The Desert Fathers discovered that the Logosmoi of Anger had the potential to make you hallucinate. When you marry Anger with Guilt you have the possibility of being haunted by ghosts from the past.
Sarah rang me early one Monday morning. Her Mum had not been sleeping well for weeks because she felt a hand was trying to suffocate her; would I please come and talk to her. Sarah’s mum was called Jenny, she was a petit lady, very well dressed and she looked younger than her 70 years. She was exhausted, and complained she was afraid to sleep because of a sense of being suffocated, and it always happened in between those moments of passing from a being awake to sleeping. At that moment she felt a hand gently resting on her face, over her nose and mouth, then it would grip more tightly and she would wake up gasping for breath.
I asked Jenny if she had experienced any traumatic events in recent times. At that point she broke down crying. This went on for several minutes as she released all the anxiety and tension through her tears and deep sighing. Afterwards she began telling me her story. Her mother had died recently at the ripe old age of 94. She was a fiercely independent woman who had been in good health most of her life and had been able to manage her home and all her affairs until she was 90 years old. She was also very private and was happy in her own company which was just as well as she had outlived all of her friends and siblings. In recent years Jenny’s Mum had started to struggle looking after herself. She developed arthritis in one of her hips, and on top of the pain it had reduced her mobility. This had put a strain on Jenny and Sarah who had to visit every day to cook clean and make sure everything was OK. Jenny’s Mum had lived in the same house all of her married life. It was the treasure trove of all her memories, and she made Jenny promise that she would only leave the house after her death; Jenny promised. A few weeks later Jenny’s Mum had a fall, broke her hip and had to be admitted to hospital. This had been traumatic for everybody, not least the Mum who wanted to come home as soon as she got to the hospital. The problem came when it was time to go back home. The hospital suggested a time of convalescing in a local nursing home before returning home otherwise Jenny’s Mum would require 24 hour care. Jenny knew she could not giver her Mum the support she needed at home, so she agreed to the idea of Mum going to the nursing home. Her Mum of course would have none of it, but she had no choice. She blamed Jenny, saying she had broken her promise and abandoned her. Jenny genuinely thought she was doing the best thing for her Mum, and fully anticipated her return home when she recovered. Sadly, Mum died in the nursing home as a result pf a post-op infection.
Jenny was bereft. She felt guilty for letting her Mum down while at the same time angry that her Mum had blamed her for breaking a promise she had every intention of keeping. I visited Jenny twice more, and during those times encouraged her to express her anger and guilt. I shared with her the importance of forgiving both herself and her Mum. Jenny was a lapsed catholic and had not been to Church for many years, she did how ever have the memory and experience of Sacramental Confession and that is what she requested in order to move forward. She never experienced the hand or the suffocating feeling again.
Before I comment of Jenny’s situation I would like to introduce you briefly to Mary. I am going to condense her story and just pick out the parts that illustrate the pain associated with a ‘haunting.’ It took several meetings with Mary to uncover the truth about her situation. Her husband Jim, and Elder in his local church, an upstanding member of the local community, a good, if a little distant and dominating Dad; had been verbally and sexually abusing Mary for years. When the kids left home she could not be around him. She was afraid to leave, so every day she asked God to take his life. Some days she plotted how to do it herself. Jim died suddenly. Mary was overwhelmed with both guilt and anger, she retreated deep into herself, withdrawing from family and friends. She ‘saw’ Jim every where, with always the same accusing smile. In her dreams she was ‘haunted’ by the same character, a person in a monks habit, head covered, and when they raised their head there was no face or a skeletal face. I asked Mary if I could walk with her through one of the reoccurring dreams she had, and although she was very afraid she agreed. I prayed that God would ‘rest her in the Spirit’ and we began the journey into her dream together. She was sitting at the back of an empty church, there was nobody around except the person in the monks habit who was standing at the front of the Church looking forwards. She felt compelled to leave her seat and moved slowly towards the person at the front.
As she moved forwards she could hear whispers. She turned around and notice that above her head was a gallery, typical of these types of church’s, and although she couldn’t see them, she knew people were up there watching and whispering. She shook with fear, but was being pushed forwards. When she reached the person at the front they began to turn around, there was no face. Mary trembled with fear. She wanted to stop but I gently encouraged her to wait. After a few minutes the whispering stopped, when she looked up the hooded Monk had gone. She sat quietly then said: ‘Somebody is here….I can feel him….its Jesus she smiled’ ‘I know’ I replied because I knew that Presence too. What happened next is to intimate to repeat, but it was the beginning of Mary’s journey to freedom and healing.
What the Desert Fathers discovered in their ‘solitary confinement’ was the language of the soul. When they entered into the deep silences the door of their unconsciousness opened and flooded their waking life with all kinds of archetypes and images which they got to know and recognise. They learned the language of the soul, the human psyche. and in doing so were able to ‘know themselves’ and help others do the same. Jenny and Mary were experiencing the ‘language of the soul’ that was converting the very complex nature of their guilt and anger into archetypes and images who in turn were communicating and revealing the nature of their ‘disturbance.’
Not only was this acting as a release mechanism to prevent a complete breakdown it was helping them to face their disturbance and to get free from it.
Myths, Monsters, Logosmoi…you will notice we have been working backwards; Logosmoi Monsters Myth. Myth is the language we use to describe our religious experience. We have employed two aspects of the language of Myth in looking at Logosmoi and Monsters. So we are already in familiar territory when we close this brief introduction in the next blog exploring the language of Myth.