Saturday, November 30, 2013

These Essays: Scripture Offers Us Psychological Resources

Wayne G. Rollins explores in Soul and Psyche the various psychological forces present in, and working through, all of Christian Scripture. Symbols, for example, are both conscious and unconscious, and their multiple associations play on both reason and emotion. This allows the mind which interprets them to work as an integrated whole.

The archetypical imagery which Scripture employs may be rich for precisely this purpose: the hero, garden, divine child, wise elder, trickster, mountain, tree of life, and divine king all resonate deeply through the minds of many people. And similar power may be at work in the cultic and ceremonial practices that Scripture encourages, such as the cup and bread that resound beyond the Greek New Testament. 

This dense and varied symbolic, archetypal, and cultic imagery of Christian scripture has been explored only partially. But Scripture also attests to a broad array of human personalities which have been studied since Freud and noted long before. Biblical characters such as Paul and David, Jesus and Moses, Ruth and Elijah, and Ezekiel and John not only resound with psychodynamic forces, but may also evince some mastery of them. Jung saw Paul as an individuated soul, while some Freudians have honored him as a keen symbolist and the skilled constructor of a mythological world.
It is not that one may find or “read into” the Bible the suppositions of modern psychological theory. It is that, when one reads the Bible with such theories in mind, one confronts the full range of possible results, from the tragic figure of Saul the king falling prey to his anxieties, to the fascinating complexity of Ezekiel, to the surprisingly admirable qualities of Christ and Paul. In Scripture, even by our contemporary standards, one may meet nearly anyone, and do so quite honestly. 

A third way that Scripture offers psychological resources is in the range of religious experiences it describes. The people of the Christian Bible encounter prophecy and ecstasy, visions, photisms, and auditions, glossolalia, dreams and dream interpretations, conversion and the slow work of ordinary religious life which encompasses the entire range of human emotions. They also perform religious rituals through circumcision, baptism, eucharist, foot-washing, prayer, fasts, festivals, and cultic law and sacrifice. They experience angels, exorcise and are possessed by demons, and heal and are healed by faith and miracle. 

The comprehensiveness of Scripture in this regard leaves little life uncovered. If one were looking for a religious experience outside its range, one would seem hard pressed to find it. So we should not be surprised that Scripture retains an ability to affect believers. Throughout its history, Scripture has engaged the hearts and minds of those who read it. It cannot be for nothing that John Wesley and Martin Luther both trace historically significant transformations to their experience of reading the Bible.

More, contemporary research speaks to the positive effect of biblical stories on the spiritual lives of children. And there has been a resurgence in adult applications in counseling which use Biblical texts as agents of moral realism, emotional catharsis, perceptual reorganization, diagnostic tools, and archetypal models for perception and behavior. 

Rollins concludes that we see such efficacy because of the constructive pervasiveness of the psyche in Scriptural composition and explication alike.Psychological readings of the Bible reveal that text and reader interpret one another in ways we have only begun to understand, and that a hermeneutical process which understands the Bible as therapeutically authoritative elicits a bevy of therapeutic results. 

Rollins implicitly takes up this persuasive sense of Scriptural authority as he describes the effects Scripture can have on readers. The unconscious forces operant in Scriptural composition manifest in Scriptural interpretation. Texts bear more meaning than the author could ever intend or the reader ever disclose. 

Unfortunately, much of this we read as negative, as in the critical suspicions of Marx, Freud and Nietzche, and the contemporary theories of feminist, Foucaultian and post-colonial thought. Biblical texts bear between their words the unspoken ideologies, systemic exclusions, and power dynamics of their compositional cultures.

But, in ways similar to the unconscious efficacy of the symbolic imagery of Christian scripture, these same “submerged” structures can become ways the text positively generates meaning for a reader. The persuasive nature of Scripture’s contents and unconscious forces can also contribute to its salutary force. Unconscious saturation prepares the text to respond to queries which neither text, author or reader anticipated, but that nonetheless further understanding at an almost experiential level.

The unconscious structures which operate in a text may make it more intelligible by lending it cohesion, making its meaning or meanings possible. And if there is any kind of collective unconscious at all, then the unconscious structures shared by any text with a reader would be precisely those through which the psyche’s positive energies could work toward inclusion, service, and empowerment. 

Finally, the unconscious “depth structure” of texts engages the imagination constructively, in order to organize disparate information and elicit the reader’s enlivened response to it. But I will explore that topic more fully in later essays.

Page a Day: One Hundred Twenty-Four

                 By the time we finally drew up around Wesing, we could not see it either. My fellow spearmen and I sat on our beasts and cursed the fog and the dampness and the chill. But Wesing was always thus, it was said, due to the position of the mountains and the delta of the Dicean River as it finally found the sea. The forest dripped. The rocks dripped. The mastodons shivered, and shook the water from their fur. It was breaking dawn. The forest smelled of rotting things, broken trees and hanging moss. We had marched through the night as we marched through all nights. The break was so that that captains and sergeants and lieutenants could position a force of fifty thousand souls in the fields around a city made invisible. The mastodons posted nearer than ever to the artillery, because one hundred paces would be the limit of our vision. Scouts hurried to and fro, back from skirmishes along the walls with reports of strongholds and fortifications. They could not see past the nightwind within the city.
                Jerem Cozak had ordered the slow advance. This time we mastodons intercalated in the artillery’s own arcing line, thirty beasts in our squares to ten artillery in theirs. Jerem Cozak captained this formation. The infantry bracketed us on either side, two long columns ready to surge for the streets, Julius on the right, Marcus on the left. I realized that for the first time we had no reserve. I swallowed and wondered what that meant. Every fifty paces we stopped for a blind bombardment, trying to gauge the city’s range before we drew up in sight of it ourselves. I did not know if the scouts reported success. We advanced again regardless. That’s when we came within range of the spearmen posted in the city’s towers.  
                But we should have known it was a ruse. We should have known they were just drawing back again. And we because we did not guess, we were caught. We could have gone around the city and attacked the docks first. And the Free Cities of the Fackablest, so far as the scouts could tell, had held somewhere around one hundred thousand additional souls, who hadn’t just gone anywhere.  They’d gone to the greatships, the only thing anyone in the Fackablest would ever want to have. And now they stood between us and our victory, armed with all the artillery the port city still held, and pointed it exactly in our direction across that western wall.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Page a Day: One Hundred Twenty-Three

             Jerem Cozak smiled, then sobered. “And while their ramps are lowered we have our opportunity. To disable their artillery we must claim the ships. To gain their holds we must take the ramps. Only five ships can ever dock at once. We must be quick. We must overwhelm.
            In a few minutes two of the Never-born will come to each of you. Carry them atop your beast. Charge the ramps. Press as far inward as you can. Do you understand? Not all will be armed, but all will try to stop you. When you can press no further, deliver the Never-born to the nearest hatch and ladder. Hold your position. With the artillery disabled, the infantry will charge the ramps behind you and finish off the fighting.
            Are we ready? Form up!”
            I shouldered my lightspear, and turned.
            After the first Free City, we had marched and fought for twenty days. We claimed thirty fortification in that time and fifty thousand additional souls. We did not stop for nightfall. We did not stop for anything but to fight and gain more converts. Jerem Cozak said it was the White Swarm that kept us on our feet, that let us sleep even as we marched. But I will always suspect the Never-born could have done it on their own. Marcus was relentless. The infantry marched in the vanguard and did the scouting and led the fighting hand-to-hand. They did not even have mastodons to ride. I had thought Julius exaggerating when he said that they had taken the cities of the Profuse Hand in three days and nights of fighting. Now I saw that it was true.
            The trees grew larger and more numerous. The Fackablest swallowed all of us, thousands upon thousands of human beings insignificant in the vastness of such wilderness. We lost sight of the mountains. We lost sight of the stars. Between the cities we saw nothing but the endless carpet of pine needles and tangled roots and the river on our right and the high boughs of pines sighing in winds we could not even feel, so dense was this domain. If there were strange and ancient creatures hidden in that forest, we never learned it. There were watches where it seemed we were the only living beings in the world. But the river grew. More streams rushed to join it. Day by day the ground grew softer beneath our feet and the air wetter in our lungs.