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Confession: The healing of the soul by Peter Tyler

09 March 2018

Lyle Dennen on self-examination to heal the ‘Tristan wound’

WHEN I read the title of Peter Tyler’s book, Confession: The healing of the soul, I assumed in my innocence that it was another guide in the parade of wise, learned, and pious manuals to help you unburden your sins and failures and so receive the forgiveness of Christ. I was so wrong. It is an exciting exploration of what it is to be human and in search of wholeness and depth.

Tyler is both a professor of pastoral theology and spirituality, but also a practising psychotherapist. In this book, each of these disciplines throws light on the other.

With the first sentence, “We are strangers to ourselves,” he is straight into an insightful analysis of our journey of self-discovery. He begins with a short history of confession, but that is not just about the Dark Box in a corner of the church, but the whole process of trying to find out who we are. Once in New York, I saw a Gauguin painting that portrays beautiful Polynesian women with flowers in their hair, but the title is Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? The title of this painting for me helps see Tyler’s fundamental point that confession consists in two aspects: first, who am I? where am I from? and what have I done? — the psychological axis; and, second, where am I going? what is the meaning of life? and how can I find the spiritual? — the transcendental axis.

These two were held together once, but have been broken apart. Tyler uses the myth of Tristan to open this out. Replacing the transcendental love of God and neighbour with the magic potion of romantic love profoundly wounds modern people.

The bulk of the book then looks with great depth at three remarkable confessors who, in quite different ways, try to find healing of this “Tristan wound”, by recovering the transcendental. Ludwig Wittgenstein, the great philosopher of the word game, opened the door to the transcendental but would not step through it. Henri Le Saux, a reluctant Breton missionary to India “had found the Grail” as he fell into the abyss. Then St John of the Cross, through his poetry, enters the Grail Castle itself by declaring: “There is a certain I don’t know what,” which leads to the Divine. This is a book that through “confessions” looks at dark struggles that lead to great joy.


The Ven. Lyle Dennen is a former Archdeacon of Hackney.


Confession: The healing of the soul
Peter Tyler
Bloomsbury £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

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