"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Prayerful Distractions as Psychological Free-Associations

Almost two years ago I was speculating rather cautiously on the possibility of a kind of "psychoanalytic" reading of Herbert McCabe's ideas around prayer, drawing on his helpful notion about "distractions" which come from his short chapter in God, Christ, and Us.

Well last night I had a chance to read another of his works, God Still Matters, with additional chapters on prayer and the Trinity. It was in this work that he acknowledges that his thoughts on distractions--which he says reveal to us what we really want, and instead of fighting them we should encourage their surfacing, the more easily to pray about and for them--were not his own, but came from a fellow Dominican, Victor White.

Now it all makes sense and I feel vindicated in my speculation. For White was a long-time dialogue partner with Carl Jung, and in fact wrote works about Jungian psychoanalysis, including God and the Unconscious.

All this, of course, takes us back to the great Viennese master himself, whose reflections on free association were and are so profoundly revealing and revolutionary. (At Strands in New York over Christmas, I picked up a short book by Anton Kris, Free Association: Method and Practice, which you may find interesting. Christopher Bollas also has interesting things to say about this in a variety of places, including here.)

We think that freely associating on the analyst's couch is a spectacular waste of time. And, wouldn't you know it, that's precisely the argument most of us use against prayer. McCabe again:
For a real absolute waste of time you have to go to prayer. I reckon that more than 80% of our reluctance to pray consists precisely in our dim recognition of this and our neurotic fear of wasting time, of spending part of our life in something that in the end gets you nowhere, something that is not merely non-productive, non-money making, but is even non-creative. it doesn't even have the justification of art and poetry. It is an absolute waste of time, it is a sharing into the waste of time which is the interior life of the Godhead. 
Finally for my students this semester in addition to reading McCabe, Plekon, and others, we will be reading Romano Guardini's lovely little classic, The Spirit of the Liturgy, where he also winsomely writes about liturgy being utterly wasteful of time for it is simply children at play in the Father's playground.

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