While traveling home from a pilgrimage that hadnʼt renewed him, Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone was lost in thought, when suddenly his horse jerked to a stop. Standing in front of him was a leper. During that instant, an encounter began that was to initiate Giovanniʼs journey into one of becoming Saint Francis.
There are special moments in our lives when events seem to conspire to reconnect us to our deepest Self. Generally, we know ourselves through what we see – in our lives, our dreams, and in our reflections. But there are moments when something special happens that connects us to our source.
Palm Sunday was going to be one of those days for my wife, Massimilla, and me. When we entered Malapropʼs Bookstore, it was a bright, chilly afternoon. We love Malapropʼs, Ashevilleʼs favorite Indie bookstore, that is always filled with the dynamic energy of people who love books as much as their staff does. We were there to give a book signing & reading from our new book Into the Heart of the Feminine: An Archetypal Journey to Renew Strength, Love, and Creativity, followed by a discussion.
We were about an hour early in order to do some sound checks, and to have the video equipment set up. (We will share this event with you via youtube, and through our newsletter and website.) People began arriving early and we were busy chatting and signing books until our start time at three oʼclock. The bookstore seating area was filled and the café closed, the background music was turned off, and Massimilla began our talk. The audience followed our presentation intently. As we looked out at them, we saw smiling faces, turning serious at times, and heads nodding in agreement, or occasional surprise.
When we finished our reading, and opened ourselves to questions, there was a long period of silence while everyone was still processing what they had just heard. Then the questions began. The depth of the questions was moving, as was the deep personal interest people were showing in our topic of healing, restoring the feminine in our lives and culture, and what that revitalization of the archetypal feminine could mean to the lives, hearts, and souls of all of us.
After about half an hour, we had to draw this animated conversation to a close. We spent another half an hour or so signing books and talking with people. As we were finishing and putting on our coats, we felt this had been a very rewarding afternoon. When we were approaching the door to leave, a woman stepped in front of us. She seemed to be in her mid-fifties, and looked very serious. She said,
“I left, but then I got my courage up and decided to come back. My parents were both alcoholics, and I was a very abused child, by both of them. I was talking with some people after your presentation who were Catholic. I donʼt have a faith. Iʼve never had a faith. I wasnʼt brought up that way. I donʼt know how to have a faith. But I think that if I had a faith, I could finally be healed. Can you help me?”
My words came from somewhere deep inside, certainly not from my head.
“I donʼt know,” I replied, “but I can tell you my childhood was torn by trauma, my family demolished, and I came out of that hating God. Then, as I got older, I began the journey we have been talking about today.”
“Iʼm in therapy,” she said, “and I know my wounded, inner child. I talk to her. I think faith would heal me. How did you find it?”
“I donʼt think of faith as believing in something,” I responded. “Belief didnʼt work for me, it failed me early in my life. But as I have been on this journey, Iʼve realized that from where I began, I could have ended up an alcoholic, in a mental institution, or crippled by depression for my entire life. But I didnʼt end up that way. I slowly gained the sense that something had supported my life, my survival and my growth. That was the beginning of faith for me. Thatʼs the foundation. The right kind of religion can nourish this faith, but this is the important faith for me.”
“This helps,” she sighed.
“When we feel crushed by our pain, it is helpful to look at it in a different way,” Massimilla shared. “An old friend of ours in constant pain from spinal disease said that she assigned a musical note to each level of her pain and that this transformed her pain into a melody, music that God was sending her. Sometimes she understood the music, and sometimes she didnʼt.”
“This helps, this makes sense,” she responded, nodding her head. “Iʼm glad I came back. Thank you so much.”
“What is your name?” Massimilla asked.
“Christy (not her real name),” she replied.
“We will pray for you, Christy,” Massimilla said.
* * * * *
In Jungian psychology, we use the word psychopomp to describe a figure that guides our souls during times of transformation and between the worlds of the sacred and the everyday. It also acts as a go-between connecting and re-connecting our ego – our familiar personality and the Self – our center and the home of the Divine within us. In religion, our word for this guide is an angel. In the Jungian tradition, the archetypal images of Hermes or the wise old man or the wise old woman are thought of as psychopomps.
But my own experiences never seem that lofty. Usually, the figures that penetrate my daily life and connect me to the Divine places in my Self are more along the lines of the poor, the enemy, the beggar, or even Medusa. St. Francis began his journey by meeting a leper. It only seems to be the suffering ones or the enraged ones that instantly break through the walls of habit, practicality, and comfort – that seem to be perpetually rebuilding themselves around me. When I meet an angel, I am reminded of the depth of my journey and the meaning of the force that has guided my life through its loneliness, struggles, sufferings, and ambitions. It is the experience of this force that enabled me to answer Christyʼs questions in the way I did.
Thank you, Christy. You are an angel reminding me of where my life is anchored and that I still hunger for more life, more wholeness, and an ever-deepening realization of what we are and what this life is for.
Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris