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Reflections on the Story – Angel Voice


 

Splitness

It is very difficult to avoid our contradictions, our splitness. Contained within our own bodies and woven throughout our lives is both darkness and light.  From the time we are coaxed from our first naiveté and begin to eat at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we inevitably assume that heaven is split from earth. We divide our world between good and evil, white and black, light and dark, past and future, female and male, whole and broken, subject and object, love and power, and joy and pain.

We also establish such divisions with ourselves, hiding away from view and even from our own conscious awareness, the unacceptable, the inferior or beggar parts of ourselves. According to Elizabeth Cain, these are the “parts of us that we experience as being weak or crippled, the parts we tend to despise and pretend do not exist.” [1] These hidden aspects of our person are sometimes referred to as our "shadow." Often our ego-self considers these hidden parts as the enemy and so we become fearful of them.  Elizabeth Cain suggest there is a real mystery about these hidden and despised parts of ourselves,

“and it is this: the least-loved part of who we are is not insignificant as we like to think, but is the very key to our potential wholeness.  Something of this mystery is expressed in these familiar words, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’” [2]  

She also suggests that there is both fear and fascination between the conscious and hidden parts, and that the: “Shadow and ego tend to play an ongoing game of hide-and-seek.”[3]

This game of hide-and-seek in our story will often gain greater momentum in middle life. However the split may be intensified, or even come too early when, as a child, we are wounded. One example of such a division may be between who and what, as a child I can trust, and who and what I cannot. A second example of splitness associated with woundedness is when a child is called upon (in subtle and less conscious ways) to live out unlived aspects of the unlived life of a parent. It can also happen when the child is drawn too speedily towards one extreme or the other. There might be a drawing towards the light and goodness of heaven or to the sinfulness or darkness of earth. The tendency can be to over- inflate one aspect of life at the expense of another. We might dream of sainthood but never actually put our feet to the fire. We can easily become blind to the less desirable aspects of ourselves. By turning our face away from them, we can secretly hope that they might go away or at least, never see the light of day. Fear might join with Denial in the subterfuge be encouraging us to conclude: “If people really knew what was going inside me they could never love me. Indeed, everyone would hate me!" 

Jonathan's experience

Something of this  happened for Jonathan. We do not hear of a father. Maybe there was an early wound of separation through the father's death or his leaving. There is the unlived life of his mother, perhaps even of a deep desire she felt had never been fulfilled. There is a ready opportunity to rekindle such a desire and to live it out through her immensely talented son. For Jonathan, there is an early link made with the "heavenly realm" when others began to call him "Angel Voice." True, he had received a heavenly gift (like an angel feather), but it was far to early to expect this might make him a saint! Indeed, it would be understandable if his young ego did become a little over-inflated. With all of our speculation as to what was happening for Jonathan, we would still concluded that none of this was fully intentional. There was not a conscious intention to create a split within this gifted boy. Every child growing up needs to be gently guided by loving and wise adults, hopefully by those who intuitively know that there is not such a wide division between heaven and earth. This is pertinent, for in reality we have all been wounded.

Wisdom of the elders

There was counter-balancing provided by Jonathan's grandmother and his teacher. His grandmother, who, from two generations distance, could be rather spacious, holds a more holistic perspective on life, and knows how difficult it is to entertain angels without meeting demons. The wise teacher knew how critical it was to keep the most gifted boy grounded in the everyday world of and impressionable young boys. It is doubtful he would have approved of the title, “Angel Voice”. Both grandmother and teacher would have been aware of the inflationary potential of what can be considered as a "heavenly gift," particularly for one so young. A "heavenly feather" needs to be handled with great care. 

When Jonathan does taste the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he could hardly avoid lowering his eyes from heaven to earth. He is soon stretched and split. His fragmented self could not span what must have been experienced as a growing divide between heaven and earth. The choices seem to be at the extreme polarities of two seemingly opposing worlds. The temptation of placing a young foot placed closer to the heavenly polarity can be that of misplacing heavenly glory. For a boy known as "Angel Voice" it can be difficult to resist the pleasure of exercising some magical power over others. Such power might be exercised well in advance of any form of positive initiation or of having the opportunity to set out on the young man's hero's journey. A foot placed closer to the darker polarity of earth will also bring powerful temptations. The balance between creativity and destructiveness is very difficult to maintain, especially without wise and loving guidance. Giving reign to powerful inner energies and excitements can be destructive without a sufficient containment. It is easy to be seduced by the darkness. 

A dark world

Jonathan begins to make his choices and the split is accentuated. The dark and shadow side of Jonathan develops energy and becomes very fertile. It provided a large expanse of potentially unexplored life, and so becomes the place of play for him. However, little-by-little, and at great cost to Jonathan, it soon moves beyond play. Personified by the dark and shadowy companion, Jack, it claims more and more of him. It is dangerous to ignore encroaching inner darkness even with our efforts to hide it from the world around us and even from ourselves. But it is also exceedingly dangerous to give in to it, and to start to act it out and offer its persona free range. It is also risky to see it confined to a battle of the wills–a drama of will played out at the extreme polarities of heaven and earth. This could mask the possibility that the darkness–the shadowy figure of Jack–is after more than our will. He is wanting to subvert our deepest desires and to completely estrange them from their sacred origins. 

Held as contradictions

A wise guide or companion will discern the almost primal dimensions of such a drama. They would also acknowledge that the quest for the human soul is actively contested. It is not neutral ground. There are choices to be made, there is will to be exercised, there is wheat to be separated from chaff, and there is a deeply fragmented self to be re-formed and re-shaped in the manner of its sacred origins. If there is to a renewing of the mind, its is a renewing that penetrates heart, soul, mind, body, gut (kardia), imagination, and most of all, the very deepest of our desires, indeed, what it is we really live for.

Such levels of human experience do not always yield to the mastery of the mind or to linear, cause and effect, approaches that are favored in much contemporary approaches to problem solving. Without dismissing the amazing contribution of the mind, guides and and companions do well to discern ways that attune more to the rich textures of live, such as those already mentioned alongside of the renewing the mind. Some of these ways can appear oblique, such as the use of active and believing imagination, metaphor, emotional pathways, imagery, poetry and attentiveness to body responses. Foundational will be the loving solidarity that is established with  pilgrims, and the personal and relational presence which is offered to them. One significant gift that wise guides and companions can offer is their willingness to gently hold a pilgrim's contradictions in the hope that they experience the redeeming, transforming and reconciling touch that can be experienced at the point of overlap between heaven and earth. To be formed and shaped in such ways as guides and companions we can most useful look towards Jesus of Nazareth. 

Losing the front door key

Jonathan makes a big mistake when he gives Jack the front door key. It appears that Jack would not give it back, and may have taken it with him when he left. One wonders if Jack even stole the angel feather. When Jonathan is stretched too far and loses his balance, he eventually ends up in complete wretchedness. All that is left for him to do now is to lament. For him, it is the end of the story. But is it also the beginning of another story? Is there a new story that does not begin with gift and glory but rather with a pilgrim's poverty of spirit?

A deep longing

What brings Jonathan, in all his wretchedness, to the feet of Christ? Was it some glimmer of recognition, with Pascal, of an empty place within his heart that deep down he knows that only God can fill? Canhan suggests “we were created with a deep sense of where we belong.”[5] It may be some memory, retained, not so much in our mind but rather within the very cells of our bodies. Did Jonathan have a deep sense that he had been created in the likeness and image of the God-Creator? Was there a reconnection with the sacred origin of his deepest desires? Whatever it was, and it can only be called mystery, there was some longing that he himself imagined and became convinced, could only be stilled with death. Jonathan’s ego, the part of who he was and knew about consciously, was totally up against the wall. Maybe there was some strength or even nobility in his shadow that he had failed to see or even know about.[6]

Somehow, and not without great cost to himself, Christ is able to touch a place of wholeness deep below our contradictions and our splitness. Somehow he is able to gently and patiently hold Jonathan's contradictions in order that redemption, transformation and reconciliation might come. We see him do this through the pages of the gospel with people like Peter, Martha, the Samaritan woman and so many others.

Through forming the overlap of heaven and earth, Christ is somehow able to reconcile what we experience as almost totally irreconcilable. This redeeming touch is not imposed. Even in our wretchedness, it still remains our choice. Where light and darkness are as black and white, Christ can shine light into darkness. Christ can heal and take away the mask. 

The tears of Christ provide what the Apostle Paul refers to as the washing of regeneration. This rebirth and renewal is richly poured out through the Holy Spirit upon Jonathan so that he might be justified by Christ’s redeeming and transforming grace and become an heir in hope of eternal life.[7] And where the one who is healed returns to him with gratitude and thanksgiving, like one of the ten lepers, [8] one’s faith can lead to wholeness.[9]

Being forgiven much

For Jonathan, there was a sense of being forgiven much as a way out of slavery had been opened-up for him. Gradually, it became possible for him to drink from wine made from better than grape, and to eat the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.[10] God’s music did indeed flow from a heart of openness, humility and surrender.  There is no indication in the story, that for Jonathan, this became an easy path.

How is it ever possible to reconcile such contradictions and splitness? How can such disparate parts of heaven and earth be brought together? It is the Christ who stands in the middle of the overlap between heaven and earth. Jonathan had considered that heaven and earth had moved to an irreconcilable distance. It is the One who constantly works “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” [11] Jonathan now experienced incredibly blessings “in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ”, is adopted as a son, and is considered holy and blameless in the sight of God? [12] Jonathan accepts a love gift that comes through a glorious and freely given grace.[13]

References

 [1]    Elizabeth Cain  ((1995). Grass Grows by Itself.  Millennium Books, p. 33.
[2]    Ibid.
[3]    Ibid.
[4]   Adapted from: McMakin, J. & Nary, R. (1993). Meeting Jesus in the New Testament. San
            Francisco: Harper, p. 50.
[5]   Canhan, E. (1995).  Home Coming.  Weavings.  Vol. 10, No. 2, p. 13.
[6]   Robert Johnson (1991).  Owning Your Own Shadow. HarperSanFrancisco, pp. 3-4.
[7]   Titus 3:5-7.
[8]   Luke 17:15.
[9]   Luke 17:19.
[10]  Galations 5:22-23.
[11]   Ephesians 1:10.
[12]   Ephesians 1:3,4,5.
[13]   Ephesians 1:6.


 
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