This month I am hosting an on-line book club for The Depth Psychology Alliance, of my play ON THE DOORSTEP OF THE CASTLE, published by Fisher King Press. This is a marvelous venue for an author to interact with readers and promote lively discussion of all the spiritual, political and psychological aspects of the drama.
In my first posting, I referred to the opening speech by the character, Alma de Leon, a young Jewish woman seeking sanctuary with Sister Teresa of Avila. The latter is igniting the imagination of 16th century Spain with stories of her intimate colloquy with God. Alma petitions to join Teresa’s order, longing for her own rapture, explaining that she suffers from an “aridity of soul.” She later speaks of Spain, as “our wild, arid country.” I asked book club participants to reflect on the relationship between being arid of soul on the inside, and living in an arid land.
I received a response from Bonnie Bright, director and creator of the Depth Psychology Alliance. She wrote of a conference she recently attended where they discussed the “drying” of the planet corresponding to the “drying” of the soul. Surely there is a reciprocal relationship, We live in a time that is replete with the violence we have done to the planet, amid daily reminders of the violence we do to each other, It is very difficult not to feel depressed, and pessimistic about the future.
And yet, here were these women, Teresa and Alma, living in wildly oppressive times. They could either get married with no birth control and no political power as women, or join the church and be subjected to whipping themselves and chanting hymns at all hours. A husband, or the Inquisition. Not a lot of choice there. But within the confines of this arid world, they created something uniquely their own. Teresa was a wild rebel from the start. She could not “hear” God in large groups of nuns chanting prescribed Latin verses. She discovered a book, The Third Spiritual Alphabet, which taught, in essence, modern meditation. You, alone in a room, counting letters of the alphabet until your mind clears and you can know the voice of God. Teresa’s copy of this heretical text was impounded by the Inquisition, but then she discovers that Alma has a copy hidden in her robes. They forge a bond in their secret desire for a private, active relationship with God.
Beyond this, they look at the arid world around them. People in great need, many fleeing the Inquisition, many simply living in abject poverty. They respond to the reality of their environment, taking their own sumptuous dinners to those in need, creating a democracy of resources on the belief that all people are One. This begins a long struggle to create a new order of the Barefoot Carmelites, modeled on the legacy of Francis of Asissi. At first the church fathers are horrified at the notion of women traipsing about Spain barefoot, serving the poor. Teresa realizes she must use old family connections. She sends Alma to appeal to King Philip, who uses his own delicate strategy with the church, and at last the Order of the Discalced Carmelites is born.
Teresa and Alma addressed the aridity of their inner life, and used their well-nourished souls to penetrate the darkness around them. Jung used the term Individuation to describe the evolution of the soul to wholeness. He stressed that it is not enough to have insight, to know the source of our pain and longing. We must step out into the world and manifest our visions, dreams, and by living creatively in the now, let go of the many things in our environment that are beyond our control.
We are living in times that will become more and more complex, and more challenging. “What then must we do?” Tolstoy asked, as he looked out at the poverty in the streets of Moscow. My vote is to continue to nourish our inner lives, manifest our creative essence, and respond with compassion and intelligence, to the changing landscape of our world.