Saturday, July 16, 2011

Spirituality 4

Story Method


Swan, Malahide Estuary, March, 2011
There are many methods of learning from the Socratic Method which proceeds by the radical questioning of assumptions, through the linear reasoning of logic and mathematics, then the formulaic method of laid out questions with the prescribed scholarly answers (as in the catechistic approach) all the way down to brain-storming all the possible solutions to a problem or to what Edward de Bono calls Lateral Thinking.  However, since ancient times there is one vital method called teaching and learning through story - associated with the great religious and spiritual teachers like the Buddha and Jesus Christ.  One could certainly argue that the Buddha never founded a religion, but rather a method of coping with life through the practice of meditation.  One could also argue, though somewhat less categorically that neither did Jesus Christ, and with other scholars who emphasise that it was St Paul and his allies who founded the Christian Church.  Admittedly this last point is a very moot and controversial one indeed, and is far from the tenor of this post.  Suffice it to say, that both the Buddha and Jesus were marvellous story-tellers and by using this form of teaching they captivated their audience.  Their stories were meant to make their listeners question their own motivations, assumptions and presuppositions and to get to know themselves and to live a good and authentic life based on principles of justice and truth.  I have written much on the role of story in these pages before as clicking on the story label will verify.  Socrates also wished his followers to question their own motivations, assumptions and presuppositions, but he preferred to do so through logical argumentation.  Now, as I promise I will recount a few stories to make the reader wake up, as my teacher Anthony de Mello succinctly and authentically puts it:

Story 1: A Buddha Story

One day a man was walking down a country road somewhere in India when he saw the Buddha approaching from the other direction.  This man had never heard of Siddhartha Gautama or the Buddha, but he noticed that there was a radiance that surrounded this individual.  He looked joyful and serene.  So the man asked this impressive stranger,

"Are you a spirit?"

"No," replied the Buddha.

"Then you must be an angel so?"

"No," replied the Buddha.

"Ah, you must be one of the gods in that case?"

"No," answered Siddhartha Gautama again.

"Well, what are you so?" asked the man

The Buddha replied, "I am awake!"

Implications of the Story


Malahide Estuary, March, 2011
 In Sanskrit the word "Buddha" means "the awakened one" or again the one who has woken up through being aware, through living in the NOW.  Jack Maguire in his wonderful Essential Buddhism, (Simon & Schuster, N.Y., 2001) and from whom I have taken the above story and summarised it in my own words, tells us that the word "Buddha" derives etymologically "from the same Indo-European root that gives us the English word bud.  In this sense, the Buddha was a sentient being who managed to bud and then bloom into total consciousness of his nature, or, to use a more traditional expression, into enlightenment.  The amazing truth of the matter is that we are all potential Buddhas, perfect and complete right in this moment, but very few of us realize it." (Op. cit., p. 2)

A Story from de Mello

In One Minute Wisdom (Anand Press, India, 1985, 1990) de Mello offers us the following story under the title Spirituality and the implication is so obvious that I hardly need spell it out here, but seeing as this post is about wakening up or being aware, I will state the obvious: for de Mello spirituality is equivalent to AWARENESS.  Now for the story:

Even though it was the Master's Day of Silence a traveller begged for a word of wisdom that would guide him through life's journey.  The Master nodded affably, took a sheet of paper and wrote a single word on it: "Awareness."

The visitor was perplexed.  "That's too brief.  Would you please expand on it a bit?"

The Master took the sheet of paper and wrote:  "Awareness, awareness, awareness."

"But what does the word mean?  said the traveller helplessly.

The Master reached out for the paper again and wrote:  "Awareness, awareness, awareness means AWARENESS."

(Op. cit., p. 9)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Spirituality 3

Weeping willow, Mullingar, April 2011
Spirituality describes essentially the in-built thrust within the human being to connect with Self, with Others and possibly with a source of that in-built thrust, whatever that may be.  In other words, mine is an agnostic spirituality as distinct to a theistic or atheistic spirituality.  The thrust of my own spirituality is openness to all possibilities and to the denial of none.  This is a nuanced position, and it will become clearer over the next so many posts which I shall dedicate to the above topic.

To start with I would like to talk about spirituality in the form of stories, a special type of story which I shall call wake-up or awareness stories.  I am quite deliberately basing these thoughts on the approach of the great Indian Jesuit, Anthony de Mello, S.J., whom the then Cardinal Ratzinger condemned as being heretical.  No wonder, indeed, because being a true Master of Meditation his approach can be interpreted at all the three levels of spirituality - agnostic, atheist or theist.  Indeed, I remember another late great Jesuit William Johnston saying that all meditators came to his sessions on meditation in Sophia University, Tokyo, atheists, agnostics and believers of every hue.  This, to me is real spirituality, the real thrust to connect, to connect, to connect...  Can more be said, I ask?

Real Meditation is Awareness

Rushing water, Mullingar Park, April, 2011
The approach to meditation that de Mello recommends is that based on awarenessAwareness means being present to yourself now, in this instant, in this moment.  As I type these words on the screen on my P.C. I am conscious of the feel of the keys under the tips of the fingers of both hands, of the gentle click of the keys and of the radio low in the background.  I am also aware that I am attempting to reach out, to connect with my Self and hopefully later with others when these cyphers are uploaded to the Internet.  Awareness is all, awareness that I am breathing nice and slowly now and am content in being here in the now, in being here typing these words.  All is awareness.  All is learning to be in the now.  To be aware.  To live in the Here and Now.  To know that wherever I go, there I am!  Awareness is about knowing that Now is as good as it gets!  Awareness is about letting go the regrets of the past.  It is about letting go of all those fears of the future.  Awareness is about objectively observing all things in the here and now, in the present.  Awareness is about objectivity.  It is about letting go of the ego.  In fact real awareness and true awareness is about death of the ego.  It is about letting go.  It is about ceasing to cling onto things, even on to others. It is about the sheer and complete independence of the objective witness.  Another way of putting all of this is in two words, which were very dear to de Mello's approach in any of his wonderful talks or retreats: "Wake up!"  Oftentimes, when I am driving along or walking the corridors at school I use these two words as my personal mantra: "Wake up!" "Wake up!"  Occasionally I use three or four, viz., "Wake up Tim!" or "Wake up Now, Tim!"  These little mantras help me to connect, to engage the spiritual...

My Approach Here:

My approach over the next several posts is to distill some of the wake-up stories I have heard over the years and those given by de Mello in the books I have named in my previous posts.

The Story of the Dying Rabbi

This is a story I heard recently from a friend.  Once in a small Jewish community a very saintly Rabbi was dying.  His disciples all gathered around his bed. Gathered along the side of the bed were also some of his Rabbinical students of that particular year,  One young man wanted to hear the Rabbi's dying words as the last words of someone are always wise and profound and most especially those of a dying Rabbi.  "Rabbi," he asked, "What are your words of advice to us now?"  Eventually the dying Rabbi croaked "Always question your own motivations!"

Wake Up!  Wake up!  What are my motivations here and now as I sit on this committee?  Are they congruent with my own deep beliefs or are they prejudices?  Wake up! Wake up!  Why am I back-biting here?  Wake up, wake up?  Why am I gossipping here?  Wake up!  Wake up!  Why am I doing this or that action?  Is it out of malice?  Am I a dog in the manger?  Wake up!  Wake up!  Live in the Here and Now!  Be aware!  Why am I expressing a feeling of "sour grapes" here?  Wake up!  Wake up!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Spirituality 2

Towards a Definition

Aspect of a Sculpture, Park, Mullingar, April, 2011
Spirituality is quite an elusive phenomenon and has a veritable legion of definitions.  Hence, there are as many definitions of it as there are writers who attempt to define it.  Let us start with a more orthodox (though rather modern scholarly take than traditionally conservative) Catholic definition of this phenomenon:  O'Collins, S.J. and Farugia, S.J. give the following orthodox definition in A Concise Dictionary of Theology (Harper Collins, 1991):

Systematic practice of and reflection on a prayerful, devout and disciplined Christian life.  In its practice Christian spirituality has always called for an ascetical and prayerful life in which a spiritual guide and the light of the Holy spirit help discern the direction in which individuals and communities are being led... As a field of study, spirituality involves theological (including liturgical), scriptural, historical, psychological and social elements (Op. cit., p. 228)
I remember writing the following definition myself in the first chapter of my S.T.L. thesis:

Spirituality describes the inner movement of the human spirit towards the transcendent or the divine.  In the Christian context this is essentially the journey of the pilgrim soul to God, renewed and nourished on the way through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who has wrought our salvation. Faith and Theological Method in the Works of John Henry Newman, Quinlan T., unpublished S.T. L. Thesis, Milltown, 1994, p. 6) 
I have come a long way in my personal journey since then.  At the time I was a practising and believing Catholic of 36 years of age.  That I firmly believed the above at the time is firmly without doubt.  That what is outlined above is an honest and good definition of spirituality is also a given.  However, as I have stated in my opening few lines - there are literally as many definitions of spirituality as there are those who attempt to write about it, though some will be obviously more orthodox and religious while others will be highly unorthodox and some even extremely woolly, to say the least.

Detail, same piece of sculpture
In the years since I wrote the above definition much has changed on my own personal landscape.  My fortieth year brought with it a severe mental break-down, which resulted in a seven week stay in a psychiatric hospital.  I had one further episode of severe depression the following year, but luckily it did not necessitate a hospital stay.  I now look on those horrible episodes as a break-through to a different and deeper dimension in my own soul - to a deeper and more spiritual dimension if you like.  When I left that hospital I knew a lot had changed for me.  I began to wonder what had happened, and the question which affected my mind literally at a chemical level, as well as at an existential one, was "If all these drugs can change my personality, then who am I?  Am I a mere biochemical reality?  What defines me as Tim Quinlan anyway?  Am I just a random collection of chemicals or neurotransmitters?  Where does the biochemistry end and the psychology or personality begin?  Is there such a reality as soul at all?  Were we after all what Bertrand Russell had once said in words similar to the following, "just a mere collocation of atoms"?  Religion was now something I had no experiential or existential or psychological need of anymore.  I had literally outgrown it.


Such questions saw me move beyond religion into a more spiritual phase in my life where I sought to understand what I was about in a more existential and meaningful way.  I read voluminously in psychology and psychiatry and in spirituality.  At this stage, spirituality had become a more "real" and more existentially-meaningful phenomenon in my life.  It was now becoming a way of making or forging connections.  For me, then, spirituality became a way of forging connections between the disparate parts of my self - in other words unifying and integrating ( Jungian terms here and terms also borrowed from the great psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Dr Anthony Storr) all the sub-personalities within my psyche, all the archetypes and most especially the Shadow that lurks in all our unconscious.  Spirituality is definitely about two things and possibly, though not especially about a third: (i) about connecting with the Real Self (ii) with others and (iii) with the source of that thrust-to-connect in God or some Ultimate Being or some inert, impersonal force behind the Universe.

Another detail, same sculptural piece
As you can see my modern personal definition of spirituality is quite psychological.  Having read Jung and Storr and a legion of other psychiatrists and psychologists and neuroscientists, as is evidenced in these pages, I have learned that true spirituality is about going inwards and downwards rather than upwards and outwards.  The Transcendent or God may not just be out there - perhaps he/she/it is in here in my own very soul or Immanent as the theological language puts it.  Having read Jung I can now see why my erstwhile professor of theology Dr. Bernard Kelly was so afraid of Jung.  Anyone who reads Jung will see that while the great man had oodles of time for theology and the rituals of religions, he also suggested that God may be an invention of humankind, may in fact be a psychological or sociological phenomenon equatable to the Collective Unconscious itself.  Needless to say, we are here returning to the central fear of organised and controlling religion, that namely the individual can make his/her way to whatever they see as their God (a mere metaphor for what they essentially believe) without the help of any church.  What's that the famous Enlightenment philosopher, Voltaire said:  "If God has made us in his own image and likeness, we have more than returned the compliment!"  There's a lot of truth in that statement.

To be continued.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Spirituality 1

Spirituality versus Religion


Two medieval friars, Mulligar, April, 2011
 In this sequence of posts I should like to devote my efforts to exploring the idea of spirituality as opposed to religion.  My emphasis will be on the former rather than the latter.  I have just been reading The Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville which is in fact light reading and aimed at the general public rather than a specialised audience. André Comte-Sponville (1952 -  ) is a French philosopher born in Paris, France. He studied in the École Normale Supérieure, and is aggregated in philosophy. He is a proponent of atheism and certain type of materialism with a spiritual twist as it were.  In short, he proposes a spiritualization of atheism, which is of interest to the present writer.  However, when I have read the book fully I shall offer a critique here, but it is one of the books that is inspiring me at the moment to explore what spirituality is. The Book of Atheist Spirituality, Bantam (2009) is a translation into English of his L'Esprit de l'athéisme (2006).

I have also been reading the books of Anthony de Mello, S.J., and they are the sort of books I constantly dip into as they are literally spiritual classics devoid of religious overtones or undertones which concentrate on spirituality which de Mello describes as being in a constant state of awareness or of awakeness or wakefulness, whichever is the correct substantive here.  Our Jesuit writer is consummately clear and writes in a riveting and engaging style.  One always feels that one is literally in the presence of a master or teacher pr guru as one reads his books.  His books which I have at the moment of writing piled alongside my chair in my study are in no specific order: Wellsprings (Anand, India, 1984, 1996), Sadhana: A Way to God (Anand, India, 1978, 1985), One Minute Wisdom (Anand, India, 1985, 1990), The Song of the Bird (Anand, India, 1981, 2001), Walking on Water (Columba Press, Dublin, 1998, edited by Gabriel Galache,S.J.), The Prayer of the Frog, Anand, 1988, 2002), Tony de Mello: A Prophet for our Times, by Carlos G. Valles, S.J. (Anand, India,1987, 2003), One Minute Nonsense (Anand, India, 1992), The Heart of the Enlightened, Fount Paperbacks, 1997, originally Bantam, 1989) and finally but not least the beautiful and delightful translation into Italian of one of John Callanan's insightful books on this spiritual master Il Segreto della Felicita' (A cura di John Callinan, S.J.) (Piemme, 2006, Titolo originale dell'opera: Watering the Desert (Mercier Press, 2004).

Religion is about Control, Spirituality is about Freedom

Modern sculpture, Mullingar, April, 2011
The title of this paragraph is, of course, deliberately controversial as I wish to point up some startling differences between these two realities.  Many years ago when I was a very young college student I can remember a theologian and literary scholar, Fr. Bernard Kelly, who was then retired and was teaching English literature part-time, remarking that the writings of Carl Gustave Jung were all highly heretical - in short "for the birds!"  Admittedly, that was way back in 1977 and I hope that things have changed substantially in the Roman Catholic Church since then, but I fear not...  Anyway, to make a long story short, I began to read a lot of the writings by and on the great Carl Jung who, over the years, has become a sort of hero for this writer at least.  I don't think that right-wing people, politicians or scholars or theologians realise that oftentimes their very condemnation of something or someone sends the rest of us so called "more enlightened souls" off to buy the writings of these condemned scholars.  Inevitably, this always happens.

As to the writings of the wonderful spiritual guide Anthony de Mello, S.J., the present Pope, Benedict XVI (born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, 1927) wrote the following condemnation of the writings of the learned Jesuit while he was Cardinal Prefect Joseph Ratzinger at the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 24, 1998, the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist.  Among other things in that document, Cardinal Ratzinger declares solemnly that the writings of de Mello are heretical because:

Religions, including Christianity, are one of the major obstacles to the discovery of truth. This truth, however, is never defined by the author in its precise contents. For him, to think that the God of one's own religion is the only one is simply fanaticism. "God" is considered as a cosmic reality, vague and omnipresent; the personal nature of God is ignored and in practice denied.


Father de Mello demonstrates an appreciation for Jesus, of whom he declares himself to be a "disciple." But he considers Jesus as a master alongside others. The only difference from other men is that Jesus is "awake" and fully free, while others are not. Jesus is not recognized as the Son of God, but simply as the one who teaches us that all people are children of God. In addition, the author's statements on the final destiny of man give rise to perplexity. At one point, he speaks of a "dissolving" into the impersonal God, as salt dissolves in water. On various occasions, the question of destiny after death is declared to be irrelevant; only the present life should be of interest. With respect to this life, since evil is simply ignorance, there are no objective rules of morality. Good and evil are simply mental evaluations imposed upon reality.

(See this link here: Curia Condemnation
In short, religion, then, is about control of the minds of the faithful.  No heresies or private beliefs can be allowed - the party line has to be held at all times, with absolutely no exceptions.  It has widely been the case that many liberal theologians in the Catholic Church have been reigned in by Rome, even dismissed from their posts as professors and lecturers, e.g., Professor, Fr. Hans Küng (1928 -     ), who is a Swiss Catholic priest, controversial theologian, and prolific author. Küng is "a Catholic priest in good standing" (apparently) but the Vatican has rescinded his authority to teach Catholic theology. He had to leave the Catholic faculty, but remained at the University of Tübingen as a professor of ecumenical theology, serving as an emeritus professor since 1996. Although Küng is not officially allowed to teach Catholic theology, neither his bishop nor the Holy See have revoked his priestly faculties. 

Another notable maverick priest theologian who received a blow of the papal crosier is Charles Curran.  Curran was ordained in Rome in 1958 for the Diocese of Rochester, New York. As far back as 1967 he was removed from his tenured faculty position at Catholic University of America (CUA) for his views on birth control, but was reinstated after a five-day faculty-led strike.   Again in 1986 he was discharged from the faculty of Catholic University of America as a dissident against the Church's moral teaching. He maintains in his 1986 "Faithful Dissent" that Catholics who may dissent nevertheless accept the teaching authority of the Pope, bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Since then, Curran has taken a full tenured professorship at Southern Methodist University and has published personal accounts about his experience with the Roman Catholic Church and his viewpoint on the actions of Roman Catholic Church authorities. Although Curran has been deemed, by the Vatican, unfit to teach Catholic theology, a recent 2008 survey showed that a plurality of SMU students are Catholics, surmounting Methodists by about 2,000 respondents.   Even here in Ireland, the power of the Vatican Curia extends its long forbidding tentacles as Curran's invitation to speak at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, our national seminary in 2006, was controversial, with College President, Mgr. Dermot Farrell forced to deny any involvement, though without actually preventing his speaking.Once again my above sub-title is provocative, especially to anyone who studies philosophy. 


Privileged Access to the Truth

Why should anyone have a door onto the Truth, as it were, that is not available for access by any one other human being? I bring this phrase to mind from the mid-eighties of the last century when I was studying for a post-graduate degree in philosophical theology. I was reading some learned theologian or other who was arguing that mystics were those who had privileged access to the Truth, and that this alone was enough for the hierarchical church to look on them with suspicion because the whole role of the Church as it were is a sort of conduit (my term) for the interaction between God and Humankind as it were. These mystics are fine, indeed, once they keep to themselves and only draw small interest on the part of the faithful. Once they begin to have a lot of followers, which rarely happens, the centralised Church becomes very concerned, very reactionary and extremely controlling. After all, if everyone is to make his/her own way to God, well then the role of the Church or any centralized religion for that matter is called into question.



The Grand Inquisitor is Alive and Well

Once again I am brought back to my student days and to my introduction to the world of Russian literature and philosophy by a brilliant and wonderful lecturer Fr. Patrick Carmody, M.A., M. Phil. who obviously did not get a full-time lecturing post as he did not really tow the party line or canvass for position within the structures of colleges or seminaries.  One of my favourite stories from that period is The Grand Inquisitor which is a parable told by Ivan to Alyosha in Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov (1879–1880). Ivan and Alyosha are brothers.  Ivan  is the questioning agnostic or even atheist who questions the possibility of a personal, benevolent God while Alyosha is a novice monk of very deep and personal belief in a good God and in the Church as His sacrament on earth. 

In this tale, Christ comes back to earth in Seville at the time of the Inquisition. He performs a number of miracles (echoing miracles from the Gospels). The people recognize him and adore him, but he is arrested by Inquisition leaders and sentenced to be burnt to death the next day. The Grand Inquisitor visits him in his cell to tell him that the Church no longer needs him. The main portion of the text is devoted to the Inquisitor explaining to Jesus why his return would interfere with the mission of the church.  In short, belief in the person of Jesus Christ as Son of God is secondary to the power and control of the Church.  The above two examples of power and control (in this case power and control over beliefs and doctrines and the party-line in all matters) as exercised by one religion, namely The Roman catholic Church. The Grand Inquisitor is an important part of the novel and one of the best-known passages in modern literature because of its ideas about human nature and freedom, and because of its fundamental ambiguity.  Dostoevsky structures his parable around the Temptation of Christ in the desert by Satan.  The argument of the Inquisitor against Jesus Christ is that he went for freedom in refusing to be tempted by the power and glory offered by worldly advancement whereas he should have given in to Satan's three temptations.  Why?  Quite simply because the so called faithful do not appreciate and will never appreciate what freedom means at all.  He accuses Jesus Christ of coming back to disturb things that are really being run rather smoothly, thank you very much, by the centralized committee or curia of the Church.  There is much meat here for deep thought.

Monday, July 11, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 23

Silence

Elie Wiesel, aged 15
Sometimes words fail us.  Anyone involved in writing knows that one can under-state something or over-state something or even fail miserably to communicate what one wished to so do in the first place.  The really great authors - and indeed composers of music who can use silences so effectively - get it right.  In fact, often it is what they leave unsaid in the particular context that paradoxically says more about the human condition than anything positive they could have said in the first place to fill the apparent gap or apparent silence.  In this regard it was the great Irish Nobel Laureate of Literature, Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) more than any postmodernist writer, who managed to achieve this balance in his writing and in his dramatic art.    Beckett said that when he wrote in French it was easier to write "without style" - he did not try to be elegant. With the change of language,  Beckett escaped from everything with which he was familiar. His books written in French reflected Beckett's bitter realization that there is no escape from illusions and from the Cartesian compulsion to think, or to try to solve insoluble mysteries.  He was obsessed by a desire to create what he called "a literature of the unword." He waged a lifelong war on words, trying to yield up the silence that underlines them.

In this sense, then, we may say that Beckett managed the unmanageable, to make art out of suffering, out of the pointlessness of life, out of the absurdity of life, revealing life to be neither Comedy nor Tragedy, but rather a type of Tragi-comedy.  This ability made this Irish novelist and playwright, one of the great names of the Absurd Theatre with Eugéne Ionesco, although much recent study regards Beckett as postmodernist. His plays are concerned with human suffering and survival, and his characters are struggling with meaninglessness and the world of the NothingBeckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.  In his writings for the theatre, we notice the influences of burlesque, vaudeville, the music hall, commedia dell'arte, and the silent-film style of such figures as Keaton and Chaplin.  Great artist that he was, Beckett knew suffering, as indeed we all do.  In fact, once the Second World War broke out, our great writer returned to France where he fought bravely with the Résistance.

A Personal Note on Silence

There is very little we can say in the face of dying and death, and yet, and yet we desire to say something.  It would seem that, like a great author or artist or comedian, we must get the timing right.  At the age of 53 I have been to many funerals and the words of condolence we express to the bereaved are often so empty, one might even say meaningless, and yet we know that at some unconscious and symbolic level they mean something both for the bereaved and for us.  It is often much later than the funeral service that we can say something that is more meaningful than our first formulaic expression of sympathy at the funeral service proper.   For us as a school some years back there was so little we could say at the funeral of a fifteen year old student who had dropped dead, apparently from Sudden Death Syndrome or at the funeral of an eighteen year old boy who had been stabbed to death with two carving knives by another eighteen year old, out of his head on drink and drugs.  However, it was our presence, the strength of our support that said more.  It was literally our silent solidarity that said anything that possibly could be said in the immediacy of the situation.

And Yet

These are two words that presage the mitigating factors to the thorny question at hand, and they play a similar role to "both/and" and "yes and no" in seeking to give an answer to a complex problem or intricate mystery.  One is always forced to qualify one's statements to get to the root of some intricate problems.  That is often why courts are so scarily black and white, because the law in most cases does not allow for more nuanced interpretations of fact.  These two words, "And yet" are also the ones chosen by Professor Levine as a title for his last chapter or last essay in this small volume: Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul (Jessica Kingsley, London, 1992).  Also these words come from the writings of the great Holocaust writer Elie Wiesel (Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel1928 -    )  A lot of concentration camp inmates who managed to survive remained silent for a certain number of years, no doubt attempting to process in their souls the sheer hell they had been through.  And yet, they could not remain silent forever because the truth/reality they had experienced had to be expressed somehow, to be true to their own souls and to the memory of the thousands who perished around them.  Ultimately, something must be said, something must be written, some artifact lovingly and respectfully crafted.  In other words, it was the years of restraint, the years of quietness that prepared for the balanced artistic expression of horror.


A recent picture of Elie Wiesel
 Elie Wiesel tells us that " 'and yet' is my favourite expression." (Quoted op.cit., p. 115)  He also wrote these interesting words: "The only language appropriate to the Holocaust may be a mystical language, and that language is a language shrouded in silence." (Ibid., p. 115) And yet he wrote 57 books, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald concentration camps.  And yet, and yet, we have to try and give meaning to all of our experience no matter how horrific, and that means we have to find some medium or media to act as containers for our suffering, in an effort to make sense of a seemingly meaningless existence.  We are creatures who desire meaning and structure.  To leave an horrific experience without some expression is to go on living it relentlessly over and over and over.

However, great art never attempts to anesthetize the viewer or participant who comes to the gallery, or the reader reads the poem or novel, or the music-lover who goes to the opera or the theatre.  Any art which attempts to do that is a false, sham and ersatz art - in which case it ceases to be art at all.  Art can bring us down into our own hell/Hades, but it must also bring us up like Orpheus ascending back to the real world, beaten, bruised, broken but never crushed.  The therapist must be brave enough to accompany his client down and up, and indeed accompany him/her in answering the question which s/he does not fear to pose: "When all illusions are gone what is there to live for?"

I agree firmly with Professor Levine when he states that "nothing else is strong enough [outside the Arts] to contain the destruction of the self" (Ibid., p. 120)  However, I should like to add the words "and hopefully the healing and renewal of the self" after the word  "destruction" in the last quoted sentence.

The end of this sequence of 23 posts.