Are We Missing Something Here?
by Joyce Rockwood Hudson
We heard the love part. Not that we have mastered the art of loving. Everyone knows the many failures of love that regularly occur in the individual and collective lives of Christians. We don’t try to fool ourselves about that. But we do know very well that we are supposed to love one another, with no limit on who should receive this love, and we do continue to endeavor to call ourselves back from shadow whenever we fall into it and to rededicate ourselves, again and again, to the goal of love that we learned from Jesus.
Christianity also heard, from the beginning, the “have faith” part of Jesus’ teaching: have faith in God, have faith in Jesus as the “son of God.” Dedicating our lives to faith in God, Christians have carried the essence of the first part of the Hebrew Shema (Deut 6:4–5) to the whole Western world and beyond: as a people we know that the Lord our God is One and that we must love God with all our heart, soul, and might. Of course, we also fall into shadow on this and forget the one God on a regular basis, resting our faith instead on more tangible gods like money and power. But still, we try; we put pressure on ourselves to continually reinvest our faith in the one God who is above all.
As for faith in Jesus, here too we have really tried. We have carried the story of Jesus through 2000 years, which is a long time, and we have kept it at the very center of our religious activity and of the teaching we have handed down from generation to generation. True, this has often taken a nasty turn and led to quarrels and conflict over dogma and belief, sometimes with deadly consequences as we have forgotten the love part and gone overboard on the faith part, lopping off heads and wiping out whole villages, whether of dissenting Christians or of unreceptive “infidels” (faithless ones). But we do know, on the whole, that we should not behave this way, and we do continue year after year, decade after decade, century after century, to call ourselves back from such darkness and rededicate ourselves to the true spirit of the gospel—to both love and faith, to walking and chewing gum at the same time. We keep trying and failing, trying and failing. This is the way life goes, we say. This is the best we can do.
Is it really the best we can do? Are we sure about that? I think it is warranted at this point in the Christian story to stop and take a look at this religion of ours and ask ourselves seriously: why is it so hard to get Christianity right? Love one another. Have faith in God and Jesus. How hard can it be? We have had two millennia to work on this, and yet our biggest failure, the Holocaust, the cold-blooded murder of many millions of people by civilized Christians, happened just yesterday, in our own time, not fifteen hundred or a thousand years ago. Could it be that we are missing something in this gospel story we have carried for all this time? The injunctions to love and faith are good, but are they enough?
It is hard to see how, if we keep on with only what we have so far, that we will ever do any better than we have done—especially given the fact that increasing numbers of our own people are giving up altogether on carrying the story along any further. They feel it has been wrung dry. Since World War II and the Holocaust, the majority of people in Christian Europe have stopped going to church, though for the most part they keep both their faith in God and the goal of love. Lagging behind, but following the same trend, increasing numbers of the heirs of Christianity in the U.S. and Canada—good people who still have faith in God and still try to be loving—are dropping church and the carrying of the gospel story from their lives. In their experience, this activity has little more to offer. They have gotten the good from it.
Fortunately, the gospel story was written down. We have the original version, which was recorded sooner after the actual events than the time that has now elapsed since World War II. If we were to sit down at this point and put the story of World War II into writing for the first time, we could record a fairly accurate account. Not only do we have all the stories we have heard from our parents and grandparents who lived through those times, but a number of the actual participants are still among us. Because the gospels were recorded with even less of a time gap than that, we can trust that they contain the essence of Jesus’ teaching, if not the verbatim transcripts.
If we are going to look again at the gospels to see what we might have missed, it could well be asked how we could expect to find anything more in them than has been found by those before us. There are not that many pages of text to be examined, and 2000 years is a long time to comb through them. The answer I would make to this reasonable question is that we have something now that no other Christians have ever had before. We have the twentieth century.
The same century that brought us the Holocaust and a widespread giving up on the effort to pass on the gospel story also brought us depth psychology. Led by the incredible wisdom of Carl Jung, depth psychology discovered something old in the world, something that had been known from the beginning of human time, although in less conscious and rational forms than the form Jung has now given us. Depth psychology calls this old something the “unconscious” and understands it to be an autonomous reality that comes to us from within. But though it comes from within, its origin is beyond our personal consciousness and experience. This “unconscious” interacts with us. It seeks dialogue. And when we pay attention to it in the right way through dreams, synchronicity, and other forms of highly personal communication, it teaches us, changes us, heals us, and sustains us.
The original human knowledge of this teaching and healing power was based on experience that was subjective, singular, and unrepeatable, and therefore unverifiable. This kind of knowledge was perfectly acceptable until the age of reason began to arise, riding in on the heritage of writing, bringing us Western civilization as we know it, which has gradually pushed out of the realm of acceptable truth anything not based on objectively verifiable experience.
It took a long time for this state of affairs to bring about its own correction. By the twentieth century, reason and rationality had produced a state of knowledge that could support an empirical psychology that put forth and defended viable evidence of the existence of the unconscious, giving back to us a view—once obvious to all— of a divine presence suffused in life itself.
Because of the twentieth-century advance of depth psychology, there are in the world today many well-educated, mentally sound, scientifically rational people who regularly participate in a dialogue with God through dreams and synchronicity. Their experience with this dialogue verifies for them its efficacy. They find that it leads them to an individual development of increasing health and wholeness in their own human lives. They experience the fact that it sets in process an integration and redemption of the personal shadows which have always accompanied, and often undermined, their earnest attempts at being loving and faithful. In other words, by engaging in this particular kind of dialogue with God, love and faith become ever more realized in their lives.
I ask you: if some of us in the modern world have discovered this new, more effective way to have a dialogue with God, a discovery that is actually a rediscovery of an age-old way, then would not Jesus himself have known all about it? And if he knew about it, surely he would have talked about it in his teachings, for why would he leave out this important key for making real all the rest of what he was urging upon us?
The thing about the human dialogue with the unconscious is that once you realize it exists, you see it everywhere—but until then, you don’t see it at all. This is as true of what we see in the gospels as of what we see in ordinary life. It is very exciting to go back and reread the gospels after having begun to “see” the dialogue between consciousness and the unconscious. “I was blind but now I see” (John 9:25) takes on a whole new meaning, as do many other of those familiar gospel words.
If most Christians were asked to name the top seven themes of Jesus’ teachings, they would probably agree on at least these five: love, faith, parables, the kingdom of God, and healing. Love and faith we more or less understand. But what about parables—why was Jesus so big on those? What about the kingdom of God—what exactly was he talking about with that? And what about healing—why was that such a large part of his ministry but such a small part of Christian life today? In my opinion, we are definitely missing something here. Out of the five most prominent elements of the gospel, we only have a handle on two of them.
As I see it, the first of the less understood themes we need to tackle is Jesus’ very great emphasis on parables. Traditionally parables have been seen as lessons in a nutshell, little nuggets of Christian teachings for us to hand down through the ages. But this approach misses the basic idea of parable per se, which is that there is deeper meaning below the literal level of what we see and hear. To understand this deeper meaning, we must look at things metaphorically. Not only is this how we look at parables, but it is exactly how we look at dreams and synchronicity in order to enter into an astoundingly lively and effective dialogue with God. Whenever Jesus said, “Let anyone who has ears to hear use them,”it was in every instance a call to listen metaphorically.
Jesus did not even try to explain what he meant by the kingdom of God until he had introduced the language of parables (see Matt 13). From my own rereading of the gospels, I have come to see the kingdom of God as the life that results from listening and seeing metaphorically, life continually guided, taught, and healed by the Paraclete (the Counselor), 24/7/365, until we walk through that door to the next life. It is from this conscious dialogue with the unconscious, undertaken in a context of love and faith, that true healing really does flow—healing of body, of individual lives, of families, and perhaps someday of communities and nations.
The gospel has not been wrung dry. On the contrary, there is much work to be done to bring forth its full message. If Christianity has become boring and irrelevant, it is because its carriers have only half heard what Jesus was saying. When a significant number of Christians begin to hear the entire message and to model it for the world, many fallen-away heirs of old Christendom will look up and listen and gladly return to a new, resurrected Christianity.
Joyce Rockwood Hudson. Originally published in Issue 7 of THE ROSE, a
publication of Emmanuel Church, Athens, Georgia.
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