Thursday, April 7, 2016

Self-delusion and darkness, paradoxical pathways to the light

My reality is it’s nighttime. The truth is I’m just blindfolded. How many people live like me, in self-deluded darkness? (Jarod Kintz, This Book is not FOR SALE.)

It was T.S. Eliot who reminded us that we cannot stand too much reality. The reminder was one of the cautions advanced by a now-deceased bishop while interviewing a prospective candidate for ministry. The candidate was currently being seen in a negative light for having left a withered marriage, by the chaplain for postulants, who urged him to withdraw and “get into therapy” before summarily exiting the room.
“Was there no room for truth-telling inside the sanctuary?” wondered the candidate, while refusing an invitation to join the bishop in a coffee. “Would truth-telling be restricted to the confessional?” Would the rest of the communication inside the ecclesial culture, both formal and informal, fall into the patterns of the street, the city council chambers, the daily diet of  news? Or, more to the point, would the ‘military culture’and its repressed and frozen "truths" from which the chaplain had recently burped onto the diocesan scene, find a comfortable home inside the church?

“Surely not,” came the naive and far too hopeful voice inside the candidate’s head.

And then.....there were the hidden secrets of some of the pedagogical leaders in the seminaries; and there were the broken relationships inside the structure of the church, some of them over merely human jealousy that remained hidden from view, given the code of repression that engulfs the church, similar to the corporate culture that prompts ambitious, aspiring executives to leave their ethical brain in the parking lot, before entering the office building, where whatever the corporation wants is what the corporation gets.

There were the million-dollar ecclesial trust accounts, and the half-million dollar trust accounts, while little or no active ministry was going on among the neighbourhood poor, dispossessed; there were the sycophants who wore the ‘school’ tie on their first meeting with a bishop, while still in theology school. Was such evidence merely the human acting from behind the blindfold, or were the people responsible living in complete darkness?

Was the simple hope of entering a profession that required some considerable personal, spiritual maturation and growth, and the training funnel that offered those opportunities, more self-deluded darkness? Certainly, the father of the candidate, himself the son of a clergy, had expressed grave reservations about the choice of vocation, given the tragic treatment his father had received from his congregation for his refusal to expel some poor, uneducated and “unsavoury” people from the pews.

Was the church merely another organization deeply neurotic about its finances, about its public image especially surrounding the issue of sexual relations including divorce, affairs, gays and lesbians?....No one in the gay community was tolerated, unless so pure, or so purely disguised and protected by what could be called the social/cultural/political blindfold of denial, ignorance and mere suspicion! Stories from inside the church  included alcohol-dependent clergy still untreated and unchallenged, relationships that produced inordinate numbers of children leading to a defiant wife’s cry, “from now on you sleep in the basement” from her hospital bed to her clergy-husband, and hidden/protected/unacknowledged gay clergy fully engaged in loving (yet secret) relationships, human rights cases brought by some against supervisors.

·       And then there are the unscrupulous parishioners who drove past rectory living room windows in the evening in order to spy on their clergy (a colleague of a friend),

·       or the vicarage broken into by church adherents searching with impunity for evidence of inappropriate texts, or whatever other “deviant” evidence they could uncover,

·       or the banding together of congregants to slander and eventually dismiss a clergy (one layman actually bragged of having ‘driven the last priest out because he wasn’t spiritual enough’)...

·       or the stories of the treasurers who sat on church accounts, spooning a few dollars to a chosen charity each month, as if to quiet whatever social conscience might be irritating her psyche....

·       or the stories of the clergy who merely walked away into the night because they could no longer stomach both the hypocrisy and the failure of the ‘system’ to support them in the face of their opponents.

It takes considerable hope, perhaps even blind hope, not based on any evidence of promise, or success, acceptance or tolerance, even to consider entering the church; and yet, is there not a universal theme here? Are we not, each of us, all of the time, living behind a blindfold, considering it ‘night’ rather than mere momentary darkness? We are raised by parents who themselves, are blindfolded in specific areas of their lives: blinded to the full nature of their grandparents; blinded to the secret stories that lie embedded in the letters, the photos, the unrecorded phone calls, the visits, the dates and the conversations that flow into a river in which each have been conceived and reared . Our teachers, for their part, while wanting the best to be offered to us students, were themselves blindfolded to our full potential, the gifts, fears and the hopes even of their professional colleagues for their careers, for their students and for the school generally. Siloed by the social conventions of the closed classroom, where each teacher reigns supreme, only to visit the staffroom periodically for a coffee, without ever fully engaging with others, the teachers are themselves keeping their secrets private, and their public interactions carefully scripted, highly attentive are they to the scripts of the principal, the superintendent and especially the directors.

And then there is the blindfold covering the expectations of the parents, who wish their ‘pure and undefiled’ children do not become besmirched with the edgy topics of conversations in the classrooms, or the street talk of the locker rooms, or the playing fields. And many of those “blinds” are coming from their over-protective and sabotaging parenting and teachings especially from that seat of repressed control and infantilizing, the church. “Oh, you are being far too critical, even unmerciful, in your satire of the church!” I hear many readers sighing.


Having recently watched a documentary detailing the volumes of letters over thirty-two years between Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II, recently canonized as Saint john Paul) and Teresa Anne, the Polish philosopher, who claims she significantly shaped his papacy, and whom the Vatican wishes to expunge from the public record, lest evidence of their relationship bring embarrassment on the Vatican after such a short “reflective” period, without the “Devil’s Advocate voice, normal in pursuit of saints, but removed by Pope John Paul II himself, prior to his death. Is the church, is Congress, is the Canadian government, is Donald Trump, is even Mother Theresa herself, living in a blindfold, thinking and believing it is truly night?

There is a parable in the New Testament that speaks to the criticism of pointing out the ‘spec’ in another’s eye, while simultaneously missing/ignoring/denying the “plank” in our own eye. Dedicated to evoking humility from all, the parable is so often missing from our consciousness as to render us blind to our own hubris, our own controlling needs, our own determination to ‘right the wrong’ of the other, while continuing to participate in our own blindness. And so often we cover the truth, both our own and another’s, with words that make it seem less toxic than it really it: example: the church warden whom her colleagues described as ‘having no social graces’ when, after it was pointed out, agreed that the full truth was, ‘she was a control freak’ with whom no one could deal equally and effectively.

While the obvious and overtly conscious lying is offensive; there is another kind of blindness that afflicts all of us: the unconscious, the Shadow,  both individual and collective, which, when repressed, inevitably and eternally blurts out in the form of a racist statement, a socially inappropriate comment, the origin of which seems unknown and unconscionable. And, in the words of a very wise woman, “I do not want to add to the Shadow of this group!”

Having been conditioned in self-delusion, ubiquitous examples abounding, we might dangerously fall into the trap of believing that there is no way to avoid dissembling, whereas, the talking cure has some application. When we are permitted to give voice to any and all thoughts/feelings/fears/aspirations/terrors in the safety of another, who is also free to give voice to the same demons, there is some possibility that we bring our blindness to our own consciousness, thereby lifting that blindfold ever so slightly and momentarily, just to give us a glimpse of the real and surprising light that emerges from such disclosure. And when the other can and does hear precisely the depth and the acuity of our pain without escaping in his/her own fear, and can and does stay to listen and mirror our inner voice, then, just possibly, we can say with confidence that we have found a friend, an advocate and a person verging on the angelic. Talking in deep confidence is not an elixir for discerning either the blindfold or the deepest darkest night....both can and do deceive. However, to be fully conscious that there is a potential vacuum that draws one in, from both the blindfold and the dark night, and from the confusion that reigns over the ambivalence....sometimes highly seductive and superficially rewarding, while other times profoundly troubling. Managing a life that embraces the challenge of mature discernment, even with the help of a spiritual guide, and a devoted partner is a work of both art and skill. And while improvising is never wasted effort, and ‘painting by number’ as a model for living by never satisfies, we are all groping through darknesses every day, whether we acknowledge our staggering or not.

The often ignored guarantee that accompanies the darkest experience is that whether from a mere blindfold, whose removal always enlightens, the darkness of the night or the personal Shadow when confronted, there is always a golden gift on the other side. It is our fear of the real and the imagined demons that hide in the dark closets of our psyches that impales each of us on the cross of paralysis and emotional, spiritual and psychic death.

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