Some notes on Logotherapy – Pt 2

Read part one.

Logotherapy seems immediately relevant to another area of interest that I am pursuing right. Next week is the last of five modules that I have taken in order to become a Spiritual Care volunteer in the Fraser Health region. Within the next few weeks I hope to be working on the medical ward at the local hospital. As I read Man’s Search for Meaning I couldn’t help but find a wealth of thoughts that I think will become incredibly beneficial to working with patients who are probably at two of the most difficult stages of life: illness and death. Frankl’s personal experience of suffering in four different concentration camps during World War II and his subsequent reflection on the role of suffering in human life is fascinating.

For example, Frankl writes:

  • “Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances [as a concentration camp], decide what shall become of him–mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski [sic] said once, ‘There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” (75)
  • “Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.” (76)
  • “When we are no longer able to change a situation–just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer–we are challenged to change ourselves.” (116)
  • “It is one of the basic tenets of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.” (117)
  • “There are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one’s work or to enjoy one’s life; but what never can be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering. In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end.” (118)

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What does it mean to be ‘free’?

Freedom of choice is not, itself the perfection of liberty. But it helps us take our first step toward freedom or slavery, spontaneity or compulsion. The free man is the one whose choices have given him the power to stand on his own feet and determine his own life according to the higher light and spirit that are in him. The slave, in the spiritual order, is the man whose choices have destroyed all spontaneity in him and have delivered him over, bound hand and foot, to his own compulsions, idiosyncrasies and illusions, so that he never does what he really wants to do, but only what he has to do. His spirit is not in command, and therefore he cannot run his own life. He is commanded by his own weak flesh and its passions––fear, greed, lust, insecurity, untruthfulness, envy, cruelty, servility, and all the rest.

As an explanatory note, Merton is not saying the body is evil when he speaks about “flesh.” The physical is not bad.

Merton, The New Man, 179

A Heschel Miscellany – Revelation

I’ve been reading the Jewish philosopher and theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book God in Search of Man. Wonderful book. Here’s some bits from a chapter on revelation.

Incomprehensibility does not imply an illusion.

Revelation should not be rejected because of its being incomprehensible. It is not the only fact that is impervious to exploration, unverifiable by experience. That which is incomprehensible must not be considered unreal. Can we explain how being came into being? Can we describe exactly how the tense power of a spirit glides on the strings of a violin, creating a world of delicacy out of nothing? Is the cry and anguish of six million martyrs theoretically comprehensible?

Heschel, God in Search of Man

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A Reading Miscellany – Merton, Bonhoeffer

Some interesting ideas from today’s readings.

Honouring God with a mature wordliness.

I am sure we honour God more if we gratefully accept the life he gives us with all its blessings, loving it and drinking it to the full, grieving deeply and sincerely when we have belittled or thrown way any of the precious things in life…than we do if we are insensitive toward life.

Bonhoeffer, Ethics

Humaneness and the Gospel are not mutually exclusive.

Pope John could very well have called the world to peace purely and simply in terms of the Gospel of Peace. Instead he called it to peace in the name of humanity and reason. But was this a contradiction of the Gospel? No. Since Christ is fully and truly man, since the world, society, humanity, human and social life have been taken up and sanctified in the Incarnation, the Church can speak to the world in terms of humaneness, a reason, a compassion which both the Church and the ‘world’ are capable of understanding, but of which the Church also has a much deeper, theological understanding than the world.

Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Merton on ‘Religion’

Merton sympathizes with the effort to resituate Christianity in the world as a “religionless religion” (Bonhoeffer’s term). Religionless Christianity critiques the

“‘religious’ tactic that tries to cajole and pressure modern man, scientific and technological man, into having religious needs which he does not have. This ‘religionness’ is negative, ambiguous, and moralizing: it preaches on one hand that one must run to God and the Church as to a refuge from life, yet once one has given the sacred its due, one can be unashamedly secular as regards [to] making money and enjoying the good things of life, provided one maintains a rigid and negative set of standards in the matter of sex. One need not worry too much about things like war, civil rights, and so on, regarded as moral issues. One leaves such things to the secular authorities, and one prays for those concerned to get the right answers.

Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Merton on not being concerned with ‘getting into heaven’

I would even say that, like most modern men, I have not been much moved by the concept of ‘getting into heaven’ after muddling through this present life….[in the Christian tradition] I  find the strongest warrant for this immediate and direct access to God in everyday Christian life, which is to be regarded not merely as a moral preparation for a heavenly existence but…the very beginning of eternal life.

Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

The Sin of Bad Theology: To call others ‘anti-Christs’

The sin of bad theology has been precisely this–to set Christ up against man, and to regard all flesh and blood men as ‘not-Christ.’ Indeed to assume that many men, whole classes of men, nations, races, are in fact ‘anti-Christ.’ To divide men arbitrarily according to their conformity to our own limited disincarnate mental Christ, and to decide on this basis that most men are ‘anti-Christ’–this shows up our theology. At such a moment, we have to question not mankind, but our theology. A theology that ends in lovelessness cannot be Christian

Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

On a sidenote, I will have to read this to my DSO who mentioned John’s use of the term anti-Christ to refer to those who don’t believe in the Incarnation (cf. 1 John). I wrestled with that term on the drive home this morning.

The Ordinary Ways are Safer, More Perfect.

An excerpt from Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

We have to remember the principle that certain desires and certain pleasures are willed for us by God. We cannot live in the truth if we automatically suspect all desires and all pleasures. It is humility to accept our humanity, pride to reject it.

Von Hugel, in one of his letters, writes of W.G. Ward (“Ideal Ward”) as an “eager, one-sided, great, unintentionally unjust soul” who on his deathbed saw the mischief of his life–he had consistently demanded that all others be like himself!

This is the root of inhumanity!

It is often more perfect to do what is simply normal and human than to try to act like an angel when God does not will it. That is, when there is no need for it, except in the stubborn passion of our own impatience with ourselves.

It is not practical, it is not honest, it is not Christian to fly from “every desire” and “every pleasure” that is not explicitly pious.

For others who are human enough to be ascetics without losing any of their humanity, it is all right to risk things that seem inhuman. For one as deficient and self-conscious as I am, the ordinary ways are safer. They are not just an evasion to be tolerated; they are the more perfect way.