“They try to say what you are, spiritual or sexual? / They wonder about Solomon and all his wives. / In the body of the world, they say, there is a soul and you are that. / But we have ways within each other that will never be said by anyone.” — Jelaluddin Rumi (13th C. Persian poet)
“Watching Merton . . . in love, showed how the greats are human too.” — Joan Baez
For the ancient Greeks, it was Helen. For every Dante, there is a Beatrice. Dr. Zhivago needed Lara. Romeo is the archetypal lover we know, thanks to Juliette. Even the macho stance of Ernest Hemingway was brought to its knees by Adrianna.
Carl Jung called it the anima, and it’s the very essence of the interior life of a man, the eternal feminine or dream girl of most every pop song. It’s la femme inspiritrice, who moves a man from Adam to Jesus, from self-love to selfless love. Dare I say that Jesus himself had Mary Magdalene?
And that brings us to Margie, the “girlfriend” of the famous monk of modern times, Thomas Merton. Thanks to the journals published 25 years after his death (as he willed it), we can witness Merton experiencing romantic love as “a personal revolution” while not allowing it to overthrow his monastic vows. (The love story can also be read as the mid-life crisis of a man with developmental delays forced to re-integrate or regress, but I’m not here to reduce it to a case study.)
In danger of fuga cum muliere (flight with a woman) we see Merton in the classic spiritual struggle between spirit and matter, or God’s love and human desire, as if one contradicts the other. In a world gone wrong, or spl it down the middle by sin, they do. It’s all too apparent that greed, lust, and violence widens the gap between heaven and earth. To be “monkey in the middle” is the excruciating aspect of the human condition. Like Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, this dilemma played out in the heart of a man torn between solitary dedication to God and devotion to a young woman awakening him to divine eros.
Let’s be clear, as evident in Merton’s journals, that we’re not talking about typical sexual temptation, although there was that. It’s only when sex is separated from eros, the very juice of life, that it becomes lustful, and contracts rather than expands us. Thanks to Margie, Merton went beyond intellectualisms on love to riding the roller-coaster of emotions she aroused . . . to somehow realigning on a path with heart.
Just as Jesus is an intermediary between heaven and earth, closing the gap in our psyche with his equally dual nature, so can an anima figure be the intermediary between a man’s persona in the world and the depths of his being. When we get beneath the surface of a monk’s “illicit affair” and even Merton’s own torment about his “double life,” there is healing of the great divide between sacred and profane love. It comes back to the capacity for double awareness . . . of the heavenly woman and mortal mate co-existing in our psyches, without burdening one’s earthly companion; rather “owning” the responsibility for anima integration, freeing her to be human in her own right.
The Baule tribe of West Africa differentiates a dream mate in the ideal Other World whom they “marry” in spirit, from an actual spouse, so expectations of a flesh-and-blood woman are not contaminated by the projection of archetypal feminine elements. This is what Merton had to sort out in order not to actually elope with Margie, which would have been as unwise as it gets. Instead, “the archetypal (Margie) and the reality merge together” in a sacred romance . . . still on his path.
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as clinical supervisor of e-counselling for a major employee & family assistance program, and creative director, InnerView Guidance International (IGI). He also directs a documentary series titled GuideLives for the Journey: Ordinary Persons, Extraordinary Pathfinders. http://www.guidelives.ca/ Connect with Cedric on https://www.facebook.com/cms94 or via email@example.com