First, be who you are.
-- Forrest Church, Love and Death
“Here there be monsters,” they said on the old maps, meaning to warn us away. But it also entices us.
Follow your bliss, says a mytho-psychologist who captured the popular ear. Wherever it leads you, venture the best you are, and be all you can be. Yeah right. The monsters can hurt you. And the people who love you get hurt with you. When your bliss has been maimed, what have you got left?
Authenticity has great press. Great liberal press. We’ve charged ourselves with the duty of being, each in our own way, real. Trouble is, we’re as secretly lustful for judgment and institution as the straw reactionaries we pummel in our proclamations. We are closet Calvinists, predestinarians in a changed shroud, but substituting diagnosis for anathema. We don’t say damn you to hell for your heresy; we say we’re terribly concerned about you. And thus I fashion your authenticity into a different thing – your “issue.” There’s no defense against that terrible concern.
A little learning, they say, is a dangerous thing. We’ve all inhaled a little psychology. How could we not? If we’ve survived to our present age, we’ve learned a thing or two about what people are really going to do – as opposed to what they say they’re going to do, perhaps even think they’re going to do, perhaps even think they’ve done. We may have had, delving into Freud or Jung or Horney, an Aha! moment, saying “I did that,” or “That’s how I spent my twenties!” Or even easier: “That’s my mother!” or “That’s my boss!” or “That’s you, you jerk!” It’s not rocket science. No higher math required. Any English major can shoplift the lingo, and recite the scripts over wine and cheese.
There is, of course, a healing art of counseling. Growing into it takes long practice, under close supervision, within strict boundaries. Within my own little front yard, I say that I have powers to Hear, to Name, to Bless and to Travel. Modest powers, far from the fantasies of heroism that might seduce one to ministry; and yet, when carefully deployed on the right ground, strong. I learn what I can do by learning again every day what I can’t do. Over and over again, the skin of my face hardens into a mask, to be shattered again only by reality. Mine is a Department of Reality, a Negative Way.
To learn the modest use of my powers, I must myself at some time have been heard, blessed, named and traveled with. Henry Nouwen says we are wounded healers, naming the wounds of others as we come to know our own. There’s no objective knowledge of another’s pain – they call it “com-passion,” a suffering with the Other. Beware the ones who have learned a little, and speak without supervision. Beware the ones who do not know their issues, but have pried open the cabinet of lingo. Beware the pourers of salt.
I came back from the den of lions with a limb missing, bliss mangled. Years later I returned to the place where monsters be, because I wanted, where faith had died, to grow new faith. I came back ready to defend myself from terrible concern. Ready to name the shoplift, claim my ground and hold it. Ironic that, prepared to protect myself, I did not have to. Or perhaps not ironic at all but rather instructive. Instructive about egos and about monsters.
The secret of healing is that there is no secret. It’s hidden in plain sight, too ordinary for words, always to be dis-covered, which is the precise meaning of re-velation or apo-calypse. “The people’s peace,” says one of our poets, is “not past our understanding,” but “falls like light upon the soft white tablecloth.”* It’s far too dumb for Unitarians; no diplomas required.
“April is the cruelest month.” (If Eliot had never written another line, this would make him a great poet.) As we become who we are, Reverend Church, how shall we protect ourselves? And what must we do to protect others? The faith that was lost is lost. New sprouting hurts. Every new life is also a grief.
*John Holmes, in Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993), 164.