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Sunday, October 24, 2010

"A sharpened pencil to the heart"

It was one of those strangely vivid and memorable dreams you get that feel like prophecy.

It followed an otherwise pleasant evening attending an ceremony of induction into ministry for one of my colleagues. This took place in a room full of people who now, and rather suddenly, comprise "my people"-- a self-selected tribe of Manchester area Unitarians. I felt at once warmly included, and strangely detached. I mean, I've only been her 6 weeks or so.

But this strange dream, last night! In the dream, I had found the perfect community of fellow travellers, people who thought and felt and behaved exactly as one would wish for oneself to be included in. I had examined their articles of faith carefully, and found myself in utter agreement with them, as though I had written them myself, had I only been wiser and more articulate. I felt nothing but loving fellowship with them, and was ready to commit unreservedly to community and service with them.

Then came the rub. To join, and to be accepted fully, I had to take a leap of faith, a kind of fire walk. Namely: I could only sign up with a frighteningly sharp pencil I had stabbed myself in the heart with.

They had all done this, they assured me. It was true test of faith, to be done in their presence, and there was no other way to be included in a community that would accept me exactly as I was and yet think the best of me. They showed me the marks where they had stabbed themselves, and then handed me a freshly-sharpened, red, and (most strangely) dripping-wet pencil. They smiled encouragingly.

Then I awoke, clutching my heart.

What can this mean, other than that there is some sort of  threshold of commitment I am not yet willing to pass through? What threshold is that?

I remember being somewhat taken aback last night by the fact that several of my ministerial colleagues attended the event wearing what was for all the world Catholic priest garb: black suits, black shirts with dog-collars. I understood it to be a dress code for the official nature of the occasion, a ceremonial attire. Still, I have come a long way from my Catholic roots and had a bit of an anti-Catholic reflex at the idea that one might take me for a priest if I were to walk abroad dressed like that. While I have no intention of doing likewise in my Unitarian ministry (a denomination whose progressivism has for me been a mark of looking forward to a better future as a truly ecumenical religion), we are a broad church and I must respect my colleagues choice to represent themselves in this manner.
But I think it goes deeper than a mere reflex against what I felt I'd left behind. What the challenge of the stab to the heart with the pencil feels more like is an invitation to bring forth into my ministry my very heart's blood. To pierce the armour and let my whole thick, smoking hot, messy insides out. To kill the invulnerability I have become accustomed to, and to become totally opened for all to see. Only then can I know true community. The price is no less than having no where else to go and having nothing to hide.

I've been reading lately about theologies of subjectivity, transcendent experience, and "theology by heart". to quote and paraphrase the theologian Bernard Lonergan:

"Genuine objectivity is the fruit of genuine subjectivity". That is, knowledge of what's really real can only be achieved by achieving authentic subjectivity. It is in attending to one's transcendental subjectivity, therefore, as it reaches out naturally toward truth, that one finds oneself doing authentic theology.

So maybe, just maybe, the detachment I continue to feel is not simply newness. In a way I've been the new boy all my life, new careers, new countries, new partners, new friends. No, the detachment I am aware of is a direct result of the fear of discovery, that if I "pierce myself and bleed", I will surely die, even though the kindly fellow travellers in my dream assure me I won't, and I believe they mean it and are right.

And it's a pencil because I'm meant to disclose (apt word choice) myself through what I write. It's a writing tool, of course, but more. In terms of the dream, the pencil is a weapon of destruction, and a valve to release liquid life, and a spade for mining the truth, and a key for a locked heart, all at once.

It is a rich symbol, and you don't have to pay a Jungian therapist to recognise that. I'm supposed to write it all out, spill it out, spare nothing, and then, in my vulnerability (and only in this) I will be absorbed into true community.

May it be so. I think I just took a 'stab' at it here.



  1. That sounds like a wild night. I'm never totally sure if dreams actually tell us things or if in the reading and remembering we find the answers we seek, perhaps even occasionally need. Still, it sounds like a path, even if I'm not so sure where it leads.

    In an effort that will be seen as the pot calling the kettle black. Is it me or do theologians intentionality veil their statements. Even psychologists seem to be less opaque than Bernard just was. Worse yet I'm quite certain he could have said that better had he put the effort into being clear rather than mystical. Pet peeve..

    Rob, my words are not those tempered with wisdom so take them as such. Be open to experience but don't capitulate to some set of ideas that don't authentically gel with you. You're not entirely in the company of fellow travelers, they too will one day depart company. Connect yourself with community but make the bonds loose enough to let them go their way and you yours if and when that time comes.

    Don't let the trappings block you, you are a Unitarian but more importantly you have your own mind. If other's get that identity wrong then laughter and clarification is in order not repulsion. The ties of identity can chafe if you forget that the content of one's mind counts for more than the cut or style of ones garb or the name one is given. Let them call you Catholic then let them know what you think of the doctrine of salvation or the authority of the church... let them then judge whether the label still fits.

    I am certain I have just missed the point or expressed mine poorly so take what you can from it. Be well Rob, I'll catch you when I do.

    "Rabbitings from the unwise"

  2. Good advice, white rabbit.

    go well.

  3. I was told by a former spiritual Director that the other people in dreams all represent aspects of your self. Which puts a slightly different slant on things.Your reactivity to the Catholic Priest garb is understandable and the important thing is that you noticed it and recognise it as your stuff. You will indeed be your very own type of minister.Ministers who dress that way tend to be from the Free Christian arm of Unitarianism.

  4. Oh and you'd better cut down on the cough medecine!!;>}

  5. Lol Nicky! No codeine was taken, the brain works that way on its own!