Tag Archives: CG Jung

“The silent unity of all”

In his interesting post ‘Quaker non-theism and the God of Pascal‘, Ben Wood points out the very real difficulty some Quakers, especially non-theists like David Boulton, have with the Cartesian concept of God as “merely a necessary theological hypothesis.” Wood quotes Boulton himself in ‘Quaker Identity and the Heart of our Faith’ (the content appears to be missing from the Quakers in Britain website), “I can no more entertain the notion of gods and devils, angels and demons, disembodied ghoulies and ghosties, or holy and unholy spirits, than I can believe in the magic of Harry Potter or the mystic powers of Gandalf the Grey.”

I am not qualified as a theologian, but Quaker theology appears to me to be, if anything, a theology derived from experience, and the God of my experience is not a being within a known universe, not a notion in fact at all. I may, like everyone else, David Boulton included, derive notions from my experience, but it is the experience that is primary. This primacy of experience is of course what Quakers mean when they describe theirs as an experimental faith. As Charles F Carter wrote:

True faith is not assurance, but the readiness to go forward experimentally, without assurance. It is a sensitivity to things not yet known. Quakerism should not claim to be a religion of certainty, but a religion of uncertainty; it is this which gives us our special affinity to the world of science. For what we apprehend of truth is limited and partial, and experience may set it all in a new light; if we too easily satisfy our urge for security by claiming that we have found certainty, we shall no longer be sensitive to new experiences of truth. For who seeks that which he believes that he has found? Who explores a territory which he claims already to know?

Oddly enough perhaps, at first glance, one of the best accounts of mystical experience I’ve come across recently is found in André Comte-Sponville’s Book of Atheist Spirituality. He writes (p.190):

Mystics are defined by a certain type of experience, comprising self-evidence, plenitude, simplicity, eternity… All this leaves very little room for belief.

They see. Why would they need dogma?
Everything is present. Why would they need hope?
They live in eternity. Why would they need to wait for it?
They are already saved. Why would they need a religion?
Whether they are believers or not, mystics are those who no longer lack God. But is a God who is no longer lacking still God?

I don’t know the answer to Comte-Sponville’s question, except to say that for me, that plenitude – pleroma, in Jung’s Septem Sermones ad Mortuos – is exactly what I mean by God. He goes on to say,

When  God is no longer lacking, what remains? The plenitude of what is, which is neither God nor a subject.

When the past and the future no longer separate us from the present, what remains? Eternity – that is, the perpetual now of reality and truth.

When ego and intellect no longer separate us from reality, what remains? The silent unity of all.

For me, that “silent unity” is God. I mean nothing less by the word. But I find I need a shorthand for what André Comte-Sponville describes a few pages later (p.197): “How could I contain the absolute? The absolute contains me – I can reach it only by leaving myself behind.” The little word “God” may give rise to all manner of misunderstandings among Friends and others, but I for one need it for its elegance and concision – and for me, its resonance. To the questioning mind, you see, the infinite light of plenitude is dark, and all our descriptions fail in the end. As TS Eliot wrote, the only answer is (and try writing this without that little word we were discussing):

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.

That washed vision

TS Eliot began his long poem The Waste Land,

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain…

There is something reassuring about pain, and immobility. You know where you are with things like that; and a few dried tubers, as Eliot points out, will keep something like life going a long while. New life is difficult, though. It hurts to come back in springtime.

Selfishness can be a defence against a deep lack of self-esteem, and inaction a response to what the heart perceives as just penalty – penance, or karma.

Now as a man is like this or like that,
according as he acts and according as he behaves, so will he be;
a man of good acts will become good, a man of bad acts, bad;
he becomes pure by pure deeds, bad by bad deeds;

And here they say that a person consists of desires,
and as is his desire, so is his will;
and as is his will, so is his deed;
and whatever deed he does, that he will reap…

(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)

Cause and effect are not always what they seem, as CG Jung pointed out:

How are we to recognize acausal combinations of events, since it is obviously impossible to examine all chance happenings for their causality? The answer to this is that acausal events may be expected most readily where, on closer reflection, a causal connection appears to be inconceivable…

…it is impossible, with our present resources, to explain ESP, or the fact of meaningful coincidence, as a phenomenon of energy. This makes an end of the causal explanation as well, for “effect” cannot be understood as anything except a phenomenon of energy. Therefore it cannot be a question of cause and effect, but of a falling together in time, a kind of simultaneity. Because of this quality of simultaneity, I have picked on the term “synchronicity” to designate a hypothetical factor equal in rank to causality as a principle of explanation.

It may be that the planet whose life we share has a finite lifespan. In fact it would be most surprising if it did not. Yet each spring comes as a renewal – like the one before, but quite unlike, as well, never seen before:

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

(Isaiah 43.19)

There seems to be something like balance, or a returning equilibrium, in the affairs of the living, on however micro- or macrocosmic a scale. Once the debt is paid, the karma exhausted, the months of winter turned, spring does come again. Or it comes anew, since it is not the same as the last one, nor will next year’s be this year’s come again.

This morning’s meeting was quite silent, except that at the last moment, before we shook hands, one of our oldest members stood, and spoke to the spring, and hens with new chicks, the opening of the narcissi, and the blackbirds singing early, when it was barely dawn. It could too easily be his last spring with us, and yet his joy was as clean and fresh as the morning itself, and it had hurt him to stand after an hour’s sitting. To see, and to speak with that washed vision near the end of a long life – that must be hope, or as Wendell Berry wrote:

This is no paradisal dream. Its hardship is its possibility.

Living Retired Lives – More from Quaker Faith & Practice

Those of you who are kept by age or sickness from more active work, who are living retired lives, may in your very separation have the opportunity of liberating power for others. Your prayers and thoughts go out further than you think, and as you wait in patience and in communion with God, you may be made ministers of peace and healing and be kept young in soul.

London Yearly Meeting, 1923 – Quaker Faith & Practice 21.46

I would want to add the word “calling” to the first sentence here: “kept by age, sickness or calling…” Throughout history, even in times of great social need, the calling to a retired life of prayer and contemplation has been recognised. Julian of Norwich, for instance, lived during the time of the Black Death that swept Europe in the Middle Ages, yet seems to have lived out much of her life as an anchoress, devoted to prayer, contemplation, writing, and probably what we would call these days counselling, or eldership.

At times I have struggled with this, feeling that, compared with more active Friends I have somehow not been pulling my weight, and more, that I could not explain or justify “how it worked“. Wise Friends have reminded me that unknowing is simply part of one’s leading, that trust is at the centre of the spiritual life, and that a joyful acceptance is the best approach to discovering one’s calling! CG Jung wrote of synchronicity, the principle which, he felt, connected together events which appeared to have no direct, causal connection. It may very well be that we whose hearts are torn by the pain and the grieving of our fellow creatures, and who come into the presence of God so wounded, do more than we know to bring real aid and comfort to our sisters and brothers of the active life, and to those for whom they give themselves. As Tennyson once wrote, “More things are wrought by prayer / Than this world dreams of…”

Gordon Matthews, writing in 1987 (QFP 29.01):

How can we walk with a smile into the dark? We must learn to put our trust in God and the leadings of the Spirit. How many of us are truly led by the Spirit throughout our daily lives? I have turned to God when I have had a difficult decision to make or when I have sought strength to endure the pain in dark times. But I am only slowly learning to dwell in the place where leadings come from. That is a place of love and joy and peace, even in the midst of pain. The more I dwell in that place, the easier it is to smile, because I am no longer afraid.

If we dwell in the presence of God, we shall be led by the spirit. We do well to remember that being led by the spirit depends not so much upon God, who is always there to lead us, as upon our willingness to be led. We need to be willing to be led into the dark as well as through green pastures and by still waters. We do not need to be afraid of the dark, because God is there. The future of this earth need not be in the hands of the world’s ‘leaders’. The world is in God’s hands if we are led by God. Let us be led by the Spirit. Let us walk with a smile into the dark.

(I apologise for the spray of links to previous blog posts, but it seemed to me to make more sense than to burden this brief post with chunks of text quoted out of context.)

What happened?

CG Jung, in a 1955 article for Time magazine, wrote, “I could not say I believe. I know! I have had the experience of being gripped by something that is stronger than myself, something that people call God.”

Meeting this morning was a remarkable one. I didn’t count how many Friends were present, but the Meeting House was very nearly full, so there must have been at least 30 of us. The silence deepened, became patterned; I had the sense that I was aware of each separate worshipper, and yet we were, in plain truth, one in the silence. The image that came to mind was of a radio telescope, its dish lifted to listen to the interstellar reaches: one dish, but its surface and its framework made up of many plates and beams of metal, each one essential to the whole.

Inevitably, perhaps, the analogy broke down when it came to the actual listening, for each of us heard what each of us heard: not one signal but many, a beautiful dapple of openings, leadings and awarenesses, secret to each, but woven into one in the silence we shared.

What happened? There was no message, nothing to believe in; but there was that which each of us knew, wordless and sure and particular. For some, I have no doubt, there would have been little they could have described – yet each Friend who spoke in ministry or afterword, or whom I talked to over coffee, seemed to have the sense that we had been travelling together on some journey we could scarcely understand. We were on the shore of a land we had not known. None of us had lived these moments before; and yet the ordinary light of morning that poured over the Japanese maple outside the kitchen window was given back transformed, the image of each intricate red leaf falling on our eyes like a new creation.

Silence is Grace

Silence is not an absence of sound, mainly. It is a positive thing, a presence in itself, a fullness beyond our ordinary understanding.

There is a word, pleroma, which is usually translated from the Greek as ‘fullness’. Carl Jung used it in some of his later work, but it is first encountered in the New Testament, in Paul’s beautiful letter to the Colossians, where he says, “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1.19-20)

Pleroma. The heart of silence. John the Evangelist wrote, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1.16)

Silence is grace, presence, the still point. Gift that is the giver, peace beyond mind or longing.