The Child of

Psychoanalysis exposes a psychological world of alienation and grief focused on the trauma of childhood. Christianity offers a vision of a God who meets us with a sign of hope in the place of our sorrow, perhaps in the place where we are called to be "like a little child" (Mark 10.15) in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Noel O'Donoghue, writing about Thérèse of Lisieux, says that she "saw that the figure of the child was central to the message of Jesus (how consistently dogmatic theologies overlook this)!" (O'Donoghue 1996: 73) The language of Marian devotion, configured around forbidden worlds of yearning, love, and loss, allows the Christian person as a child of God to inhabit an imaginary world wherein his or her deepest and most ancient longings can find veiled expression and partial relief. From a theological perspective, this is problematic only if our image of God is that of the stern and forbidding patriarchal Father who withholds consolation and disapproves of joy But if, in Christ, we come to know God as a maternal father, a father identified with idealized maternal qualities of nurture and compassion, then God can be experienced as a source of jouissance in our ecstasy and anguish.10 As Michael Palmer argues, "[t]he fact that Freud has defined religion as wishful-thinking does not mean that God is only a wish and not a reality because, after all, a real God might exist who corresponds to that wish" (Palmer 1997: 81).

We yearn for a God who is mother and father, lover, husband, bride, sister, brother - in other words, a God who is an epiphanic presence in our most intimate human relationships. Often, this is a God whose back seems turned to us even and perhaps especially in those relationships. Alienation can seem more real than reconciliation, the exile and estrangement of the Fall is a more credible human condition than the promise of the wedding feast, and sexual and familial relationships are the contexts wherein people are prey to the worst forms of physical and emotional abuse. But it is in the anticipatory space of such relationships perfected and liberated in love that we are invited to explore the relationship between the human and God, and through that to find a language of reconciliation which is manifest in our capacity for forgiveness and loving celebration together here in this life, as limited and vulnerable beings in communion with one another and with God.

Kristeva describes psychoanalysis as "a journey into the strangeness of the other and of oneself, toward an ethic of respect for the irreconcilable" (Kristeva 1991: 182). The paradox of the incarnation entails a life of faith situated in the impossible space of reconciliation between irreconcilable opposites. This surely could be described as "an ethic of respect for the irreconcilable," inviting us to a recognition of God as the absolute Other, the ultimate Foreigner, and yet the one who is also so close that, like Mary, I recognize this God as the stranger within myself. Maria Rainer Rilke writes:

Strangely I heard a stranger say:

I am with you.

(Rilke quoted in Hillesum 1996: 23)

Mary, the stranger, the queer one, calls us to an encounter with an other self, the radically redeemed self who is an other because it is the not-yet self that is coming to birth within us, through prayer and worship, through service and love, but also through pain and separation, through failure and alienation, through the strange experience of being divine and yet human, mortal and yet eternal. The Christian life is a space of transgressive play between worlds, the playfulness of Wisdom herself, who is "ever at play" in the presence of God (Proverbs 8.30-1). It is a vocation to self-awareness, to a recognition of the limitations and possibilities of human becoming, through which we discover the freedom to "play for real, for keeps, at forming bonds: creating communities, helping others, loving, losing. Gravity becomes frivolity that retains its memory of suffering and continues its search for truth in the joy of perpetually making a new beginning" (Kristeva 1987b: 52).

As the first persons of the new beginning, the New Adam and the New Eve come into the fullness of being, not through separation and repression but in loving relationship which, in the faith of the church, comes to be described in all the language of human desire. In this encounter of woman and man made new, God's fatherly presence serves not to divide but to unite mother and child in a perfect loving union which displaces the oedipal father gods with their prohibitions and laws, and inaugurates a world in which there is only love without end.11

Christian personhood is situated in the space of encounter between the infinity of love and the finitude of the law, a space which might be described in terms of what Gillian Rose calls the "broken middle" (Rose 1992a; see also Rose 1992b). The middle ground I am exploring in this chapter is not yet the reconciled space of the eschaton. It is a space of ambiguity, tension, and disruption. Our experience resonates with that of our primal parents, who find themselves exiled and alienated from God and from one another in a wilderness of pain and death. But through the transgressive potency of prayer, we find ourselves at play with God and with one another, as sisters, brothers, lovers, husbands, wives, daughters, sons, and friends of God. And in this space where hope and desolation together form the shadow dance of the Christian soul, the wounded orphan (Kristeva 1987a: 55) of the Freudian psyche calls out to the Mother of God in prayer and not in despair, in a language of jouissance laden with insatiable longings for wholeness and peace.

Hail, our queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. We cry to you, exiles as we are, children of Eve;

we sigh to you, groaning and weeping in this valley of tears.

Ah then, our intercessor, turn your eyes - your merciful eyes - upon us.

And after this exile is over show to us Jesus, blessed fruit of your womb.

O merciful, O holy, O sweet virgin Mary

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