Therapeutic Theological Thought
Motto: All therapy ends badly.” —Attributed to Sigmund Freud
[A word from the editors. Penrod has come up with another idea and has put pressure on the editorial staff to print the above-named column. He has prevailed over a mixed and, at best, partially uncommitted response from the editors. Having yielded, we feel it our duty to tell you what we can about Penrod.
In this and past issues, he has been identified as a contributor who wants us to think first of Booth Tarkington’s Penrod. In particular, he has told us, remember when Penrod goes to the stable, climbs into his hideout—an unused “sawdust magazine” which was half-filled with sawdust, uncovers his pencil and notebook, and proceeds to write about his hero, HARoW RAMoRES THE RoADAGENT. Our contributor chooses to combine Penrod with the mighty pen of Martin Luther whose evangelistic efforts by means of his pen shook the whole world and still do. Penrod rightly compares Luther’s pen to Aaron’s rod. In the face of that awesome tool, with its power to turn water into blood and bring gnats out of the earth, it is wise to be humble.
How humble our contributor is, whether he has anything to do with any of his heroes other than his namesake Penrod (after rereading that lively passage- pages 11-15—we hardly think he does justice to Penrod either), and whether his column is therapeutic, theological, or thoughtful, you must judge for yourself. The worst of it is that he says he already has several more columns ready.
I have been reading Henri Nouwen’s book Clowning in Rome: Reflections on Solitude, Celibacy, Prayer and Contemplation, and it is helping me clear up my thinking and, maybe, by Grace of God, my life.
In the chapter “Contemplation and Ministry,” he describes the power of contemplation as the ability to see. In contemplation, one pauses, observes, and opens one up, not trying to guide control one’s thoughts. In so doing, Nouwen says, the veil is lifted and reality (Physik he calls it) is no longer opaque. Contemplation makes room in our lives for others, allows us to be in life and time in its fullness (Kairos), and allows nature to be seen for what it is. What one sees in contemplation is the Grace which sustains reality.
I understand the experience Nouwen writes about not because 1 have been faithful or disciplined in contemplation or prayer life, but because by the Grace of God it has happened to me. 1 would be surprised to find a person who has not at some time experienced contemplation as Nouwen describes it.
What interests me most is the matter of making room in my life for others and allowing myself to think of people for whom I care, about whom I am concerned, and by whom I am blessed.
When I see clearly, as contemplation allows, I realize that there are many people by whom I am blessed and for whom I care. How then can I make room for even the people close to me for whom I feel responsibility or who need my love, help, or attention, to say nothing about the rest of my neighbors? The potential demand causes me to draw in and protect myself. But I not only give up responsibility when I do this, I lose blessing.
Nouwen observes that in contemplation people and nature are presented to me. Where there was no time or room because of the press of priorities or a hardened heart, people and things are presented and, usually, gratitude arises in my mind and soul.
Contemplation releases one from the obligations of the present. Contemplation refuses to acknowledge that there anything, anywhere that is more important than itself at this moment.
Contemplation provides liberation from the impossible task of caring for everyone and everything. In activities like contemplation, Grace is revealed. Grace is the factor Sigmund Freud does not account for in his book Civilization and Its Discontents. In that book he argues that Christianity is part of the superego which has overtaxed the human ego by the impossible demand of loving one’s enemies. He argues that this overtaxing of the ego is responsible for much of the discontents of civilization.
There is truth in Freud’s observation. I join civilization in much discontent. However, the difficulty he observed is something that people have recognized and something Christ taught and brought Grace to relieve. Contemplation is one specific antidote for discontent.
Perhaps I shall be drawn by necessity and thankfulness indulge myself in more contemplation.