Sunday, March 24, 2013

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

It must be one of the better childhood 'visions' - God sending down from His throne on high a giant turd to shatter the beautiful roof of His cathedral in Basel one bright, shining summer's day - and have one of His children, in this case the precocious Jung, both tested and graced as a result.

It is extraordinary story, told in Jung's 'autobiography': 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections'. The potential 'vision' was so disturbing to the twelve year old Jung that he spent several days in frustrated distraction lest he commit the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. But when he did finally think his way into surrender, he tells us he felt an extraordinary moment of enfolding grace. Apart from anything else it is a beautifully told story of childhood neurosis - have I committed a sin of which I am unaware? I am clean?

What matters, he tells us, is not following the outward signs of religion, including God's own recorded commandments, but being wholly obedient to God's will as experienced here and now.

Interestingly he tells us it was only in this experience of abandonment that he came to a sense of his full responsibility. You cannot surrender to God unless you are wholly sure that you have been fully attentive, conscious, and able to bear the consequences - and Jung implies that this responsibility is wholly directed at your individual being in the world. It does not give you licence to rearrange other people's consciences and lives.

It is, on reflection, both a profoundly Protestant vision in its context and Gnostic in its content (as God wills us to special saving knowledge beyond conventional views of 'good' and 'evil').

What struck me this time, reading MDR, was how gripping it is. In the hands of a lesser story teller, you might be tempted to see these early dreams and visions as the flotsam of the over active fantasy of a child. However, Jung both manages to convey how these strange realities impinged on him as a child and how they affected his subsequent life and thinking. You feel the very texture of how children takes these matters wholly seriously and you are invited not to put them away as 'childish things'. Something about recovering and inhabiting the wondering of a child is a prerequisite for imagining the kingdom of God.

I read MDR first when I was only slightly older that the Jung was was receiving these experiences, feeling haunted by moods of transcendence; and, was well placed to empathise. Re-reading them now, I feel reproved that I, unlike Jung, have been fitful at best at paying full attention. May I be graced with finding that again. 

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