Friday, December 19, 2008

A Bridge To Somewhere Else

Last week I asked if a religious tradition's images could be more powerful than its creed. The question arose after reading The Living God and Our Living Psyche, a book in which psychoanalyst Ann Belford Ulanov and psychologist Alvin Dueck build a bridge from Christianity to the work of Carl Jung.

Now, in this season of stories, another question occurs: could the bridge lead to somewhere else? Could it carry the stories Christians tell to a place in the Story of Everything? Could it do the same for the stories of other traditions?

When eco-historian Thomas Berry called for a new Story of Everything thirty years ago, he said its organizing structure would have to be the new scientific cosmology. More to the point, he said that the new story would have to include the old ones, especially those of a religious nature. In the current issue of The Global Spiral William Grassie reiterates both points in an article on meta-narratives.

How can this happen? How can a scientific story of evolution and emergence, covering 13.7 billion years, hold stories of a Divine Creation, of a Fall, of a Nativity, of a Redemption, to take just a few from the Christian tradition? How will Christians even get to the new Story? How will they embed their stories there?

I think it will take a bridge like Ulanov's, but something will happen in the crossing.

When they first step on that bridge, Christians will be telling their stories in "day language," to use the analogy of Michael Dowd. But if they make it to the other side, they will be speaking the "language of the night." Their stories will look the same, sound the same, have the same characters and plot. But the environment will be different, and the stories will be understood in a radically different way. Day language is the language of objective fact, publicly measured and verified. Night language is Jung's and Ulanov's specialty: myth, metaphor, subjective meaning. On one side of the bridge, for example, the story of the Fall will be understood as an historical event. On the other, it will be a symbol, capturing the experience of waking up to instincts shaped by millennia of evolution.

Going from day to night is an enormous change, which may prove unacceptable to many Christians. The fears Ulanov has encountered in her work with imagery will be there, especially that of reductionism. Crossing the bridge strips your stories of authority. They seem to become just stories, and your creed just imagination.

And here is where Ulanov's experience may prove invaluable. We can adapt her message to say that we are to engage a tradition's stories as if they were messages from the living God. But only if we let them be stories. Stripped of authority, stories open us up to life, and in this role they are hardly just stories. They are nothing less than stories. There is a presence in the night that is absent during the day.

Religiously, this is the season of the night, and of stories in the night. Muslims will tell the tale of a father's willingness to sacrifice his son, Jews the tale of a lamp that continued to burn, Christians the tale of a savior's birth. Many other narratives will celebrate the coming of Light. May all of them do what stories do best: open us up to life. I wish you the blessings of the season.

Note: A full review of The Living God and Our Living Psyche appears in the current issue of The Global Spiral. Take a look.

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COPYRIGHT (C) 2008 JOHN N. KOTRE

1 comment:

Dan said...

Yes, on the other side of the bridge we might learn that our stories have a depth and a range that is far greater than we have assumed.
The dimension of symbols is a receding horizon.