and untamed stream from which we can draw life eternally but whose final mysteries remain forever unattainable for us.”1

M.-L. von Franz briefly recalls a parallel between medieval exegesis of the four meanings of Scripture (historical, allegorical, tropological and anagological) and the four basic functions of the human psyche (the senses, thought, sentiment and intuition), and then draws the following conclusion:

In the Middle Ages, Holy Scripture was looked upon as unit, as a mysterium, which makes clear to us the reality of the Christ. When this mystery, in itself inconceivable, rotates by means of the four wheels of the four scriptural exegesis, it draws nearer to our understanding. But our understanding can never explain Scripture “exhaustively,” for “the purport of the divine word is of infinite diversity,” as John Scotus Erigena puts it.”2

It must be remembered that, in psychology, the conscious always remains the key to “salvation”. Some things may be changed by it or be allowed to change. Through lectio – which activates the conscious part in response to the totality3 manifested by Christ who speaks in Scripture – the dark areas are approached each day, and the conscious and active being is daily called upon. This is therefore not only a kind of analysis (probably one of the best kinds since it is perfectly adapted to each person and to his or her degree of self-revelation) but equally a way of collaborating in one’s own healing. Here the subject is truly the co-author of his own cure. When one understands the importance of taking responsibility for one’s own self, one sees more clearly lectio’s great contribution to psychological health and its powerful influence as a means of healing.

Psychology applies different methods to reach the unconscious, in order to assist it and allow it to express itself. In this regard, and more especially when compared to the active imagination method described by Jung and his disciples, lectio is, at an even more comprehensive level, a highly efficient means because it leaves the path clear for the Lord to illumine our depths – in a way similar to Jung’s method. Lectio also strengthens the self and the conscious part in front of the unconscious, and unifies the person. Having said this, it is to be noted that lectio is ten times more efficient and easier to put into practice than the best therapeutic methods. This is so because God is both present and active here - He who is the best aid and catalyst - together with the Holy Spirit and Christ. Nevertheless, in the most severe or marginal cases, lectio cannot replace treatment by a doctor or at least the help of an experienced guide.
Certainly these observations would benefit from broader research and even an in- depth comparative study.

1 M.-L. von Franz, Projection and Re-collection in Jungian Psychology : Reflections of the Soul (Open Courst Publishing, 1985) pp.45-46.
2 Ibid., p. 47.
3 The soul has access to its own totality – the conscience and the subconscious – only in so far as it advances to encounter the totality of what exists. For the faithful, this totality is Christ, who contains everything within himself.

Note 1: This is an extract from the book: "Lectio divina in daily life" (please click here)
Note 2: A keynote on Lectio Divina
Note 3: Remember to subscribe to this Blog so you can receive the posts directly to your email.

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