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Spiritual and Psychological Wholeness

Trivia bubbles to the surface in the senile. For all of us, that which was too difficult to understand at the time it happened stays buried in our unconscious minds, but not willingly. It comes out in projections, behaviors, emotional eruptions, depression, anxiety, marital problems, personality disorders, psychotic and neurotic episodes. When I am distraught, upset, depressed, anxious, or confused without an obvious trigger, God is allowing my subconscious to rise to the surface. Likewise, when I dream. Mystical experiences peel back the conscious so we glimpse the unconscious.

God, you see, wants us to be whole. Shalom. Wholeness, actualization, being fully human and fully alive is God’s goal for each of us. The purpose of our lives is to become the most loving version of ourselves, unique and beautiful.

God longs for us to be whole spiritually, psychologically, and (eventually) physically. But we are broken. It’s no one’s fault. We live in a broken world. We were raised by imperfect people who themselves suffered trauma. All of us were wounded, often by well-meaning people.

It is impossible to be whole until the unconscious and conscious are integrated. Until then, we are fractured. Disparate and often antagonistic elements of our personalities exist in two separate parts of our minds. Wholeness necessitates unity, oneness.

Shalom is much more than peace. Shalom includes psychological, sociopolitical, and ecological health. Shalom involves being at peace with oneself, with others (all others, even “enemies”), with nature, and with the source and sustainer of all, God.

Oneness does not imply homogenization. Every living thing is unique. There has never been and never will be anyone exactly like you. You are distinguished physiologically, genetically, psychological, spiritually, and by giftedness. You are exceptional and irreplaceable. God loves each of us as if no one else existed.

Neither does uniqueness imply isolation. We are interconnected. Humans cannot exist alone. Infants draw nourishment from their mothers, family units provide provision and protection, the village supplies us with standards, morality, ethics, beliefs, and learning. Humans are part of nature. As nature goes, so goes humankind. On both a cosmic and a quantum level, everything that exists is connected to and in some sense dependent on everything else. The basic elements of our bodies were birthed in the fiery explosions of stars in eons past. Life as we know it emerged in the primordial sea. Our physical cells can live in petri dishes, but they must be together to form a person. We are each distinct, special, and unique, while simultaneously being connected interdependently to every star, frog, tree, sea cucumber, and person.

There is more to existence than the physical universe. Just as real (perhaps more so) is the spiritual universe. Science explores the realm of nature. Metaphysics, philosophy, and theology explore the realm of the gods. Numinous reality is not “out there.” The realm of God and of spiritual beings exists with and in us. “In him, we live and move and have our being.”[1]

The Celts spoke of “thin places,” portals between the natural and spiritual realms. Ezekiel, sitting by the river in a Babylonian refugee camp, found himself in Jerusalem observing the divine glory leaving the temple. The ancient sacred creation myths in the Bible describe a time when heaven and earth, while distinctive, were interconnected. God, humans, talking animals, angelic beings all walked together and conversed. The last book of the Bible describes a reuniting of heaven and earth, an eternal oneness, wholeness, shalom.

On the one hand, the realm of the spiritual and the realm of the natural seem distinct and separate. On the other hand, they overlap. At the intersection, they blend; they are one. The goal of God’s work, according to Judeo-Christian scripture, is to fully integrate them so that the current area of distinction no longer exists.

We need not wait for the Parousia to access the divine. We connect with God’s realm each time we pray, each time we are conscious of beauty, love, or goodness, each time we are awe-struck by a sunset or a crashing wave, and each time we reach out for those who are hurting. Some especially spiritually sensitive people like Brother Lawrence find God in the ordinary. Others have extraordinary visions and out of body experiences.

We feel connected to God when we pay attention to our emotions. Why am I feeling sad, angry, upset? No one is making me feel anything. I am for some reason choosing to feel this way – but why? What is God teaching me here? What is God pointing out? Where is this coming from?

We connect with God through all the experiences we might call mystical – visions, dreams, a warming of the heart, a sense of awe. Ancient Christians considered the human imagination to be the inner sanctum where God is especially present.

Across traditions, mystics of all sorts describe the essential core of mysticism as an awareness of oneness, connectedness with all of creation, being part of a beautiful whole. That oneness, that connectiveness is akin to the Hebrew concept of shalom.

We find our individual “thin places.” Perhaps a church liturgy, listening to Bach or Mozart, or creating art, forest bathing, or bird watching. God is omnipresent, everywhere. The Kingdom of God is within us, in our midst. God is as close as our breath, which is why we can search within for connectedness. In fact, we must go within if we are to fully connect with the divine. The presence of the Holy Spirit is everywhere, but we are too often unaware and disconnected. There’s nothing wrong with the transmitter; it’s our receivers that need adjusting.

We need adjusting because we are all wounded. In Christian parlance, it’s a fallen world. None of us came from perfect families or grew up in perfect neighborhoods. Familial, social, and environmental influences affected us. Banished from the garden, we find ourselves scratching in the dirt. There develop parts of ourselves we don’t like or can’t accept. We form images of ourselves and project personas acceptable to our families and our cultures. The rest we deny and bury. That which we bury might be called our shadow-selves. The shadow-self is not evil; it’s just hidden – hidden from others and hidden from ourselves. But it’s still part of who we are.

To be whole, to be actualized, to be fully human, fully alive, to be the people God created us to be, the hidden, shadow part of us needs to be integrated with the image of ourselves we project to the world. It is essential that we come to know ourselves. Doing so involves the often-unpleasant task of facing the truth about our families of origin, our cultures, and those not-so-pretty parts of ourselves. It is painful to journey within and look the coward, traitor, or liar in the face. It is even more painful to come face to face with the wounded little child within who cries to be loved and protected. Truth, however, is prologue to freedom.

The journey within the human heart to discover and connect with God and all that God created is, if the body of epic poetry is to be believed, impossible without a guide. Actually, two guides, although they may be embodied in the same person.

We need a spiritual guide, companion, director, to walk with us into the divine mystery – someone who has lived there and knows her way around.

And, we need a psychological guide as well. Whether formally trained and licensed or filled with ancient wisdom and instinct, this person will serve us essentially as a depth-psychologist/psychoanalyst, gently teasing out the subtle intricacies of that which we have relegated to the unconscious.

For me, this involves engaging with two people – both devout Christians, both deeply spiritual, both nonjudgmental and Spirit-filled. One is my spiritual director, the other is my therapist. For others, they might be combined in a tribal elder or an especially wise and seasoned clergyperson.

The journey within the human heart to discover and connect with God and creation, to experience oneness, universal shalom, will almost certainly involve deep prayer, extended meditation, sacred reading, open and honest communication, being part of a faith community, interpersonal trust, openness to learn from others, some sort of artistic expression, long walks in the natural world, and times of solitude, silence, and stillness. It might also involve dream analysis, Lecto Divina, Tai Chi, Yoga, psychoanalysis, a change of diet, and physcal exercise.

Jesus prayed,

“I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:20-24, NRSVUE[2])

The oneness for which Jesus prayed has nothing to do with everyone joining a common institution or holding identical beliefs. This is the connectedness of which the mystics and prophets spoke. This is oneness with God, self, others, creation. This is shalom.

LRT 7 October 2023

[1] Acts 17:28, where the Apostle Paul quotes Aratus, a Cilcian poet (Phaenomena 5). [2] New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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