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Monday, March 9, 2009

Sacrifice – CREDO LXV

The word sacrifice comes from the Latin and means “to make holy.” It was a concept that I struggled with for many years. During Lent, the idea was to give up something one especially liked. At one point in an English boarding school in Italy, I decided that my favorite food was bread. So I gave up bread, only to be placed in a double bind by the Lord’s Prayer in which we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”! So I gave up giving up right then and there and decided sacrifice made no sense. In addition, the custom in olden times of sacrificing great numbers of animals to God smacked to me of bribery and cruelty. None of it seemed logical. That is until I read Jung’s magnificent essay on “Transformation Symbolism in the Mass.” It is a piece I have reread several times over the years, and I plan to reread it this Lenten season.

Somewhere Jung solves the purpose of sacrifice in the following way: we cannot offer up something we do not already have. So in the symbolic and psychological sense, it is in sacrificing that we become conscious of what we have. That makes sense to me and puts my confusion to rest.

The giving up of food is an act of self-discipline carried to extremes of fasting, especially in Islam. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims deny themselves food and drink, from the moment before dawn when one cannot distinguish the color of a thread to sundown, with exceptions for children and the sick. Catholic Christians used to be obliged to give up meat on Fridays, generally, and during Lent, except for Sundays.

I remember the agony my father’s father, a Bostonian agnostic, put the Irish family cook through by ordering her to roast beef on Good Friday! I found her in tears in the kitchen fearing she was committing a mortal sin. It did not endear this grandfather to me at the time. My mother’s father, an Episcopal priest and a vessel of kindness, would never have dreamt of doing such a thing. But Grandpa Billy seemed to relish the cook’s discomfort as she carried in the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. It took away my appetite.

There is, of course, another way of looking at the whole matter. How can giving up something material make it holy? The act of self-denial is more a matter of self-discipline. But what if were to give up a fault or a destructive habit, some negative psychological tendency, like anger or gossip or criticism? By giving up these, we would be transforming them by making them conscious, thus perhaps making them a holy offering. One could start by examining one’s unconscious projections such as labeling other people or defaming them . . .

Well, today is Mardi Gras, so I now will go in and have lunch and enjoy every bit that I can chew at my age, and before nap I will commence the great pleasure of rereading Jung’s “Transformation Symbolism in the Mass.” As he was a Swiss Protestant, it is a remarkably profound explanation.

Jung had a fascinating “complex,” it seems, with Rome. He could not bring himself to go there, and yet he studied and commented extensively on Roman Catholicism and carried on an extraordinary and lengthy correspondence with Father Victor White. It seems that on one occasion Jung and Toni Wolff were visiting Ravenna when the following incident occurred:

Even on the occasion of my first visit to Ravenna in 1913, the tomb of Galla Placidia seemed to me significant and unusually fascinating. The second time, twenty years later, I had the same feeling. Once more I fell into a strange mood in the tomb of Galla Placidia; once more I was deeply stirred. I was there with an acquaintance, and we went directly from the tomb into the Baptistery of the Orthodox.

Here, what struck me first was the mild blue light that filled the room; yet I did not wonder about this at all. I did not try to account for its source, and so the wonder of this light without any visible source did not trouble me. I was somewhat amazed because, in place of the windows I remembered having seen on my first visit, there were now four great mosaic frescoes of incredible beauty which, it seemed, I had entirely forgotten. I was vexed to find my memory so unreliable. The mosaic on the south side represented the baptism in the Jordan; the second picture, on the north, was of the passage of the Children of Israel through the Red Sea; the third, on the east, soon faded from my memory. It might have shown Naaman being cleansed of leprosy in the Jordan; there was a picture on this theme in the old Merian Bible in my library, which was much like the mosaic. The fourth mosaic, on the west side of the baptistery, was the most impressive of all. We looked at this one last. It represented Christ holding out his hand to Peter, who was sinking beneath the waves. . . .

I retained the most distinct memory of the mosaic of Peter sinking, and to this day can see every detail before my eyes: the blue of the sea, individual chips of the mosaic, the inscribed scroll proceeding from the mouths of Peter and Christ which I attempted to decipher.
(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 284–285)

Jung then goes on to say that later he asked a friend to send him pictures of the mosaics. The friend responded that he could not find any pictures and was told that no such mosaics existed! And yet both Toni and he saw them in a strange blue light! This combination of events—the vision and the inability of Jung to travel to Rome during his lifetime—suggest to me some traumatic event, perhaps in a previous life connected to the Roman Catholic Church. I am so struck by this that I am hunting down an article by A. Plaut titled “Jung and Rebirth.” Perhaps Plaut had the same idea.

It is now almost a week since Mardi Gras, and I have decided I am becoming conscious of a tad of negative scrupulosity. It comes in the form of dealing with all my sins of omission! The things I ought to have done and have not done! This is one of the psychological abysses. Another, as I may have mentioned before, is the little phrase “If only . . .” Aaaaaaaaargh!

We are in the midst of a mega-snowstorm – actually beautiful to look at through a window in a warm house, but bad news for all who drive.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear AO,

Many warm greetings to you.

Thank you so much for this post. It shot straight to my heart and woke me up. I am a soon to be single mother of four , need more to be said?

I use the word sacrifice in a negative term. Till today I used to get angry for being in the position of sacrificing. But now knowing what it means in latin, it gives me a whole other perspective. I am looking forward to reading the Jung article you mentioned.

For some time now I have been jotting down poems quotes I love, with your blessing i want to add this one to my book

"we can not offer something we do not already have, it is in the sacrificing that we become conscious of what we have" Ao. Is a balm, Is an Island is a refuge.

Blessings, peace, love and warm hugs,