Last Wednesday we continued our conversation about Christian Faith. We were talking some more about times of ‘differentiation’ and times of ‘integration’ following Kegan’s model of Psycho-Social Development. The stories that came to mind were of people who had started off doing science degrees to please their parents, and ended up being musicians. There was a surprising number of them. One guy that we heard about was very smart at philosophy, and then stopped doing it all and went to Africa in a service capacity. Another person studied physics, and then went on to do music, which was, he says, ‘in his blood’ since he was three. He kept getting letters from his Father saying ‘I hope you have gotten that ‘music thing’ out of your system now.’ He didn’t.
Many of these people lead lives that are financially poorer than they might be, or live on the margins of society, but they are the ones who have identified and followed their passion.
There are just so many images that come to mind once this idea surfaces into consciousness. I think of William Wordsworth’s poem ‘Ode on the Intimations of Immortality’
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing boy…
There is a sense of our true self that perhaps is part of our very young selves, that we have to discover again as adults.
Sometimes this means going against the grain of ‘belonging’ and ‘fitting in’ because the thing that has ‘grabbed us’ as a passion, does not fit well with what is necessary to make money. It’s a lonely road.
Even Jesus in the temple says to his parents ‘I have to be about my Father’s business’ and he does not mean carpentry. The business of finding what is our true passion is one of the things that drives the processes of differentiation from the context in which we grew up. St. Paul gets it too when he tells the Romans ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you might have an idea about what the will of God is!’
This is the meaning of St. John’s prologue when he says ‘He came to his own people and his own people received him not, but to all who did receive him, he gave power to them to be come children of God, who were born not of human desire, but born of God.
This quest for transformation is also what is at the heart of the stories of the Holy Grail. Parsifal (Percival) has to differentiate himself from his mother’s ‘ask no questions’ dictum in order to have a second vision of the ‘Holy Grail’. The first one was given to him as an adolescent, but he was not able to act on it then.
That is one of the benefits of being Christian, or following some religious path, because it offers support to those whose quest makes them differentiate from the ‘standard path’ that is laid out before them by other groups of collective meaning (like family, school, workplaces, political groupings).
In the middle ages, when the Church controlled what was real, in ways that it can’t now, what a person did for a living was their ‘vocation’ (From the Greek ‘voceo, I call.) That is, a person’s job for life was what they did as a response to being ‘called’ by God. Now there were a fixed number of vocations that people could not get out of, so it was not all ‘liberation’ but the stories of the people who leave the wishes of their families, in order to follow their passion are people who are unconsciously following their call from God. Lucky that the Church knows about this and can encourage it.
We have also been looking at Martin Luther during the week. When Luther talks about the difference between ‘The Letter’ (which kills) and ‘The Spirit’ which gives life, he is talking about the text of the Bible which can be just ‘text’ lying on the page that we can ‘play with’ in interpretation or a text which, in the Spirit, can become ‘Word’ of God for us: that is, a ‘Word’ addressed to us, that grips us and then drives us forward. It is this kind of idea that drove the Reformation. The Reformation was like a great period of Kegan-style differentiation for the whole world. Luther was wanting to recover the sense of God as real for him, as were many others, apparently, and like Jacob said ‘I will not let you go till you bless me.’
The problem now is that many people who think that they want God to be ‘real’ for them, think that they have to set up their own show, or a new show. Once the idea of social differentiation takes hold, there seems to be no stopping it! Someone told me that there are several thousand protestant denominations in existence now. The problem of the Catholic church in Luther’s time was that it lacked the wisdom to be able to be ‘catholic’ enough to hold Luther’s period of differentiation. Thank God for Vatican 2 that enabled a reunion of both protestants and Catholics in a new way.
The other side (both before and after the phase of differentiation) is a period of ‘integration.’ The idea of integration represents the ‘Catholic’ side of things. The ‘catholic’ principle is the principle of integration, of holding things together. This is the necessary next phase after a period of differentiation. I have heard lots of stories too about people who have returned to Church after a period of differentiation.
One person I know had some numinous experiences out on the swing in his back yard, looking up at the night sky. He returned to a Church formation process because he wanted to see if his personal version matched the ‘official version’. He was a young adult. That is an expression of the principle of catholicity. Everyone needs both.
Everyone needs a guide in these matters too. It is difficult to do the ‘differentiation’ on ones own because the guilt that is sometimes associated with separation needs to be understood for what it is and not taken too seriously. Everyone needs a post, to lean on and to give direction, to enable the discipline (from ‘disciple’) of the work of differentiation to go forward (Remember ‘The Karate Kid and Mr. Meagi?). Everyone needs a father, waiting for the ‘return’ and ready to hold a party when it happens: not as a capitulation to the old identity, but as a person who is received as a new person, a Son as an adult person in their own right, with their own vocation . Kool hey?