Thursday, December 19, 2013

A spiritual friend

When I was helping to start Prison Phoenix (http://www.theppt.org.uk/), I found myself, in my callow twenties, writing to people in prison about their lives in the context of spiritual development. It occurred to me that it might be helpful to have a 'supervisor' with whom, in confidence, I could explore the specific challenges of trying to help people see new ways of being and doing, especially when the background was of such suffering, both inured and inflicted.

A friend suggested Wendy Robinson, a convert to Orthodoxy and a psychoanalyst trained in the Jungian tradition. I went and over the next years she went from supervisor through spiritual director to friend. She had an unerring ability to acknowledge both the matter of the psyche and of the spirit, to give each its due and place, and neither to inflate the former into the latter nor collapse the latter into the former. One of her convictions was that many of our deepest challenges in relationship was imagining that 'psychological' relationships could do the work of spiritual ones. Perfection in the world was not possible, perfectibility belonged only in the journey Godwards. We suffered from 'ontological collapse' imagining that other people could bear all that naturally can only be borne heavenwards. We need to discriminate, ever and again, the patterns of our desiring.

It was, with this discrimination in mind, that she suggested that I might benefit from analysis and sent me to just the right person who carefully and with great skill took me through the inverse of the above - my then runaway tendency to 'over-spiritualise' - Petrina, my analyst, brought me back to earth without ever betraying the essence of my spirit.

Wendy was a critical part of my own path of discernment including the exploration of a vocation to religious life. She was a part of two groups to which I too belonged that were greatly enriching of thought, culture, spirit and friendship. One the Trialogue was a bi-annual meeting focused on literature, spirituality and psychotherapy, the other was a group (in Oxford) that explored contemporary culture through the lens of Rene Girard.

In latter years, owing to my peripatetic geography and Wendy's self-confessed execrable ability as a faithful correspondent, we saw each other more rarely but every time we picked up the warm threads of friendship and guidance.

Sadly, Wendy died late last week, after a brief illness, in the same year as her beloved husband, Edward. In Russian Orthodox tradition, rightly, one never refers to a person in the past tense for this is to falsify their reality, held in God, as the imaging of God in their particular uniqueness. It is a reality that Wendy will always point to. 

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