When I was actively serving in the ministry, I leaned more to the Universalist side of Unitarian Universalism. Theologically, I was more drawn to the idea that Love overruled Thought, that universal salvation, the belief that no one is condemned to hell is better than some going and some not. It seemed a more humane position to take on the human condition. Mistakes could be made, even serious ones, and no one would die unredeemed. Life could be and was serious, painful, and difficult, and holding out hope, buttressing courage was more efficacious than condemning someone to the realm of unrelenting hopelessness.
This vision of the relationship between the human and the divine other is perfectly captured by the following quote, attributed to the 18th century Universalist minister, John Murray. The actual quotation comes from Our Liberal Heritage, written by Alfred S. Cole:
The Time-Spirit said to John Murray, “Go out into the highways and by-ways of America, your new country. . . . You may possess only a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it in order to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women Give them, not hell, but hope and courage. Do not push them deeper into their theological despair, but preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.
Reading the quote brought to mind me Jung’s distinction between the Spirit of the Deep and the Spirit of the Times. There is a spirit, energy, a force that exists outside of our consciousness, which speaks to us in images, dreams and reveries, and seeks to supply what is needed for the specific times we live in. In the 18th century, what was required was a compensation for the hell, fire, and brimstone of Evangelical Christendom. Thus, Universalism, with its tenets of universal salvation, spoke for the voice of the God of Love, compassion and kindness.
I no longer practice as a minister, no longer stand on a pulpit and preach the good word, yet I cannot escape my orientation to the world as that of being in relationship to something grander, more mysterious, unknowable that is now clothed in the language of depth psychology. Psyche, Self, the Unconscious, are all words that illumine that numinous experience. Our life’s purpose, meaning, and direction can be discerned through dreams and images that come from that deep and fundamentally mysterious place. They come, like the spirit of the deep answering the spirit of the times, to help us come into balance.
I was reminded of those words today as I worked with a client who was desperate for hope to help get through moments of despair and grief. Those of us who accompany people through the dream landscape, the archetypal configurations of loss and trauma, are often faced with a tightrope act. How do we translate the messages from dreams that reveal the conscious attitude as one sided and potentially destructive, in a way that maintains the integrity of the ego?
In other words, how do we offer hope and not hell?
Ostensibly, people come to therapy, counseling, or mentoring in order to deal with their demons and, often, their defenses and conscious attitudes will do everything they can to prevent that. Essentially, the ego is caught between the proddings of the Self to individuate and the power of the complexes to stay in the same old patterns that keep the ego in thrall to the complex. Our job is offer hope tempered with wisdom. It is up to us to hold the knowledge that through insight, action and perseverance much can be healed and sometimes the road to wholeness leads straight through hell. We cannot simply offer the light hope of platitudes, feel goods and easy answers. Instead, we extend the steady hand, the sure knowledge that they are not alone in this journey. Sometimes we hold the horror until it can be assimilated. And sometimes, we lead away from that horror to protect the vulnerable and emerging soul. Offering hope is not a denial of hell. It is a recognition that it exists and that it can be traversed. That is hope enough.