Religion From the Head: A Good Christian


rome-christian-martyrs-grangerI was born into a family of “good Christians.” My mother’s great-grandparents were Calvinists from the Netherlands who immigrated to Holland, Michigan in 1848.  Within a few years they moved to Vriesland, Michigan where they lived in a tent while building themselves a log house and clearing 40 acres of land. My great-great grandfather was an elder in their new church. My grandmother wrote about her forebears, “On Sunday they regularly attended the meeting, at first in Kuslander’s house, but later built a log church, sometimes being discouraged and down-hearted during the week, but on Sun. the pastor encouraged them, and on Mon. with renewed strength, they would go to work again. They had to walk over 2 miles to church through the woods by way of a blazed trail.”
In my youth, many of my family’s elders still held strict religious views which forbade work, movies, dancing, or playing cards on Sundays, and they disapproved of people who did these things. Sundays were for church, home, family, praying, Bible study and resting. Although my parents loosened up a bit in their religious views, they, too, were good, responsible, well-meaning, church-going people. Right beliefs, good deeds, and behavior beyond reproach were what counted. “Love your neighbor as yourself” was a mental ideal and a moral duty, and most of us used our intelligence, self-discipline and will-power to act kind and loving.
The-Crusades-300x223Influenced by their examples, I believed I was a deeply spiritual person because I was fascinated by the idea of God, loved studying the Bible, prayed and attended church regularly, agreed with the preacher, volunteered for different ministries, and was nice to people. Over the years, this belief was reinforced by some powerful religious awakenings. But gradually it dawned on me that in the depth of my heart I was not experiencing marked improvement in compassion for myself and others. To the contrary, it seemed like the older I got, the sadder, more secretly cynical, disillusioned, self-critical, anxious, and angry I became. This paradoxical relationship between my idealistic thoughts and true feelings mystified me. What was I doing wrong?  I could not see that my tribe emphasized religion from the head while unwittingly de-valuing the role of the heart.
Then at 37, archetypal forces over which my ego had no control showed me that for every bit of “good” in me, there is an opposite potential for “bad.” Totally unprepared for this psycho-spiritual crisis, and utterly alone except for the old God-image with whom I wrestled daily, I descended into a Dark Night abyss where a fierce struggle between inner opposites went on for many years. When I emerged  from my baptism by fire with new eyes and a cracked-open heart, my old spiritual resources were dead to me.  Only a few Jungians I met understood what Jungian analyst Monika Wikman meant when she wrote: “A central means of traveling toward the religious function is the ability to hold the opposites, both-and instead of either-or.” My psyche had formed a new center and I had found a new tribe.
Recently I met more members of my tribe at a Jungian Journey Conference in Laurel Hill, NC. What refreshed me beyond measure was not the heady theories that Jungians can get into just like other spiritual seekers. It was the palpable presence of love and acceptance radiating from the open eyes and understanding hearts of fellow travelers who are attending to the paradoxical truths of their very flawed, very human souls. For them as for me, religion is not just about the head.  It’s primarily about the heart.
Note: While writing the above paragraph I gave in to an urge to check my Facebook page where this synchronistic video was waiting for me.  Enjoy!

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0 Responses

  1. Wow thank you for this post. I felt the ground give way under me last year and too was 37. It was my own dark night of the soul and its
    Been a hectic year. I’m just beginning to learn about Jung. Funnily enough I did a Masters in anthropology focussing on the hero journey,
    Linking this to Turner’s liminal stage in the rite of passage completely unaware of what was to come for me almost as soon as I had graduated.
    I think I was aware of my growing dis-ease in my own Christian life. I wasn’t brought up in church like you and befor I joined a church I was
    Very open to a more animistic belief. I love that I am going through another transition although at times the battle between those opposites
    Has been and still is overwhelming. I am really glad to read the posts here, they’re so illuminating although I’m still at the stage where things
    Are so new.. If you have any more information on websites dealing with related content I’d be so interested. Thanks.

    1. You’re very welcome. It sounds as if your unconscious was preparing you for your dark night in leading you to your Master’s topic! In my experience, we can have a subtle foreknowledge of our path from the earliest years. It just takes a while to see and trust that inner knowing. It’s so different from what the outer world tells us. I love the transitions too, and am experiencing a new one as well. We’re meant to keep growing and changing. It keeps the spirit alive in us. Best, Jeanie

    1. Be sure to check out Robert Longpre’s “Through a Jungian Lens.” He deals with the same kinds of issues. His blog is listed on my blogroll as “a Jungian blogger and photographer.”

  2. I was raised to be a good Catholic, was an altar boy for several years, and then dwindled down to only weddings and funerals. My awakening came in the form of being hit in the head with a brick when I received a call from one of the “good” church women who told me if I didn’t commit to giving certain amounts to the church every week I would not be considered a member and the church would not bury me. I am sure there was more to it, but that is what made the biggest impression on me. I did experiment with other organized religions for a while, but in the end decided that was not the way to go for me. I still have the values I was taught and raised with, but now I know that I only need to have faith in and believe in myself and not rely on someone I cannot see for the answers.

    1. Wow. Church Lady rides again! She’s some harridan isn’t she? I’ve actually met her too, although she gives different messages to different people. By the way, when her male version, who happened to be a priest, found out that I was in training for the altar guild—which at that time was the highest honor my Episcopal church could bestow upon a female—he laughingly said that some people (I immediately intuited that he was one of them) thought of the altar guild as the priest’s harem! I was gobsmacked and resigned the next day! I think that was a major impetus that turned me toward the inner spiritual journey. Jeanie

  3. Hi Jeanie,
    Great post! I resonate fully to your words, as I, too, made the transition from head to heart in my teens – and eventually to heart and head in unity – when my mother was killed suddenly in a car accident. I left Catholicism, the male/dogma-dominated religion of my ‘tribe,’ at 18 in search of Spirit and some kind of inner meaning that would help me to overcome the darkness I felt within and around me. Interestingly, it was things like the work of Jung et all and Edgar Cayce, information coming out at that time about NDE’s, and dreaming – especially recurring dreams of the archetypal feminine – that helped me put the light back in my life again. Also, I love the synchronicity of switching from writing about being open and able to ‘hold the opposites’ in heart and mind, and checking in on FB to find the Inner Worlds/Outer worlds video! Blessings, Jenna

  4. Thanks, Jenna. Dreaming was my major spiritual practice and still is, along with writing. The combination of these two help me stay in contact with spirit, but if I stop doing one, for example, if I neglect my dreams for the sake of writing, I feel my connection slipping away. I see now that it’s because writing is head work, and attending to my dreams is heart work!
    I loved the synchronicity of finding the video just then too! Every time something like that happens it reminds me that I am known and loved by something so much larger than me.
    Blessings back to you, Jeanie

  5. Jean, thank you so much for sharing, yet, another wonderful post. I find your honesty refreshing and your heart and expressions soul-touching.

  6. This could be my own story, though it’s one I don’t tell many people. I began to emerge from a 10 year “Dark Night” about two years ago. Yes, my old spiritual resources are dead to me now, but spiritually I’ve never been more optimistic, more joyful, or more filled with love and purpose. So glad I found your blog!

    1. Hi Claire. I’m so glad to meet a sister traveler! I didn’t tell anyone about my experience for years either. But then when I quit teaching and began to write seriously in the early 90’s, I knew I had to tell that story because I felt that if I had read more about this, especially from women writers, I might have been spared a great deal of confusion and pain. The full story is in my first psychological/spiritual book, The Bridge to Wholeness. In writing it, I realized I’d finally found, and was following, my bliss. I’ve just checked out your blog and signed up to follow it! I look forward to hearing more about your adventuresome life! Best, Jeanie

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