By Mary Ann Gray Voorhies
In my last blog post I talked about what usually precedes spiritual growth, and the answer was pain or suffering. In Thomas Hanna’s book “The Lyrical Existentialists” he quotes a well known Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who was also a psychologist and peer to Friedrich Nietzsche — both of whom came to generally the same conclusions about spiritual growth and health and unhealthy states of mind. It was the concept of the healthy individual that guided them in all researches. The working concept that both of these scholars had of health was that it was a condition in which all constituent aspects of an individual’s existence are allowed to have full play in the conscious life. The implications of such a concept are that the given drives, impulses, emotions and frustrations experienced by the human psyche are not to be thwarted, ignored, or repressed but rather are to be consciously faced, expressed, and accepted. There is usually some event. The event does not take place in the world that is outside of us. It takes place in individual consciousness. Hence, by the very nature of things, can be known only within each of us in our solitude.
“My soul is so heavy that thought can no more sustain it. Over by inmost there broods a depression, an anxiety, that presages an earthquake.” These are the words of an individual in psychological trouble: something in the world has failed him or her, disappointed him, abandoned him, something is not right. There are the classical literary figures of Marie Beaumarchais is Goethe’s “Clavigo,” Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” and Margaret in Goethe’s “Faust.” All of them have found something in the world in which they gave themselves in complete confidence and passion, and all of them were betrayed and came to grief. The spectacle of these women being deceived by their extraordinary lovers is the concrete exemplification of how the individual can be deceived by the world.
Her grief is that of one caught in the paradox of loving someone who is revealed as a deceiver. How can she believe this? How can she believe that the object of her love is deceptive? What can she do? She enters with this paradox more and more, sealing herself from the outside world in an inner world of restless grieving.
The unhealthy psychological state which Kierkegaard depicts for us is the refusal to accept the finite and temporal limitations of the world, the refusal to accept its reality. If this insistence lasts, the sickness will last. Kierkegaard — one of the most penetrating religious philosophers of modern times — has given us the surprising irreligious answer that the only way that such an individual can find the health of the religious life is by realizing that he or she is finite. Thus, do we see that in making the first step in the direction of the eternal, Kierkegaard pays his greatest respect to the reality of the world. Only in realizing the finitude of one’s existence in this world does one discover the eternal which is within.
Despair of the world and thereby find your SELF. Such moments are discovered in moments of concrete personal crisis. Kierkegaard urges to despair of the world and no long trust our hopes to something which is foreign to our control, but the person so deceived by the world might quite well persist obstinately in the HOPE that somehow the world will bear out his trust in it. Thus, the defeated and wounded human refuses to believe that the world is not an ally of the individual. This is a case of blindness and quite frequent in human experience. When he finally realizes that the world outside of himself will not make him happy, he realizes that his SELF is the goal toward which he strives. Despair is an act in which all hope in one’s world is abandoned. It is a cutting off, and irrevocable push away from the shore and in this strange circumcision of despair one has lost everything. It is an unprecedented act of courage and honesty.
Previously, he has clung to something. Now he clings to … nothing. This is precisely the miracle. When one is alone there is nothing to cling to possessing nothing but one’s SEF. God is right beside him. This despairing choice inaugurates an inner transformation which recreates one’s relation to his immediate world. The awesome realization of the inescapability of struggle, of tension, or becoming, of the infinite task of becoming an individual. Choice here is the central term. An energy, earnestness, and pathos are the purposeful activities that buttress this choosing. But here we leave the more religious individual caught in a wondrous and awful awareness to exist. Conscious of what he is both in his finitude and infinitude an existing in this consciousness, humiliated and alone before the task of an infinite becoming. He has discovered a joy and a misery, a happiness and a suffering, a laughter and a despair. He has discovered what it means to exist as a real man (woman).
Also, M. Scott Peck entitled one section of his book “The Road Less Traveled” The Healthiness of Depression. In it he explains that the feeling associated with the process of giving up something loved — or at least something that is a part of ourselves and familiar — is depression. “since mentally healthy people must grow, and since giving up or loss of the old SELF is an integral part of the process of mental and spiritual growth, depression is a normal and basically healthy phenomenon. It becomes unhealthy only when something interferes with the giving up process and cannot be resolved by the completion of the process.”
In the same vein, Jesus’ first words of his earthly ministry which was the sermon on the mount, in which he stated the beatitudes:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit (depressed); for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.
- Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst for righteousness; for they shall be filled.
Why would these have been his very first words in his public ministry if they were not important and relevant then as they are today?