One of the most interesting aspects of religion is that, if you come at it from the right angle, much of it translates well into modern psychology. In “Exploring the Sufi Concept of Nafs,” I linked the Nafs with the psychological concept we call the false persona. Here, I will return to the work of Jungian analyst Helen M. Luke to examine her Catholic notion of the vow to obey God.
For there to be peace in the psyche, ego must recognize its proper role and swear obedience to authentic will as a knight swears to obey his liege lord. (Image: public domain)
“The third vow of obedience [blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth] is a commitment to total response at whatever cost to the voice of the Holy Spirit within.” By the voice of the Holy Spirit, Luke means “the still small voice,” the voice of God within. However, the voice need not be still and small; the voice is really the prompting of one’s own true will, not the will of God. Those who know themselves well hear the voice very clearly.
Nor need this voice be enormously difficult to recognize as Luke suggests. Those who hear a cacophony or clamour of “voices” within have not yet learned that their will must steer a course between reason and instinct. Those who have learned this know that they can easily screen out the powerful urges of instinct and the incessant petitioning of reason; after all, we all know what these things feel and sound like! Likewise, the hearers of many voices haven’t yet learned that true will can be recognized by following one’s bliss – or what seems numinous, to use Luke’s preferred term. Knowledge of the primacy of will and of how to recognize what one truly wants or wills has a wonderfully calming and quieting effect on the mind.
As to the need for “commitment to total response,” Luke couldn’t be more right. To consciously (that is, with the ego) and fully obey one’s own will is the height of wisdom and courage. Wisdom because this is an incredibly hard and long lesson for ego to learn; courage because ego’s reasoning function often sees terrible peril (of the psychological kind) in what is truly willed. Ego takes one hell of a beating learning its proper place in the psyche, and often is knocked around during the pursuit of what is willed. We will what we will. Ego is just the display in the shop window and our conscious awareness of what we are doing.
With her concept of “commitment to total response,” Luke has come as close to grasping fully Jung’s ideas as she ever does. Regrettably, she simply cannot give up her childish belief in a whispering God. Mistaking your own unconscious mind for God is dangerous in that it leads to a fantastically exaggerated sense of what the “still small voice” is and what it can do. Recognizing the voice for what it really is, an integral part of one’s own self, leads to modest, realistic, human-sized expectations. Another problem with Luke’s view is that it is another case of looking for unconscious parts of yourself elsewhere, this time in a relationship with God.
Luke speaks of “… that rare quality of unconditional obedience … to [one’s] own deepest vision of truth …” This is what I call loyalty to the self, to one’s unique set of subjectively formed guiding principles and emotionally important ideas. To thine own self be true. It is a proactive stance where one actively lives by one’s own principles. Luke is right when she says, “subjective” and “deluded” are not synonymous. We each must “suffer unto death for his or her own truth.”
Here is where Luke comes off the rails. For her, as a Catholic, subjectivity is an arbitrary set of principles derived from imagination seeing through facts. This misses the mark. Authentic subjectivity, as it relates to one’s inner personally held principles (deepest vision of truth) is not arbitrary since it originates from the actual interaction of one’s genetically inherited character with the real world as we find it when young. Out of this real experience, this personal unique experience, we unconsciously form a set of guiding principles, and acquire a number of emotionally important ideas. These principles and ideas form the nucleus of the self and stay with us, largely unaltered, for life. They are the object of the quest for self-discovery and self-understanding.