Edward F. Edinger, Ego and Archetype: Individuation and the Religious Function of the Psyche

(Shambhala Publications; USA, 1972)

When I studied undergraduate sociology I frequently felt that, from a theological perspective, I was engaged in the study of structural sin.  In the past year I have been reading bits and pieces of Jungian and Depth Psychology and I frequently feel that I am engaged in the study of ‘human beings created in the image of God’.  It has been fascinating to link psychological insights and questions to theological insights and questions and has drawn me deeper in love of a truly awesome God.

I find myself struggling to find the right language with which to authentically articulate these inner realities though I recognise them in myself.  Each term that I try on to describe my inner life  seems to have it’s detractors and I become acutely aware of how uncomfortable my culture has been discussing anything metaphysical (i.e. meta – beyond – physical – things that are emperically measurable by sight, sound, touch or taste).  Pre-modern theologians were comfortable with talk of the ‘soul’ or the ‘heart’ but their philosophical constructs are not always palatable with my post-modern sensitivities.  The bible seems to use a plethora of possible terminology leaving me with no other guidance than there is a large amount of  theological choice in how one describes the inner life which in itself should hint towards it’s meaning – it is our entire experience of reality, so much so that it is at times beyond our grasp.  As such, the inner life is always a human life, though at times the partition between human ‘ imago dei’ and the mystical divine, to whom we owe our entire existence (and whom Christians describe as Trinity), is the finest veil.

Here is an attempt at a response to EE in my own words:

Ego and Archetype asserts a psychological theory which connects individual experience and being with the broader reality of ourselves and the universe.  Within the inner life of a human being, our conscious, subjective, self-understanding (ego) is in dynamic relationship with the entire, objective human person – conscious and unconscious (self).   Sometimes the ego suffers from inflation – we think of ourselves more grandly than we ought (sounds very like the apostle paul); sometimes the ego suffers from alienation – we do not know ourselves as we ought (cf the experience of the psalmist when he cannot work out what God is doing in his life).  As life prods and pokes us, we gradually move towards the right balance where the ego is in harmony with the self (individuation).  In most cases, it is not until the second half of life, that this kind of full adulthood is entered into.  If the process of growing up is a universal human task and the imago dei, the mark of the Creator upon human creation is also universal, it should seem unsurprising that there are patterns of humanity, glimpses of the divine personality that repeat themselves constantly in the universal human story (i.e. Jungian archetypes).

Advances in early childhood research in recent decades have moved towards an understanding that the human brain continues essential growth outside of the womb.  The human being is unique in that the final stages of brain development happen in social interaction.  Each of us start life in this self-absorbed state, until we begin to encounter experiences that evolve the brain into understanding that there is something more.  Surely this is what the apostle Paul has in mind when he talks about the immaturity of the sinner and is foundational to my own concept of the doctrine of original sin.  It is certainly a process intimately familiar to every parent as we endure the challenges of raising children whom we hope will grow out of their pediatric self focus.  On the other hand, if we think of the wisest people we have encountered in life, often the really old ones, we glimpse a sense of peace with the world and with themselves, even though comprehension is beyond them.  A childish man who undergoes suffering says, ‘why me?’, whilst a wise man says, ‘gosh!’  That is, the wise man is somehow comfortable with the ambiguity of life and all it’s circumstances.

What I found fascinating in Ego and Archetype was EE’s discussion of how these archetypal patterns interact at a social level in what he terms ‘supra personal categories’.  In society, individuals share externalised projections of their inner beings collectively.  It is how we may live together in peace and harmony, by a structured, shared, ‘authorised version’ of reality which gives meaning and form to our individual selves.  If the shared meaning system of a society breaks down, as is the case with religion in the west, individuals have a problem.  As a sociologist I have long observed the social deterioration that results from the loss of a shared meaning system.  However, this was new food for thought about what happens pscyhologically.  It is not just that an individual suffers from a lack of meaningful relationships with others who share the same beliefs; the individual suffers from the lack of an externalised expression of their core beliefs, many of which are held unconsciously.  When we can glimpse parts of our deepest selves projected into the public sphere, it is as a kind of mirror in which to gain perspective on one’s true and full self.  Without religion, individuals are drawn into a spiritual quest to know the mystery of their their own soul.  In other words, the increase in spirituality in western culture, is a direct pscyhological consequence of the decrease in the christian religion’s monopoly.  Fascinating!  Further, I think the concept of individuation applied to Christendom as a socio-cultural entity, goes some way to describing it’s current cultural crisis.  It has slowly dawned on the christian church in the last half century that there is a whole lot more to the universe than we can contain or explain.  In other words,the western church is in the middle of it’s mid-life crisis – well that is exactly what it feels like to me!

Sebastian Moore, Let this mind be in you: The quest for identity through Oedipus to Christ.

(Winston Press: 1985)

One of the things I love about Emerging ways of being:doing is the discovery of ancient treasures.  Whilst a book from 1985 might not fairly be called ‘ancient’, Sebastian Moore operates firmly from a pre-modern Benediction tradition which brings me life and peace.  As you may guess from the title, he draws on insights from psychology as well as theology and the contemplative prayer tradition.  I’ve forgotten why my spiritual director suggested I read this book, but I will never forget the benefit I gained from it.

Contemplative prayer, for me, has been a way of finding security and stillness in my inmost being.  S.M. has provided me with an intellectual framework which explains what happens as I know myself intimately, and discover God in that space.  “The simplest form of awakening to God is described by Needleman: a new intense sense of self, accompanied with a desire for I know not what, a desire to do with the feeling of being a destiny.”

S.M. talks about ‘desire’, whereas I am more used to talking about ‘love’.  Although, the advantage of the term ‘desire’ is it is more explicit in it’s movement – attraction.  Created by desire (love) we as human beings are essentially desirable (lovable).  It is out of that desirableness that our desires for beauty, for relationships, for knowledge all come.  That is, we do not engage with life out of an inner vacuum, but rather out of fullness.  When we encounter people or experiences that we are drawn to, it is because we are reminded or connected to that inner desirableness that is innate in us, and a dance of attraction ensues.  We pursue that which connects us to ourselves, as we were created beautiful and loved by the wonderful Lord of the Universe.  “To feel the desire that motivates all my living, to feel my essential nerve of desire, is to feel the desire that motivates all people.  The nerve of my life runs through all the living.” From here it is easy to enter into the Ignation spiritual practice of ‘pursuing goodness.’

I love the way S.M. draws the human being as an image of God.  God created us so close to God’s own heart that it is almost like we encounter the very being of God when we truly encounter ourselves.  Almost, but not quite, for God is always distinct and so much greater and grander.  (Which leads me to thoughts of the Cappadocians Fathers and their contemplation of ‘theosis’.)  For me, ‘original sin’ is not the besmirching of this innate lovableness, sin is situated in the way we move out from this center.  Our inner beauty is designed to release us to love others because we are loved.  Sin’s distortion is that we grab the fulfillment of our desires for ourselves, inflating our own importance as an object of love, disregarding the connectedness we have with others, and denying the dependence we have on our Creator for the gift of lovableness in itself.

Finally, I valued S.M.’s practical suggestions for pursuing the gift of knowing ourselves and encountering God.  He suggested there are four ways in which desire (love) opens itself to the ultimate cause of desire (God).  1.  through an intimate relationship;  2.  through vulnerability in community;  3.  creative solitude (I love that phrase);  and 4.  through conscience, i.e. “the drawing of desire by something different from my obvious betterment, and often opposed to it.  It is the feeling of desire as my impulse toward a fuller, less self-centered life.”