Accessing Our History for Hope Now
by Tom Roddy ’61 (DMin ’84)
Why is it so difficult to write about our history and the history of the people of God whose history we have shared? Do we think someone else will do it? Do we not have time? Do we think we are not qualified? Do we think our story is dull and uninteresting? Or is the past too painful? Are we afraid if we recall too much of the past we will be trapped in it? Or are we afraid of offending people by naming names? All of the above? I have picked up the pen so many times and was stopped. It is not for lack of information.
Several years ago my wife attended a journaling (www.intensivejournal.org) workshop. It was developed by deceased Jungian psychiatrist Ira Progoff. He held that our memories are like a giant iceberg with much of it below the surface. Some of that information is too painful to readily recall. At the workshop my wife learned various tools to approach these restricted areas.
The next summer I went with her. We were instructed on how to have a dialogue with someone significant or with whom we have unfinished business. We began by listing stepping stones—short phrases outlying our history with that person. That gives them standing and a strong voice. I did a dialogue with a friend in ministry who was killed just a year before. Though the imaginary dialogue began with pain and suffering about his death, it ended in hope and enabled me to move on. I learned that my grief was not so much for his widow and sons but for my aloneness in continuing the ministry without him. My wife did her stepping stones and dialogue with her father whom she never knew. He ended up not being the jerk she always thought he was.
You are thinking: “Pulp fiction or spooky like Saul with the witch of Endor?” But if there is a great Jungian “collective unconscious” then our unconscious in addition to being our personal library is a computer terminal connected to the libraries of human experience through the ages.
There is a section for dialogue with your body. I learned that the body also has a memory. The stepping stones again give the body a voice. “You are not responding like you used to. You used to take me running up mountains. Now walking up these hills is painful,” I complained. My body responded “You just sat behind a desk or the wheel and gave me no exercise and you expect me jump up like a teenager anytime you are ready?”
Dreams are another crack to view our hidden history. I started to jot down my dreams. I do not try to reflect on the meaning of the dream too much at the time. Rather let it unfold. Some images keep turning up and let me know they must be dealt with. There is a section in the Progoff notebook for dream image enlargements. For example the home I grew up appears in many dreams. That alerted me to explore “my childhood home” in the imagery extension section. Also there is tension between the images of the old white farm house I lived in as a baby with the big red brick house that was being remodeled. Both are featured as I unpack my story.
Through structured journaling such as the Progoff journal one begins to build a personal history that is not just dates and events: born, moved, studied, moved, studied, married, moved, died but a story with color, smells, emotion and images where God’s goodness and saving help are remembered. I have an image of a sturdy door in a dark hospital room. Light is streaming in around, over and under that door. It is a twilight image I saw as I was coming out of deep sleep in after surgery. Through that door help would come. Through that door I would pass from darkness to light. Directed journal-keeping helps us get through the mine fields that are embedded in our stories so we can see the goodness of God and have images of God’s faithfulness to go with us in the present and carry us through the future. Stories, history, images are waiting to come up from the well. Dull black and white memories are waiting for color. Silent flicks are waiting for music, for a voice.