Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Orphan-Part I

The Orphan is a kind of archetypal figure of the melancholic mood, an image for this for the moment is the grieving process which is more than personal, which has a shared, perhaps universal, quality to it. It is a kind of code of the soul by which strangers recognize each other as fellow travelers. It is a pattern of human experience for the deep longing to be home and for the awareness that we are always on the way, that home is as much a destiny which awaits us as it is a heritage which sustains us.

To be an orphan, Saint Augustine says, relates one to God. Carl Jung's psychology of individuation makes a similar claim. For Jung this process of individuation is an ongoing incarnation of God for the sake of divine transformation. In becoming who we are called to be, we bring the Divine into the creation. In this respect, it might be proper to say that the Divine enters the world through the cracks in creation, including, and perhaps especially so, in our moments of breakdown and loss. Perhaps then, the Orphan is our God-face, the face which we wear when loss cracks open our stony hearts into wider fields of love. In these moments, the Orphan is the one who is present to the holy splendor of the ordinary, the one who sees the miracle in the simplest moment, the one who glimpses the numinous quality in the shadows of loss.

In accepting responsibility of our orphanhood, we become faithful sentinels for the passing and the flowering of the world. The Animal perishes but we, and those whom we love, die. In a curious way, then, the Orphan, the most homeless of all, is the one who appreciates the journey towards home, and who understands that this journey is marked by a fierce devotion to each moment as it presents itself.

None of us is ever promised a next moment, none of us even assured of the next breath. The Orphan knows this truth, and knowing it embraces each moment to its fullest.

What do the dead want from us?  I think they ask us to go on celebrating the rhythms of life, but now in a special way. I think they ask us to become better lovers by taking notice of the dying which belongs to all life, and in the midst this raise our voices in songs of praise. This is what the Orphan can do, sing those hyms of praise and joy which flower from lament and loss.

The poet Rilke understood the simplicity of things and the appeal they lay before us:

"These things that live on departure
  understand when you praise them: fleeting, they look for
  rescue through something in us, the most fleeting of all". (Rilke, Duino Elegies, p. 77)

To awaken to the Orphan in our grief is the necessary precondition for hearing the lament of the world, for witnessing its dying, and perhaps, if we are lucky, assisting in its healing. The Orphan who arises in our souls from the ashes of our grief is one step in the transformation.

Earlier I said that to be an orphan relates one to the Divine. In this regard the Orphan is also the figure in our souls who, although most homeless, beckons us towards our spiritual home. Here, I think the Orphan encounters the Angel. Why the Orphan and the Angel dwell together, I don't know. But sometimes I feel they hold between them the tension of home and homelessness, which seems to lie at the root of the soul. Noel Cobb, poet and Jungian analyst says it like this: "Angels above us, around us and below us-/Did you not have to become outcasts/In order to discover your true home?" (Cobb, Hymn to the Star, p. 17)

Angels as outcasts; orphans as angels! Is the Angel a piece of us left behind, the Orphan part of ourselves? Is the Orphan in teh soul a kind of spiritual deposit of our angelic existence, a residue of that part of ourselves left behind to remind us from where we come and where we are going?

It seems to me that the mood of melancholy, which attends the Orphans' presence, could be the aftertaste of our angelic existence, or a foretaste of it, or perhaps a bit of both-a heritage and a destiny.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Initiation means the beginning of the revelation of one's true self (Eliade, 1958). It includes the opening up of the inner life of the spirit and releasing the potentials and possibilities within the person.

The distinctions between the ways we view change and death become more important at the end of eras, at funerals, and at births. The attitudes of mourners have a crucial effect on a funeral, and the manner of the people at birth can help or harm the new life. Mid-wives once assisted the newborn into this world and helped the newly dead on to the 'other world'.

Willing or not we are all attendants at the funeral of the last era and the birth of the next. We are all mid wives placing the shroud on a body soon to disappear and anointing the next birth with our prayers, fears, denials, and hopes.

The radical dismantling of institutions, boundaries, beliefs, and ecosystems that characterizes the end of an era is an extended funeral that we can consciously attend or try to deny.

At some level we each know that huge shifts in nature and culture are affecting us daily. But, without some spiritual vision and ritual structure we lose the capacity to handle death and embrace life fully. Instead, we build walls of denial to hold off terror and confusion and try to cover our helplessness with displays of force and greed. Denial arises as a primary symptom because of the scope of changes already happening and as a defense agains the flood of losses and endings.

And the momentum of loss increases because a death unmourned becomes a lingering ghost that haunts the living until it receives its share of attention and tears.

Mircea Eliade speaks of initiation as a universal rite, an archetypal form that surfaces and influences life wherever events have the spirit of beginnings or the weight of an end.

As an elemental pattern or archetype, initiation is a 'whole'way' of seeing into the world, one that sees death as part of the fabric of life. On the ground of initiation, death is the opposite of birth, not the opposite of life. Life includes both, and the spirit of life regenerates in the land of death. Archaic rites of initiation show the basic pattern for genuine change. For any transformation to be meaningful it must be thorough, and to be thorough requires both the ache of loss and a spirit of restoration.

It is only in initiation that death is give a positive value. More than an empty tomb, death becomes also the womb of change. In dreams and dramas of inititation, death represents change for the entire psyche and life of a person. It means change inside and out, not a simple adaptation or switch in lifestyle.

Initiation includes death and rebirth, a radical altering of a person's mode of being; a shattering and shaking all the way to the ground of the soul.

T.S. Eliot's poem The Wasteland was a poem about initiation.