Friday, April 01, 2016

Oh, Grow Up

Not sure if this post goes anywhere. I'm still courageously laboring under this man flu. Nevertheless, let's continue with Balthasar's little sketch of human psycho-spiritual development.

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.)


ted said...

"The disillusioned one feels himself betrayed not only by his partner but, on a deeper level, by his own nature."

Oh yes, the double whammy! But humor helps. Just saw this video which expresses the cultural spiritual milieu so well.

julie said...

But for us, "the first experiences of love" don't generally end well

Poor things. My boy has a first love; he doesn't say her name, he sighs it. Lucky for him, she's a pal, for now at least, but I don't see it ending well for him.

ted said...

It never does Julie, but he will always remember it fondly.

Anonymous said...

Bullies can put a damper on the “magical” period.

Myself, I was tiny, a prime potential target. But I was proud of the fact that I could easily outmaneuver bullies, and my buddies could be counted on to watch my back. But as I got older, I realized that any bullying never got very serious because the authorities I had (teachers, parents...) didn’t tolerate such beyond the normal rough and tumble ‘kid pestiness’ which we usually learn from.

But I’ve heard of cases where the bullying had gotten so severe (enabled by uncaring authority), that victims lost faith in the entire system. They grew to see society as rigged against the integrity of best and brightest, instead favoring ruthless alpha male power games. One Canadian guy online, theorized that this was the primary reason for all the successful ISIS recruiting from his country. Not that the recruits had been bullied - everybody has to deal with that sooner or later. But the recruits had come to believe all of society was corrupt, based on their world view from their particular circumstances. And now they wanted to tear the entire system down.

Gagdad Bob said...

I forgot about bullies, the snake in the garden. I had one, in the third grade, I believe it was. I can even remember his name: Danny Mahoney. He said he was going to beat me up on the last day of school, but I arranged for my dad to pick me up, so I got away unscathed.

Anonymous said...

I think with many childhood bullies, it's like what ted said, you might come to remember the situation fondly. I saw one who tried with me, many years later in a bathroom where it was just him and I in there. Except now as adults I was the bigger one. The look on his face when he finally recognized me was priceless.

There's a guy named Izzy Kalman who believes all bullies can be reasoned with. But I suspect he's a Ron Paul type guy - don't start nothing wont be nothing (and if they start something be nothing?) But I think some people may actually be born evil. We have autistics, avoidants, downs syndrome... other extreme types. Why not the incorrigibly rotten? I don't think he's gotten to that part yet.

Tony said...

Balt: the pubescent "realizes his uniqueness as a person and thus experiences a loneliness hitherto unknown"
Bob: First of all, is this true?

My son is now fifteen and full of T. I watched him enter puberty, and one experience was, yes, metaphysical doubts. He was personally *bothered* by the concept of eternity. It upset him. He thought the idea of persisting as himself, "forever," was upsetting because, I think, he doesn't like to be bored. He thinks eternity is linear and never ends. When I suggested maybe eternity is not quite like that, that perhaps it's a steady-state, with no time at all, he wasn't exactly bowled over or mollified.

And he has too much anxiety about the future to think of his "self" as a happy creative temporary project, as some do.

Tony said...


I hear you. My middle son is a real sweetheart, and his sweet heart is quietly pining to be "friends" with a girl in his class. He's 12. From under the bed covers, he asks me, "Do you think a girl will ever be, like, *really* friends with me?" I'm relieved he even asks. "Of course!" I tell him. Of all my kids, he's the one who seems to love both the most intensely and the most quietly. My oldest son had has first kiss at 13. He's one of those handsome kids who wears glasses and keeps his head down. I had to restrain myself from saying, "and she's a ginger? Atta boy!" But now he's into basketball and Counterstrike and honors chemistry and can't be bothered to think about girls.


julie said...

Off topic, but this is amazing. I had never thought before about the intricacy of a peacock's tail feather, and how the colors change. Spectacular.

Sure, that happened just by chance.

Allena-C said...

"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."

When the psychic tensions are not diminished during this period (ahem), strange things can happen, or at least that's been my experience.
Many times I have wondered what would I be like if my magic show had not been ruined? How different would I be?

However, be that as it may, my life sure seems magical now, and I have never been happier or more joyful. :)

ted said...

Bob, I noticed you were exploring Nancy Pearcey's work (inspired by Francis Schaeffer). Not knowing much about her, I started to read her book "Total Truth", and I am pleased so far with her work and clear writing style. The notion of worldviews is nothing new for me (especially since it is the basis of Wilber's work), but I like how she weaves it in less of a historicism framework, and more in a logically consistent one. Also, since she's Protestant, I like the fact that she's arming followers with more intellectual rigor. What's your take?

Gagdad Bob said...

Well, let's see. I snapped that one up at the peak of my frustration with Balthasar's turgidity. I was thinking, "why not try an intelligent-sounding Protestant for a change of pace?" The problem for me with Evangelicals is that they have no intellectual tradition and don't care to, but this lady wants to change that.

In the end, I found it way too basic and obvious. It started off promising, but the heart of it was as if written by a bright high school student.

I can see why evangelicals in search of a little intellectual meat so often turn to Chesterton and Lewis.

Gagdad Bob said...

Speaking of whom, I found this at Happy Acres on Chesterton vs. Belloc. I don't know enough about Belloc to agree or disagree, but I know what he means about fun Catholics vs. the hard-nosed ones. I suppose it comes down to whether Catholicism was made for man or vice versa.

julie said...

Yes, I was reading that earlier too. Interesting; maybe it's just the attractors I'm drawn to, but I've heard almost nothing of Belloc over the years, whereas Chesterton continues to capture hearts.

ted said...

I'm in the Chesterton camp too. He is actually fun to read, and you feel the joy emanating from him! And yet, he is no intellectual slouch.

I suppose what you say about evangelicals is an issue, and there is nothing that can compete with Catholicism on the intellectual tradition front. But many on the ground Catholics have gotten lazy about this too, hence the increase in liberal theology!

Gagdad Bob said...

For that very reason, both (first) Catholics and (now) Evangelicals began to explore the early fathers for intellectual inspiration.