Spirituality in Counselling and Psychotherapy


Dennis Lines

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    Dedicated to all those on a Spiritual Journey


    Spirituality is rapidly acquiring a certain notoriety both in the psychotherapy and theology fields. It is perceived by many as the ultimate slippery concept which enables ill-disciplined therapists and less than respectable theologians to mount mystical hobby-horses and to engage in ill-founded analyses of the existential struggles of twenty-first century men and women. Therapists who pursue this arcane field of enquiry are often perceived as exceeding the legitimate boundaries of psychological study while theologians and religious educators can be castigated as enemies of true religion and traitors to their faith communities.

    It is my hope and belief that Dennis Lines' new book will cause the critics to stop in their tracks. It is certainly an unashamedly mystical book in that it focuses on those experiences in therapeutic relationships where there is a powerfully intuitive interaction on a plane of being characterised by a deep bond of love between therapist and client. At the same time, however, it is a robustly empirical book. In the first place the author is at pains to situate his experience within the historical and sociological evolution of western culture since the Enlightenment and into the postmodern period. With the eye of a philosopher and social commentator he tracks the emergence of psychotherapy as a powerful force in the context of a pricipally pragmatic and scientifically centred culture. He is not blind, however, to the fact that despite the decline of formal religion, the predominant discourse in a multicultural Britain remains Christian. His analysis is thorough, balanced and even-handed and not for one moment does the reader sense a hidden intent to insinuate a particular point of view.

    Secondly – and here lines one of the book's supreme merits – Dennis Lines anchors his findings in his extensive experience as a therapist. As a school counsellor he has privileged access to the minds and hearts of adolescent clients (many of them from working class environments) and the verbatim extracts from many counselling sessions are both riveting and often intensely moving. A second sphere of work in General Practice surgeries provides an altogether different perspective. Clients in the later stages of life are faced with the inevitability of their own mortality and as a result ontological questions thread their way through dialogues where both counsellor and client move between the immanent and the transcendent with apparent ease. As these conversations with young and old alike unfold, the reader is drawn inexorably to the conclusion that issues of meaning, yearning and ultimate purpose lead to a bonding between therapist and client where a quality of reciprocity is established which is transformative for both participants.

    Mystical, empirical but also scholarly, Dennis Lines is not encapsulated in his own experience, wide though it is. He is well acquainted with the current literature in this burgeoning and controversial field and readers will find many references to other contemporary writers, both in Britain and beyond. He also provides a comprehensive list of References which in itself constitutes a mini-feast. Despite this breadth of learning, however, the book remains intensely personal. Perhaps at the heart of all spiritual enquiry there resides the mystery of supreme paradox. And so it is that at the end of a book which courageously addresses universal questions of ultimate concern to every reflective human being, I am left with the sense of a unique individual. Dennis Lines has somehow succeeded in conveying his own numinous presence between the lines of his text. We meet in these pages the person who experienced an appalling accident before he had reached middle age, who knew the full intensity of the dark night of the soul and who came through the tunnel into the emerging light. We learn, without having to be told, that vulnerability, powerlessness and weakness can be the source of hope and relationship and not the ground for despair. This gentle, mystical, empirical and scholarly book is truly inspirational and it is for that reason above all others that it deserves the widest possible readership among therapists, religious educators and all those who care about the spiritual destiny of humankind.

    BrianThorneNorwich, New Year's Day, 2006


    This book has been 58 years in the making, the period of my life to this point. From an early memory of fearing death, much of my life has involved reflecting on religious and spiritual issues, and the discourses recorded in this book are contributions not only of clients in therapy but of friends and colleagues who have something to say on such matters. I am grateful for what they have taught me and for giving permission to draw from their material. I am also grateful to Alison Poyner, Louise Wise and the team at Sage for instilling the confidence in me to complete this work. I feel honoured by Brian Thorne's comments and thank him for writing the Foreword. I thank also William West for his encouragement and for directing me to further reading. I am grateful to Nathan Marsh and Jean Barley for their artistic sketches, to Nazar Hussain for a photo image, to the British Museum, the Whitworth Gallery and Scala Archives for granting me permission to have published their photo exhibits. Finally I thank Dierdre Barber for proof-reading the manuscript, and Wendy Oldfield-Austin for initiating the book and for many helpful suggestions.

    DennisLines February 2006
  • Appendix: Scripture as Revised Discourse

    An enormous gulf exists between the conclusions drawn by a consensus of biblical scholars and fundamentalist Christians regarding the origins of scriptural texts. A strong case can be made for viewing the developing nature of biblical writings as satisfying natural religious interests which change over time. One inference of viewing the Bible as the authoritative word of God is that human error is avoided by the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, but such a proposition carries unexamined presuppositions and confusion.

    We begin by asking what the Bible is. In so doing, we make no assumptions about the influence of the Spirit, or the numinous, or even the Church during the canonising of the Bible, but simply look at the writings as they are in the light of scholarship (Beckford, 2004).

    When Jews and Christians revere the holy writings they do so as though the Torah or the New Testament arrived in completed form – handed down by God – in one magical process, whereas both are compilations of documents brought together that have undergone writing, rewriting, revision and alteration to suit a particular audience by a particular person or group. In addition, there is evidence that those who are the most powerful have the final say of what constitutes the final version of history (Carr, 1987).

    The religious writings that are sacred for Judaism are the Torah and the Prophets. The Torah contains the first five books of the Old Testament that are purported to have been written by Moses. This presents a problem in that one book describes the death and burial of the writer. In addition, these books have similar stories of the same events as though two versions have been preserved and placed alongside one another or interwoven. There are two creation stories, two flood stories and two calls of Moses. A German scholar (Julius Welhausen) identified four different sources within the Torah, which suggests that Moses could not have been the author. These sources are known as J, E, P and D, and stand for a tradition which knows God as Yahweh (J), another which knows him as Elohim (E), another which is a priestly source (P) and a fourth known as Deutero (D). The call of Moses in J illustrates the interests of this Israelite community in portraying the Lord as dealing with man directly, whereas the same stories covered in E reflect a community which believed that God must be approached through intermediaries (angels and dreams), hence Moses is called through the medium of a burning bush.

    Sometime during the seventh century BC, there was felt a need to bring these traditions represented by anonymous writers (or schools) together by two influential kings, Hezekiah and Josiah. Psalm 78 is interesting in that it illustrates how editors wished to preserve different traditions without the need to do away with alternative accounts. It stands as a mosaic of the sources in one hymn. It is as though each sector of the Israelite community viewed these traditions as authentic dialogues that expressed their life concerns and relationships with God; that all traditions were equally valid and equally true in these terms; that all represents the word of God. The early Bible then was the product, not of Moses, but of editorial combinations of different descriptions of the same histories which served the social and religious purpose of holding the community together.

    The next point to make is in regard to what we today call political spin. It appears that when Old Testament accounts of historical events are compared with archaeological records there is evidence that each party has selected and slanted what took place to achieve political advantage. The court recorders of the times of Hezekiah were of the school of D, and so endorsed strict monotheism but with a keen interest now in projecting Jerusalem as the centre of Israelite cult. During this time, some early history was rewritten, but it was when the Assyrian armies attacked Hezekiah at Jerusalem that we take up the story.

    According to the biblical account, God brought about the victory and saved the day by means of a mysterious event by an angel, but an inscription of the same episode has Hezekiah paying heavy tribute to buy off the Assyrian general. Hezekiah's scribes have a vested interest in having God delivering the victory, and the court scribes in Lachish would not wish to humiliate the king by having an embarrassing record in the palace. So whose record is accurate and whose is spin?

    Josiah was the next monarch and he is presented as a religious reformer, but in 609 BC he was slain at Meggido by Neco, an Egyptian Pharaoh. This event threatened the religious outlook of the Bible to this point but also brought about a new vision of God's hand in history. It was a tragic blow for writers of the Bible. The result was political decline, but the new writing was to install hope through a coming Messiah like King David of old. During the exile of 560 BC, a final rewrite of the Old Testament turned persecution around with a new insight on the meaning of sufferings and liberation. The book of Isaiah was added to by an anonymous writer, who reviewed the past and put a spin on history after asking, why the persecution? The writer, known as second Isaiah, reinterpreted the exile by declaring the captivity of Judah to serve a universal purpose: the deported Israelites were a sign amongst the nations that the suffering of one is for the benefit of all. These occasions of spin brought the Bible towards the inter-testament period.

    The third point is the effect of canonising the Bible as a means of arresting the process of rewriting history. In 1947 the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered. These documents never found their way into the Old Testament, even though they represented a group (Essenes) who had a genuine identity in religious history and an authentic relationship with the Jewish God. This was because the canon was fixed at 100 BCE. Amongst this collection was the Thanksgiving Scroll, written by a hardliner who describes himself in vision as being divine and as a suffering servant – just as Jesus was presented in the New Testament.

    The New Testament is believed to be a record of eyewitness detail, but scholarship has rendered this view improbable. Christianity continues the process of revision of the Bible with the view that Jesus was the Messiah. The most dynamic evangelist of the early Christian period was Paul, a Pharisee who formerly persecuted the faith as a wayward Jewish sect. Paul sees a vision of the risen Jesus and is converted to become the missionary to the non-Jews. Paul had never met Jesus personally, and although he wrote fourteen letters, it never occurred to him, or to anyone else of the immediate followers, to write an account of Jesus. The tradition was passed on orally and through the liturgy.

    The Gospels are alleged to be records of genuine eyewitness accounts of historical events, but this is not the case, reasoned David Straus in 1835 (Schweitzer, 1936). They are late compositions of people removed from the setting. It never seemed to have occurred to Christians before the sixties, thirty odd years after the crucifixion, to have a documented life of Jesus. While Paul was in prison in Rome awaiting persecution, two years after leaving Ephesus, there began large scale persecution of Christians. After Paul's death, Emperor Nero martyred Christians to serve as a scapegoat for the fire of Rome. Deep in a catacomb there is evidence of secret Christian burial and martyrdom.

    According to some scholars, it is this situation and in this setting that prompted Mark to compose the first Gospel. There is no internal evidence that Mark knew Jesus personally and, curiously, the original version records no actual resurrection appearance (Lüuddemann, 1995). The central purpose of this document may be to give encouragement to martyrs facing tribulation by highlighting Jesus’ execution. For this community, in order to make sense of their persecution, they were to look up to Jesus, the first martyr. And so Mark served as moral exhortation.

    Matthew, writing from Antioch, felt Mark had not done justice to Jesus' Jewish roots as being grounded in the habits and laws of Judaism, and therefore steered his account accordingly. He copied much of Mark, but supplanted his overall impression by Judaising the record with additions to redress this deficit. And so Matthew served as Jewish propaganda.

    Luke was an educated writer somewhere in Greece, and he plagiarises previous records to demonstrate that the new movement was not a religious backwater. The Gospel and history of the Church (Acts) documents how Christianity became a world religion through a scheme of the advance of the Jesus movement to the early Christian Church from Jerusalem to Rome – here again was well-crafted propaganda to show the Jesus brotherhood as being highly respectable and ideologically commendable for all noble citizens.

    John felt the preceding versions of Jesus were lacking and not quite correct. Feeling inspired by the Spirit, he sees it as legitimate to compose original speeches and narratives that in essence portray Jesus' divinity. John meditated seriously on the events and rejigged the ministry to present what others had not fully grasped.

    The Gospels, like the sources of the Torah, are products of communities attempting to express elements of their faith that describe their relationship with God. Two hundred years after the death of Jesus there were dozens of Gospels. Inevitably, the question would soon arise of what was scripture. Papyrus, used for the first documents, was replaced by animal skins and this meant that many documents could be arranged in large volumes. But other accounts – such as the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene – were suppressed as the New Testament canon arrested the process of revision and rewriting. Books like the Apocalypse contain forecasts of the future, but even these writings can be shown to be coherent deductions made by interpreting past scriptures with the way political factors were bearing upon those whose interests were reflected by the author (Goulder, 1994).

    Many scholars point to the all-too-human forces guiding the selection of ‘inspired writings’ from heresy. Features in other portrayals of Jesus did not fit the accepted version, and some things were said that other people did not want to hear – Gnostic teaching, Jesus' relationship with Mary Magdalene, and sayings which indicated that women were as fit to hold office as men. History is always written by the winners, and chauvinism lies at the heart of the Bible. Those who fixed the canon were guided, they said, by the Holy Spirit, but might also be judged to have been directed by male prejudice and issues of power and control.

    Church councils and religious writing were all controlled by men. The last verses of the Book of Revelation threatens that if any man adds or takes away anything written in this book their names would be taken from the book of life. We might say that the Spirit operates today in allowing us to see through Bible history as a long drawn-out process of bigotry, bias and prejudice, and to respond accordingly.

    A good example of how biblical narratives become open to multiple interpretations is the book of Job. The narrative reads like a play whereby Job receives misfortune in losing his prosperity and family, and then finally his comfort through insufferable boils. Yahweh has allowed Satan to have his way and put Job's trust under trial. The body of the text is a series of speeches given by three comforters, Job and Yahweh. The general point of the dialogue is where the comforters take the ‘traditional religious line’ of promoting God's justice through the maxim that God humbles the proud and exalts the contrite. Job contests this point, and claims, not least from his own experience, that the wicked do not suffer but prosper. The theology of these discourses has become an enlightened commentary on innocent human suffering, and Jewish rabbis over time, particularly in the camps of the Holocaust, were confident in putting God on trial to account for their existential dilemma from the lead of Job's audacity.

    The power of Job's rhetoric was slightly watered down during an unknown period (600–300 BCE) when an editor sandwiched the speeches between an introduction and an epilogue, which can stand alone, and which makes the point that all turns out fine in the end. The Qur'an, under a general theology that Allah is All-wise (His ways are beyond comprehension and his Justice is righteous), omits every reference to questioning God's judgment.

    Jung, in Answer to Job (1954) develops a complex theology which strikes at the heart of God's justice. Jung claims he is a (transpersonal) psychologist not a theologian, but nevertheless he illustrates a scholarly mastery of biblical passages, particularly in seeing the central import of Job's anguish. Jung distinguishes between two kinds of facts: physical (historical, empirical) facts and psychic facts – his commentary is on the latter. Whilst his whole scheme will appear surreal and fantastical for many, his main point is intriguing. His claim is that through his suffering servant, Job, God has become conscious of himself. Being Almighty, God has no contender (even Satan is subject to him) and is detached from his omniscience and unaware that his morality is less than that of Job's. In calling to question God's justice, Job awakens Yahweh to a higher morality than he had shown during his non-reflective past – ‘the Creator needs conscious man’. From regular analysis where he observed in his patients that individuation involves recognising one's dark side, Jung postulates that the book of Job is the story of a faithful moral being revealing for Yahweh the polar opposites within his own nature. Although such an exegesis is radical and irreverent for religionists, there is no doubt in my judgment that his commentary in parts does justice to the import of the text of Job.

    Thus, the book of Job may be interpreted as an old religious tale of a suffering servant receiving good fortune in the end by God (early source), a wisdom tract on God's injustice (edited speeches), a commentary on human ill-fortune (Jewish rabbinical discourse), an illustration of God's unswerving justice (the Qur'an), or the archetypal conflict of the divided psych becoming evident in God's own being (Jung).

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