Thursday, May 24, 2007

Comfort for a necessary crime

Psalm 139 has taken on new meaning as I have reconsidered the concept of duality in the context of my readings on psychological development. This great hymn to God's omnipresence and omniscience contains such powerful images as in verse 8 (That God May Be Glorified):

If I climb the heavens, you are there.
If I lie in the grave, you are there.

In what grave can a living human being experience the presence of God? Psychologist Edward F. Edinger (1972) called the development of consciousness "a necessary crime" (p. 25), because at each stage, it involves a transgression that generates conflict, leading to a new level of consciousness:

What is a crime at one stage of psychological development is lawful at another and one cannot reach a new stage of psychological development without daring to challenge the code of the old stage. Hence, every new step is experienced as a crime and is accompanied by guilt, because the old standards, the old way of being, have not yet been transcended. So the first step carries the feeling of being a criminal. (p. 21-22)

To put it another way, as we become more conscious, we suffer as we sacrifice a bit of our old selves. If we do not die incrementally in this manner, we remain dependent and unable to undertake effective action in the world. Where Psalm 139 provides so much comfort is in its vision of a God whose thoughts reach out equally to those walking in the light and those hiding in darkness, even the night of their own "necessary crime." Consider verses 10-11 (The Saint Helena Psalter):

If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me,
and the light around me turn to night,"
darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day;
darkness and light to you are both alike.

As a longtime optimist, I am anxious about encountering the more negative aspects of my personality. Certainly, I may find untapped strengths there, but doubtless I would also encounter stumbling blocks that could hold me back. But I am assured by Psalm 139 that God will be with me throughout the process.

Edinger, E. F. (1972). Ego and archetype: Individuation and the religious function of the psyche. New York: Penguin Books.

Schauble, M. (Ed.). (1998). That God may be glorified. Erie, PA: Benet Press.

The Saint Helena Psalter. (2004). New York: Church Publishing.

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