Oh, Grow Up
It seems to me that Freud's idea of the latency period -- between four or five and puberty -- still holds water, in that after the turbulence of baby- and toddlerhood, the psychic tensions are diminished for a while -- or at least should be. For me, that period of time was magical.
My son is in the middle of it -- he's 10 -- and it seems like heaven on earth: "Nature and spirit are together in harmony." You got your buddies, you got sports, you're independent enough that you can run off by yourself to the park... What's not to like?
Sure, he hates school, but we don't put any pressure on him about that. I figure I don't remember anything from the fifth grade, so why should he? (And yet he gets good grades -- not to mention somehow winning the Person of Faith award every year. That surpasses even Bertie Wooster winning the prize for Scripture Knowledge while at Malvern House.)
I think I see the shadow of a big But approaching in the distance. I don't like big Buts.
"Puberty brings a first questioning of this harmony. For the first time, the maturing person realizes his uniqueness as a person and thus experiences a loneliness hitherto unknown."
First of all, is this true? I never thought about it in exactly those terms, but it seems to be the case. I remember an intense longing, but I didn't really have any way to understand it. It was like, all of a sudden you are inhabited by a kind if psychic twin; it's not just you anymore, but this other being. We know ourselves "to be raised above the purely material," but what are we supposed to do about it?
So in that regard, the pattern is exactly like infancy, in which we are initially strangers to ourselves and only gradually individuate and find our center. In puberty it begins "with the discovery of [our] uniqueness, an as yet undefined dreamlike horizon of a meaningful whole that would correspond to [our] personhood..."
This certainly goes to Genesis, when Adam realizes he is alone and God furnishes a mate. That would have been nice.
But for us, "the first experiences of love" don't generally end well: "the thrilling side of the experience will at first cover up the contradiction that will, however, show all the more glaringly in the disillusionments that follow."
I remember that.
This is intriguing: "The disillusioned one feels himself betrayed not only by his partner but, on a deeper level, by his own nature."
In short, we confront the paradox that we want to "inscribe something permanent onto the surface of transitory material" (ibid.). This is obviously a spiritual longing, even the quintessence of it -- i.e., to infuse the finite with infinitude.
More generally, "Man wants to create something permanent, something above time, to make a definitive statement that would be the expression of his personal uniqueness."
Agreed. The problem is, on the one hand, if you confuse this with salvation; or, on the other, replace permanence with something less, e.g., fame or celebrity. I say, if you're not somehow dialoguing with eternity, you're just wrong. Nothing short of the timeless is really worth our time.
If Jesus is our archetypal man, perhaps we can learn a thing or two from his example: his mission "is not about detaching oneself from the transitory things in order to flee into some real or supposed eternity, but, conversely, about sowing the seed of eternity into the field of the world and letting the Kingdom of God spring up in this field."
(All quotes from Life Out of Death.)