One of the first and continuing gifts of psychological study to the healthy practice of spirituality is the overarching concept of the division of our experience as human beings into conscious and unconscious processes. The ancient writings of the Hebrew scriptures note it this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (NIV translation of Nehemiah 17:9). Another paraphrase of this passage expands to “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But I, GOD, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be” (The Message). This division of our understanding is important to take in. I often consider this reality of my limited knowledge of my own motivations as another sign that things are not as they should be in this world. This isn’t an explanation meant to blame each of us for our pain, but it is a plausible explanation of the realities we all experience. We are separated from ourselves.
In Christian thought, Jesus saves us from all destructive separations and draws us into a healing process that lasts a lifetime. Much of our mental distress results from mistaken notions of when and how this process occurs. One and done? Probably not. The spiritual path that Christian theology suggests is one of continuing change, as the early writings of the New Testament repeatedly underline. Attitudes about all kinds of things change as you read through the history of the early followers of Jesus in the book of Acts. There’s a flexibility that we would do well to imitate more than we do. However, my main point here is that we are divided beings. We know some of what we intend and choose, but we do not know all of our motives. We surprise ourselves with what comes to our minds, our voices and our choices. The unconscious processes occurring within us outside of our awareness are real and potent. The spiritual path requires that we deal with this reality or our spiritual practices will become destructive and unhealthy as well. What is good, can be spoiled. This is where our practices of prayer can be helpful. I’ll have more to say about all this in the coming weeks. I hope you’ll keep reading.