QUIET days are in vogue; it is what spiritual people do. But
might some retreat-house quiet day be the last thing you need?
On retreat, the priest met with me for a one-to-one. Early in
our encounter, he told me that he had led a retreat at this venue.
"It was a retreat on stress reduction," he said, although he was
extremely stressed now. But there was more. He also told me that he
led spiritual quiet days - he had done so for years, and was
reckoned a safe pair of hands in the spirituality business.
But what became apparent as we talked was this: he did not know
himself to any great degree. He did not understand the forces at
work within him: forces that shaped so much of his doing and
feeling. And here, on retreat, these unknown forces were screaming
loudly to be heard. He had a spiritual awareness, but little
psychological self-knowledge, and was damaged by this lack.
Relationships around him were not all they might be.
I do not denigrate spiritual awareness. Jung believed that he
was successful with clients only when they possessed or developed
some sort of spiritual dimension in their lives, and I can
understand that. On a good day, spirituality creates a sense of
space in a life, and a sense of holding - both helpful in
psychological adventuring. But we will not mistake spiritual and
psychological awareness as being one and the same, because they are
not: they are different.
People can inhabit spiritual events for years (even lead
spiritual events for years) and know next to nothing about their
own inner workings. They have heard much about God's inner
workings; but it is necessary that, along the way, they discover
more about their own. St Paul would have been a greater writer had
he understood himself a little better.
If a compulsive sense of guilt is yours, allied to a fear of
blame, then Paul's gospel will speak to you with peculiar power.
But if not - if you struggle to know what to do with the
confession, for instance - then you may find it harder to engage
with his excited words about justification. There are many
Spirituality can even get in the way of awareness by making a
virtue of "calm". On a retreat recently, one disturbed priest,
overwhelmed by certain relationships, told me how she had just
wanted "to come away for some quiet time with God".
I said that this was a quiet time with God - quiet, but not
calm. Here was time in which she was learning helpful truths about
herself. What could be more godly than that? Quiet days that are
determinedly "quiet" may be the last thing someone needs.
Spirituality and psychology are related, but different; they are
sister and brother, with lives of their own.
Simon Parke is the author of One-Minute Meditation
(White Crow, January 2014).