Dreamwork and Prayer (With Wendy Robinson) (1978) No 194

David Holt


I want to start by speaking both for myself and for Wendy Robinson. We hope that our two talks this morning will complement each other. The theme has been talked out between us over many months. It has also been given much of its form and content by work done in a group we have jointly led over the last year, some of whose members are here.

What we want to try to do is to move between dream-work and prayer: to move ourselves and you. We think of this moving in terms of space, as movement within and across a field between two places which are not often visited together. We want to show that this field exists, and that it can be transversed. We think of this moving also in terms of emotion–the emotion of heart and bowel and mind. Movement across the field between dream-work and prayer requires emotion. We must want and expect to be moved in that sense if we are also to explore a space.

In venturing on this movement our talks are held together by two structures and forms: a model, and a text.

The model is before you, drawn on the blackboard.

It is a dramatic model designed to release and contain the energies which move between author, actor, audience, and plot. This is a model which I have developed over the last few years out of my need to relate my own practice as an analyst to my teaching, and in particular to my supervision work, at the Westminster Pastoral Foundation. We have been exploring some of its latencies in our group during the last year. We shall both be referring to it during our talks.

The text is large: a heavy, bulky, book, quite a weight.

It has much to say on dreaming, but nothing explicit on prayer. Nevertheless, it seems to us to be written with the same emotion as inspires us to link dream-work and prayer. It is Paul Ricoeur’s great work on Freud, called in English Freud and Philosophy: an essay on interpretation, but in the French original On Interpretation: Freud and philosophy.

The French title is the more apt. Ricoeur’s book is about interpretation, the kinds of interpreting open to us in the world today. He explores, and in doing so opens up, a vast field of tension and argument between two opposite beliefs as to what interpretation should be. At one pole, interpretation “is understood as the manifestation and restoration of a meaning addressed to me in the manner of a message, a proclamation, or as is sometimes said, a kerygma; according to the other pole, it is understood as a demystification, as a reduction of illusion”. Ricoeur is passionately interested in the interdependence of these two contrary movements of spirit within our contemporary interpretings. He takes Freud’s psychoanalysis as an influential example of what seems at first reading to belong within the second understanding of interpretation, as demystification and the reduction of illusion, and explores it through five hundred pages which have interested me in Freud in a way that I have never been before. He argues that Freud’s explicit and thematised reductionism presupposes a contrary movement of interpretation, a movement that can only be understood as the response to a call. He relates this partly hidden dialectic between reduction of illusion and response to calling within Freud’s system to other tensions within our experience of how language and being are related, and concludes that our culture as a whole stands between a Yes and a No of a peculiar kind.

But you do not have to read Ricoeur in order to hear what we have to say. Our use of this book as a text will be limited to keeping it as a kind of backdrop to our more limited performance, setting the scene as it were, an indicator of where we believe our argument belongs, and where we hope it will be judged. If we are to compare dream-work and prayer it must be within an hermeneutic, (a theory of interpretation), as wide and generous and resourceful as that which Ricoeur invokes in this book. We are trying to speak to the same Yes and the same No to which–or is it to whom?–Ricoeur addresses himself when he concludes his magisterial argument with these sentences: “Thus do I attempt to construct the Yes and the No which I pronounce about the psychoanalysis of religion. The faith of the believer cannot emerge intact from this confrontation, but neither can the Freudian conception of reality. To the cleavage the Yes to Freud introduces into the heart of the faith of believers, separating idols from symbols, there corresponds the cleavage the No to Freud introduces into the heart of the Freudian reality principle, separating mere resignation to Ananke from the love of Creation.” And in so far as I succeed, and here I speak for myself, it will be because of how Jung has taught me to move between that Yes and that No.


I date my interest in the relation between dream-work and prayer from a moment in one of my early supervision groups at the Westminster Pastoral Foundation. One of our counsellors was describing a meeting with a client, and I was sitting there, reasonably alert I hope and probably with a certain feeling of knowing it all, when I heard her say: so then we prayed together. This abrupt mention of prayer in a context where I was not expecting it threw me into confusion. Being a well controlled supervisor, rather more so then than I am now, I managed to conceal my confusion, and responded with one of those exploratory, skirmishing, remarks with which supervisors and group leaders and analysts hide their embarrassment. But being also an honest man, I recognised my confusion, and took it away with me to look at and ponder.

What was I, as supervisor, to do and say about counsellors who prayed with their clients? Was this part of my business, or did it belong to a different sphere, which I should recognise and leave alone? What authority and competence I had derived presumably from my training as a psychologist. Did this give me any say in matters of prayer?

Well, being the grandson and great grandson of preachers, and the son of a successful entrepreneur, I don’t suppose there was ever much doubt about the answer. I made it my business. I decided to take an interest, though not a controlling interest, in prayer. And the decision came easily because the question thrown at me that day back in 1972 fitted within a wider context of professional and personal doubt and exploration which had been maturing for many years.

This wider context defined itself in terms of imagination.

For many years, since reading Owen Barfield’s book Saving the Appearances, in 1957 or 1958, I had realised that my interest in psychoanalysis, in dream interpretation, in the telling of my own life story, were generating in me the need for a comprehensive theory of imagination. Well before I went to train in Zurich, I knew I would not be satisfied with Jung’s, or anyone else’s, psychology unless I could relate it to a personally convincing understanding of the powers and limitations of imagination in general. This need had driven me to explore ground which proved relevant to my new, particular, interest in prayer.

I have already spoken to the Guild from this ground, in the paper I read in 1970 on Idolatry. What I want to do now is to relate my interest in a general theory of imagination to two particular aspects of dream-work as they present themselves when we set ourselves to interpret dreams.

As my work as an analyst developed, and as I reflected on it in the light of my training, I found that in interpreting dreams there were two areas of difficulty in which the teaching I had received seemed confused and inadequate. (I emphasise the phrase ‘the teaching I had received’. I am not clear whether the confusion and inadequacy lay in the teaching or in my receiving of the teaching.) One of these areas was where we distinguish between a subjective and an objective interpretation of a dream image. The other was where we amplify a simple image in order to place it in a wider associative field.

I have already aired my difficulty with the subjective–objective distinction in dream interpretation in a paper on Projection which is published in Spring, 1975. How do we understand those dreams in which someone we know well appears as self-evidently themselves and yet also quite other? How do we know where to draw the line between the ‘as it is’ and the ‘other than it is’? What right have we to say that ‘the other’ is the doing, the making, of the dreamer? For me, these questions cannot be answered with reference to dreaming in isolation from other forms of imaginal activity. They cry out to be opened into wider argument as to the relation between what can be imagined and what is.

The same need for an opening up of argument imposes itself on me when I work with amplification, with ideas of ‘dreaming the dream on’, or ‘befriending the dream’. As we enlarge on a given image, warming and loosening and extending what begins as an image so condensed, so impacted, as to be without any meaning except its sheer give ness, until it says something, until it has narrative power and metaphoric tension, what is it that carries conviction so that at a certain moment we get a sort of ‘set’ or ‘fix’, between the original focus and the indefinite, apparently unending potential of an associative circumference that can always be extended further? The ‘aha’ reaction which sometimes carries conviction is with me more often absent. And there are times when the conflict between the dreamer’s and the analyst’s sense of the right set or fix remains unresolved, almost as if the intention of the dream were to cause such conflict. Here again I have been compelled to think more widely about how what can be imagined, and what is, are related.

In both these cases it seems to me that the teaching I received failed to admit, or perhaps to give sufficient weight to, the difficulty. To claim to be able to move responsibly between subjective and objective interpretation, or to know when amplification is sufficient, is to claim to know something about imagination, its power and its limitations, in the face of what is. More is at stake here than a dialogue between consciousness and unconsciousness. What carries conviction in dream work has force behind it. To acknowledge this force we must use words like will and intention, and allow them to act as it were across our talk of dialogue between consciousness and unconsciousness. We are obliged to ask: how are will and intention related to the powers and limitations of imagination in the face of what is?

Ricoeur makes my point in the section on The Dream-work and the work of exegesis, pages 88 to 102 of our text. He is taking us through the argument of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. He is beginning to delineate his Yes and his No to Freud’s whole system, and is engaging with Freud’s use of terms like regression, repression, distortion, condensation and displacement. Central to the argument is Freud’s understanding of wish. In his theory of dreams as the expression of wish, Ricoeur sees Freud operating with what he calls “two universes of discourse”, the discourse of meaning and of force. “To say that a dream is the fulfilment of a repressed wish is to put together two notions which belong to different orders: fulfilment, which belongs to the discourse of meaning …, and repression which belongs to the discourse of force.”

How these two universes of discourse are related is my question as to how will and intention are related to the powers and limitations of imagination in the face of what is. The answer which Ricoeur reads out of Freud is that their relation involves both violence and compromise.

“The notion of Verstellung (transposition or distortion), which combines the two universes of discourse, expresses the fusion of these two concepts, for a disguise is a type of manifestation and, at the same time, it is the violence done to meaning. Thus the relation of the hidden to the shown in the notion of disguise requires a deformation, or disfiguration, which can only be stated as a compromise of forces.”

This idea of violence done to meaning meets my sense of what is at stake when dreams carry conviction. Taking dreams seriously does not only enlarge our experience of meaning. It also enlarges our experience of the violence that can be done to meaning. What we make of this enlargement depends, so it seems to me, on how widely we are prepared to open the question of imagination in general. How does meaning enforce itself? What are the powers and limitations of imagination in the face of what is? It is as I have allowed these questions to press upon me that prayer has imposed itself as a necessary occupation.


Since I was a child I have found it easy to prepare myself for prayer, but difficult to pray. What I used to call, at about the age of seven, ‘my meditations’ came naturally to me, and have provided me with the context within which, as an adolescent and adult, I have tried to pray. But prayer is difficult for me because of the person of God. My meditations came easily because they were addressed to myself. Prayer became difficult when I tried to imagine it as addressed to a person who, if He be truly Creator, must be wholly other. Prayer was talking to someone, to a person, and as I grew older, in my teens and twenties, I could not imagine how speech with a person who is wholly other could be effective in the world as it is.

Another way of expressing my difficulty is to say that whereas I have found it comparatively easy to believe in creation, to believe that what is is because it is created, I have found it difficult to imagine how creation is related to the personal. Did I believe in God? Yes. Did I believe in a personal God? Well … there the doubts began which prevented prayer.

In a sense my difficulty remains. It remains as an enduring awkwardness in imagining how any words of mine could be effectively answered across a gulf which appears to be either absolute or illusory. But in another sense it has been moved–moved rather than removed. It has been moved by thirty years of working with dreams. Working within the dramatic structure and dynamism of dreams has exercised my imagination in a way that has enabled me to move more freely between my experience of the personal and my experience of creation.

In trying to understand and to share this new freedom I have developed this dramatic model, to which I now want to turn. Speaking in it, and through it, and by it, I want to move between dream-work and prayer in exploring the dramatic field between the personal and the act of creation. My exploring is in two stages. First, to distinguish between narrative and enactment. Second, to recognise the inter-dependence between the will to make believe and the will to let be.

This apparently simple model has, over the last years, come to be the point, or rather field, of reference for much that goes on in my practice and my teaching. But it is more than just a model. It is powerful. How powerful, how both in the sense of how much, and also in the sense of how directed, how used, depends on our movement in relation to it. When we stand outside it, it can be simple to the point of silliness, and its applications are trite and giggling. When we step into it, experience suggests that we always lodge ourselves close to one of its four extremes, hoping to control it from that vantage point. When this happens, it imprisons mind, imagination, behaviour. But if we can learn to move round it, then something very different can happen. It can lend itself to an understanding of many and various places and events. It proves to be both stage and world, a laboratory, a workshop, a room with a view, perhaps even a mustard seed. Or so I appear to be finding.

I start by adding two lines. Between Author and Plot I draw a vertical line, which I call Text. Between Actor and Audience/Spectator I draw an horizontal line, which I call Interpretation. I want to explore the interdependence between those two lines, to dwell in, and reflect on, where and how and why they come together.

So let me start with the question: where, on this diagram, is ‘I’ in relation to dream-work?

My dreams are my own. If I do not remember them, they are lost. If I do not tell them, if I do not write them down, they remain mine alone, as unknown to others as the plot which an author retains in his own imagining. I am here, in the position of the Author.

When I tell my dream, I am more like an author reading a text which is mine. But in telling it, I am telling it not only because I have made something, but also because I have had something. The nature of this ‘having’ varies.

At the breakfast table: “I had a funny dream last night”.

In the dark, in the small hours of the night: “Oh mummy, I’m so frightened. I’ve had a terrifying dream.” In the story: “And Joseph asked them why they were so downcast that day. They replied: We have each had a dream and there is no one to interpret it for us”.

Where is ‘I’ now? The frightened child is mainly in the position of the Actor. The breakfast table bore over in the audience. But Pharaoh’s butler and baker? Where can we locate their interest in their dreams, their concern for correct interpretation? “O Pharaoh, it is time for me to recall my faults. Once Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. One night we both had dreams, each needing its own interpretation”. How does our having a dream relate to the dream’s needing its own interpretation?

When I consider the various ways I have related to my dreams over the last thirty years, and the surprisingly different ways in which other people work with their dreams, it seems that this is one of the more useful questions we can ask about dream-work. On the one hand, our having of a dream, a having which as Jung reminds us moves in two directions as it were: our dreams have us as much as we have them. And on the other hand, the dream’s needing of interpretation, a needing which seems to vary enormously from dream to dream. How are the two related? If we are to understand dream-work within a more general theory of imagination, and do justice to its extraordinary variety from person to person, we must be able to answer this question.

This dramatic model contains an answer, an answer concealed in the distinction between narrative and enactment. I want us to use this model to reflect on this distinction, and then apply it to our understanding of dream-work.

In order to make this distinction between narrative and enactment, we need to remember the momentous transition in the nature of texts when they move from being oral to written. The nature of text changes radically when it no longer depends on a remembering and a telling and a hearing and a learning by heart, but becomes fixed, something which I can read to myself, something which can be lost but not forgotten. With this change in the nature of text, what we expect of interpretation changes too.

Think of it like this. An author conceives a story. He wants to tell it. As Narrator, he moves into the position of Actor. He tells his story, with words and gestures. His audience like it, and ask for it again. Other audiences gather, other actors tell the story. Until one day someone, probably in the audience rather than one of the narrators, because it is likely to be someone who is not good at remembering, writes the story down. For the first time, there is a fixed text.

Now, remembering that as soon as we make a habit of recording our dreams our dream-work is involved in a similar change from oral to written, I want to ask: how does this new kind of text stand in relation to the original intention of the author?

It makes a difference, but not the difference we might expect, if the author be alive rather than dead. Disagreement as to interpretation arises. “It means this”. “No, it means that”. “Well, let’s ask the author”. The author may side with one or other of the various interpretations. But he may also say, perhaps rather tiredly, because he is no longer as interested in his text as the critics are: “No, I meant something rather different. What I had in mind was …” To which his public can reply with some justice:

“But you said this. You haven’t expressed yourself very well, have you, if we can disagree so violently?”, and go on to make that distinction which is so crucial in the

theory of hermeneutics between the meaning of the text and the meaning intended by the author.

It is important that we realise just how crucial that distinction is. Compare arguments over the interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays, in which case all parties to the argument could agree that the author is dead, with arguments over the interpretation of the Bible, in which case it might not be so easy to agree as to whether or not the author is dead. Weigh that comparison, and you will have some idea of the scope and depth of the hermeneutic field which opens when we distinguish between the meaning of the text and the meaning intended by the author.

What do we do with that distinction? What do we make of it? It is here that the movement from narrative to enactment, from story to drama, can make such a difference.

If the text be merely narrative, then the distinction between its meaning and the author’s meaning opens the way for a proliferation of new texts. One interpretation will give rise to another, one commentary necessitate the next. At its best, there is always a fresh alternative, as in the ramification of a great tree. At its worst, we are in the world of Franz Kafka’s Castle and Trial.

But if narrative can move into enactment, then the distinction between the text’s meaning and the author’s meaning is taken up into exchange of a different kind altogether: the exchange between actor and audience. Argument as to the meaning of our story can be satisfied otherwise than by more and more detailed textual analysis, or by reaching after some grand synthesis. It can be satisfied by realising that what we are into is not merely story: it is enactment. The interpretation which our text needs is as much a doing as an understanding.

How does this distinction between narrative and enactment affect dream-work?


Consider what happens to my two difficulties with dream interpretation in the light of this model, my difficulty with the subjective-objective difference, and with amplification.

In distinguishing between dream images as subjective and as objective, the crucial insight I have gained from this model has to do with projection. The projection between subject and object of which psychoanalysis has made so much obtains on both our axes. The exchange between actor and audience consists of an intricate web of projection and counter-projection. More than a web: an atmosphere, a happening. They are joined in shared interest in making, and believing in, projection. But there is also the projection by which the author objectifies his subjective imagining. How are the two different kinds of projection related to each other? How do we distinguish between the two? Where must we stand in order to see the difference?

The thrust and weight, and indeed the burden, of these questions has been at the centre of my work over the last few years. They have moved me compellingly to wider reading and reflection on the whole theory and practice of hermeneutics.In particular, they have led me to, and left me with, this hermeneutic problem of how the meaning of a text, and the meaning intended by the author, are related. What happens between actor and audience may differ slightly or extremely from the intention of the author. Yet the two are in some way related. They cannot exist without each other, and yet their need of each other depends on their being across each other. In teasing out to what extent the dreamer should be taken as the author of the dream, and to what extent as “had by” the dream in the same way as an actor is had by the text he enacts, and in deciding how far the text of a dream is determined by the ongoing interest of dreamer and analyst in the shared exchange between them, this “being across each other” of these two axes of projection is where we must stand.

In considering what happens to my difficulty with amplification in the light of this model what I have said about the movement from narrative to enactment is relevant. There can be no end to the interpretations of a dream if it be taken as a narrative text. But once the distinction between dream and dream-work is made and established, and dream-work subsumed under a more comprehensive understanding of dramatic imagination, then the indefinite openness to always more and more interpretation is controlled by the obligation to do.

This has implications not only for our work on a particular dream, but also for our more general interest in dreams and how we use dreams within a psychotherapeutic contract. In deciding, for instance, how far a dream can be taken as objective to the shared exchange between therapist and dreamer, rather than as influenced or even caused by that exchange, it is helpful to reflect on the different kind of interest which an actor, and a professional critic sitting in the audience, may have in a text. One is biased towards doing, the other towards analysis. A contractual interest in dream-work should allow for and accommodate both.

This means that we must learn to listen for the author’s voice from the positions of both actor and audience. Differences between actor and audience as to the meaning of the text must not be equated–though I suspect that we will always confuse them to some extent–with the other kind of difference which obtains between author and both actor and audience. Otherwise we are in danger of collapsing a distinction which is essential to all hermeneutic endeavour: the distinction between interpretation and realisation.

How do we learn this listening from the two positions?

I think the radio metaphor of interference helps. From the position of either actor or audience, I am at times frustrated, tantalised, intrigued, furiously impatient, with the interference of the other, between myself and my understanding of the text. This interference is felt as an unwarranted violence done by the other to the intention of the author as I receive it. If we are to work with this ‘horizontal’ interference, we must try not to confuse it with the different kind of interference which can be present on the ‘vertical’: an interference between the intention and the expression of the author which makes his texts a source of controversy. If these angles here (the angles between the horizontal and the two sides of the upper triangle in the model) are to remain open, dream interpretation must move between an awareness of these two kinds of interference, and not expect to come to rest either in some text book know how, or in an “aha” reaction. This movement is active, to use Jung’s word in relation to the imagination, but it is active in two different ways. It is active in making, the vertical, and it is active in interpreting, in knowing, the horizontal. The two work together. They conjugate one another. But they are across each other. If the potential latent in our dreams is to be actualised in living, we must be able to work with this acrossness.

This is where I have found Ricoeur’s analysis of Freud’s Traumdeutung so helpful, with its emphasis on the violence done to meaning when imagination combines two universes of discourse: the discourse of meaning and the discourse of force. How does meaning enforce itself? How does the brute, given, is-ness of the world resist meaning? These are the kind of questions which have to be asked if psychoanalytic talk of projection and the withdrawal of projection is to be heard within a wider and more comprehensive hermeneutic. And I have found in this model the way which I want to take in answering them.

In the diagram, meaning and force are present on both axes. On the vertical, we have the meaning intended by the author. On the horizontal, we have the meaning which is both given and drawn out in the exchange between actor and audience. But each can do violence to the other, each exercises a force which is across the other. What the actor and audience make of the text between them can do violence to the author’s intention. But the text also exercises its own force on the play between actor and audience. There are moments when a text is experienced as a straitjacket enforcing intolerable limits on the free play of fantasy. There are others when it is the vehicle for liberating energies that have lain dormant. And there is the whole space between the two extremes.

To do justice to the complexity of these exchanges between meaning and force we need to understand in a way that is both general and specific what happens at that point of intersection in our diagram. That is the point where our mind must turn–and I am thinking of the New Testament word metanoia–if we are to move around this model. After some years of trying it out, I believe that this turn makes its movement felt if we allow our minds to dwell on two questions: what does this exchange between actor and audience presuppose? and why does the author need this exchange for the realisation of the plot?


The answers which I propose each contain a word which believe we must use if we are to do justice to the exchanges between meaning and force: the word Will. What does the exchange between actor and audience presuppose, what has to be there for it to take place? The will to make believe. Why does the author need this exchange? Because he wills to let be. The will to make believe: the will to let be. I want to turn between the two.

First, notice the semantic tension latent within the verbs chosen: to make believe, and to let be. I want make believe to resonate over a wide field of experience, from ”I’m just making it up”, “it’s just pretence, really, isn’t it, Dad?”, through the kind of make believe we associate with our own contemporary theatre, to those rituals in which we believe because we know ourselves called to make our own world. I want us to remember any experience we may have had in which making and believing have been together. And similarly with to let be. I want us to hear the alternation between the two senses of:

“Oh, let me be”, in which the movement is towards “leave me alone, go away”, and the other sense, which sometimes seems to be almost directly contrary, in which the movement is towards a call for help: “Come, help me be”. I want us to remember how near and yet how far one kind of letting be is from another, how easily one can violate the meaning of the other.

Then, return to our crossed axes: on the horizontal, the will to make believe; on the vertical, the will to let be. What is it like where they meet? How do they depend on each other? That is where we are trying to move.

I believe both dream-work and prayer re-mind us of that meeting. I have tried to suggest how dream-work can be understood as such a re-minding. I must conclude by trying also to show how this re-minding has moved me in my difficulty with prayer.

To do so, I want to move my position within our dramatic field here in this room this morning, and tell you something of my difficulty as author in writing this text. Last autumn, when I was beginning to turn over in my mind what I could say at this conference on our chosen theme of dream-work and prayer, I was saying prayers one evening with my seven year old son. He was objecting to the practice, and in responding to his objec-tions I got drawn into talking of how God’s creation of the world involves the creation of time, and can never be properly understood until we find ourselves wondering about why and how time is. In ways, the argument between us went quite well, and when I was telling my wife about it afterwards, I felt reasonably proud. But I was also aware that at one moment in the exchange with my son I had been embarrassed.

For eighteen months or so before this, I had become increasingly interested in embarrassment. In a profession where shame and guilt and shyness are said to play an important part, I had found myself attending to my own feelings of embarrassment–feelings which are often so transitory as to be easily ignored–as moments of awareness of a particular kind. It seemed to me that when I was embarrassed it was often because something was happening which I could not respond to, as if I were getting a signal and did not know what to make of it, what to do with it. Embarrassment was then, and is now, a mood to which I attend carefully.

Therefore I noticed that fleeting, momentary, shiver of embarrassment with my son, and I allowed it to stay around. And quite soon I realised that if I was to say something about prayer to this conference that was personal, and interesting, and true, then I would have to tell you about that exchange between father and son. Well, that was straightforward enough. Apart from a certain muscular hesitation over saying the word embarrassment, I would rather enjoy telling the story–imagining myself as the actor standing in front of you. But what was there to say about that momentary shiver that was relevant to the rest of my text?

Here I found myself blocked by a different kind of stammer. I knew it belonged within what I had to say about my personal difficulty with prayer. But it remained just narrative. I could not see it as part of any exchange between us. It remained something I didn’t know what to do with, as if I’d been given a cue and did not remember what came after.

That was my state as author when I went on holiday five weeks ago. I had written the first three quarters of my text, but the conclusion eluded me. I was searching around for the extra theme, for the new idea, which would enable me to include the story of praying with my son. But it just wouldn’t come.

The resolution came simply, and was, of course, “given”.

No outside voice, no dream, but a clear statement within that process we call turning it over in my mind: “what you have to say about it is already written. It is already there, in your text”. And immediately after this a particular sentence in my written text was clearly before my mind’s eye. It was a sentence, or rather part of a sentence, in that passage where I talk about the difference it makes to interpretation whether the author be alive or dead. I had written:

“But he–the author–may also say, perhaps rather tiredly, because he is no longer as interested in his text as his critics are …”. That was the phrase which came into my mind as the answer to my question: what do I have to say about that embarrassment I felt with my son?

It took some days to settle, as it were, but I knew at once that in the link between embarrassment and the idea of an author who has lost interest in his own text, I had been given whatever it was that needed saying. The first stage was remembering that when I had originally written that sentence it had itself come as a surprise to me. I had not intended to write it before. It had not been included within my intention. It had come to me in and out of the writing. This reminded me of much that I had read of the creative force which can move from the stuff, the matter, towards the author, rather than always from author into the matter. This reminder put me in a position of listening. Within my model, I had moved again.

An author who has lost interest in his own text, perhaps even to the extent of himself no longer believing in it. A public who are committed to that text, as actors and as audience, because it is all that there is. Can they meet? What is it like if they do? How do they look each other in the face? Suppose I, who am both father and son, were on both sides of that divide? I am not talking Christian theology. Nor am I talking about the Oedipus complex. But I am doing something with that embarrassment I felt with my son when he challenged me on prayer. I am praying, now, that I may be able to pray.

If ‘I’ were on both sides of such a divide, I would have to think again about the relation between make believe and letting be. If, as actor and audience I find that my ability to make believe is spoiled and prevented by the author’s indifference, what can I do? Only appeal to some movement within the mind of the maker by which the “leave it alone” of narrative can convert into the “so be it” of enactment. And if as author I hear myself addressed by a public asking that I remember an interest that is forgotten, where do I find the will to respond? Only in the text itself, my creation, speaking to me with a meaning I had not intended. Can I move between the two?

That is where my interest in dream-work and prayer arises. We move from a daily and nightly interest in how our having a dream relates to the dream’s needing its own interpretation, into the difference between the meaning of a text and the meaning intended by the author. Working within that difference, our interest in dreams opens into a wider concern with the violence that can be done to meaning, and how this violence affects all our experience of subject and object, I and it, person and text. This concern then finds itself held by the relation of the hidden to the shown, held by the way they are across each other, not one behind the other.

What we do with our experience of that acrossness seems to vary enormously. It can move us to respond to a call. It can move us to the reduction of illusion. I suspect that in each particular case what we do with that acrossness of the hidden and the shown depends on how will is related to embarrassment. Remembering some dreams can be embarrassing. Telling them even more so. Asking for help with their interpretation can be the beginning of using that embarrassment. To admit that I have forgotten how to pray, or to admit that I do pray–I have found both on occasion very embarrassing. I believe that the cause of creation is helped if these various embarrassments acknowledge each other.

August, 1978


Wendy Robinson

For many years I have often felt that I was living in two different language worlds. Each of them provided a context that I found necessary, in exploring the opacity, the texture of my being, in the world in which I found myself. One was the language world of depth psychology. The other was the language world of the community of faith, in which I practised my religion. Sometimes they seemed very near, at other times very far apart. There was a hiatus between them, which was strong enough to make words fail, if I tried to speak about them together. I was filled with a private longing and fear to do so, for I sensed that they wanted to sound together, to conjugate, yet I did not know how, or what would happen to them or me, if they did. Both of them were trying to explore and express what IS and I began to feel that the hiatus between them, if they tried to speak to and hear each other, was a reflection of the hesitation: the wonder, awe, fear, the catch of the breath, that we all feel at times, in the presence of what IS.

I have been participating in the group which David Holt has already mentioned, in which we have begun to try to explore movement between these worlds, giving centrality to the experience of hiatus. I have been a member for the last seven years of a prayer-group which meets in silence. I have been reading Ricoeur. All these experiences have combined into a necessity which amounts to a call, to risk embarrassment, in order to see what sounding them together can do and what can emerge between us.

It was working with dreams that made a living reality of one world for me. It was prayer and worship that made a living reality of the other. They both involved a doing and a making that required my whole being. They needed a supple, generous, yet rigorous, imaginal field in which to begin to sound together. The model which David Holt has already introduced to you has opened ways for me. It makes imaginative movement possible.

Ricoeur insists that if we are to do justice to the polar opposition of the two methods of interpretation that psy-chology and religion present to our world: the reduction of illusion; the restoration or recollection of meaning, that amounts to a call–we need to develop two kinds of willingness. A willingness to suspect. A willingness to listen, which was the way of faith, for him, ultimately. The first he says involves a vow of rigour. The second a vow of obedience. We have to be able to discriminate: to recognise when we must enact a NO; when we must enact a YES. The vow of rigour will bind us to the necessity to resist our narcissism and its fears and longings, that can make consolatory idols out of symbols and beliefs, and which can shut us off from the sacred reality, of which they were the bearers. The vow of obedience, in the last resort, will bind us to respond to Ricoeur’s question: ‘Does not this discipline of the real, this ascesis of the necessary, lack the grace of imagination, the upsurge of the possible?’ We must pay our dues to Ananke: Necessity; that sense of the presence of an order, which can appear both anonymous and impersonal and which meant for Freud, in the end, a world shorn of the God of faith. We must listen to the grace of imagination, which opens us to a sense of Presence, that expresses the heart of all that we mean by ‘personal’: the Love of Creation. Necessity and Love both bind us, in different ways. To move between them rigorously, obediently, gracefully is a lifetime’s work: perhaps more than a lifetime. Proof will be embodied in the way we live the questions and the answers. Perhaps more than anything the Turning (the Teshuvah, metanoia) will help us: the ability to say I am sorry; I will start again. The longest journey, as the proverb says, begins with the next step.


The next step for me is a story. During the last few weeks I have found one dreamer, interpreter of dreams and man of prayer, speaking to me with such powerful insistency that I had to stop to listen to him, to see what the text of his story had to say to the reflective process in which the author of this talk was involved. His name is Daniel. His story is in the Bible. I want to share some of the highlights of this story with you.

You may remember that there was once a King of Babylon, called Nebuchadnezzar, who had a dream, which bereft him of sleep and troubled his waking hours. The dream, as we say, ‘had’ him–but, we learn, when he sent in haste for the wisest and best of the Chaldean school of dream interpreters, that he not only wanted the dream interpreted. He wanted it remembered. The effects of the dream he could not shake off; but he had forgotten it. The Chaldean interpreters threw up their hands in despair. They knew their limitations. They tried to persuade him to remember, sure that they could offer splendid interpretations, if only he could. But he could not, or would not. In fact he came beside himself with rage and ordered that all the dream interpreters in the kingdom should be slaughtered, unless they could remember and interpret the king’s dream.

Now amongst these interpreters was a young man called Daniel.

He was a Jew, living in diaspora; a captive in an alien world. His general attractiveness and quick intelligence, as a boy, had given him what might have been the doubtful privilege, along with three friends, of becoming a servant in the court of the king. They were instructed in Chaldean culture and wisdom. They were apt pupils and inspired liking and respect in those who taught them. Daniel developed a particular gift for interpreting visions and dreams. With some courage they managed to stay faithful to the practice of their own religion and tradition.

Daniel, like any other young man of promise and achievement, had no particular desire to die at the height of his powers. When he heard the general edict concerning the king’s dream and the imminent slaughter, he determined that something must be done. He roused his three friends, who shared a community of faith with him, asking them to beseech God that he would show his mercy in this mysterious affair, so that they could survive. They praised and prayed to God: as the source of wisdom and power, as the revealer of depths and mysteries and as the One who had given them, whatever share they had, of wisdom and intelligence, that they could use in his service. In the night, we are told, the king’s trouble was revealed to Daniel. The next day he was able to present to the king a powerful image and to interpret its meaning in relation to the king and the kingdoms that would follow his. We are not told whether the king recognised the dream image but it met the situation. The king was satisfied. Lives were spared.

It is compelling, is it not, that thought of the forgotten dream: the dream which the king had forgotten, but which had not forgotten him, and stood, in need of interpretation. We work so much, with psyche, soul, in that imaginative field of interplay between remembering and forgetting how to remember and make present what IS. What is forgotten sometimes only remembers itself in the participatory reality that emerges between the self and another. Who knows what forgotten dream may be amongst us today, if we can only help each other to remember? Perhaps we feel its effects, in the interpretative climate in which we have to live? Perhaps prayer might help us to remember something of that life of faith, which can seem such a forgotten dream?

In Daniel’s story, in this episode, as in others, we see something of his particular strength–and its source. We can follow Daniel as he works at the interpretation of his own dreams and visionary experiences and those of others. There is one nice point where we gather that he probably learnt something from his experience with Nebuchadnezzar, for we are told that he had a dream and he wrote it down! We find him not only able to read the writing on the wall but also able to interpret it, in a way that had bite and edge in the immediate social and political situation. It cannot have been an easy interpretation to make: it could have cost him his life, even as the other one we’ve looked at, saved it.

The movement between the life and customs of an alien culture, which he had assimilated, and the costly practice and demands of his own community and faith; the movement between dream, vision, the hermeneutic task and prayer made him a man of vision; practical vision. It was envy of his administrative ability that stirred up the events that led to the lions’ den. If any man could have ended in a state of illusory inflation, through the power of the imagination that worked in him and through the esteem in which he was held by those in high places, that man could have been Daniel. Like Sir Thomas More, he was, however, the servant of God before he was the servant of the king–and he was faithful to both at great cost. Persistently, he bound the interpretation of the manifold meanings of his visions to the service of God and the needs of the world in which he found himself. He trusted in God. Was his religion an illusion? If it were, it was hardly a consolatory one. For him, God was not the protector of his well-being but the truth and ground of his very being. As it was once said of another man of prayer, ‘He not only learnt divine things, he also suffered them:’ We find him in a simple human way embarrassed by an interpretation he had to make to a friend, wishing it could have been for an enemy instead. We find him. disturbed, sick, unconscious under the weight of the meaning, or its lack, in his dreams. Angels, messengers, mediators of meaning, in his dreams and visions reminded him that he was ‘a man greatly loved’. Like others who have been especially receptive of and responsive to the love of God, he must often have wandered.

In terms of the dramatic model, Daniel seems to have learnt to move between Expression (ACTOR), Empathy (AUDIENCE), Involvement (PLOT) and Responsibility (AUTHOR), centering it all around his humble and obedient acknowledgement of the Presence of God. He certainly learnt to make and believe and actualise, the imagined potentiality in the real. He could let be and struggle to find the right way to reflect upon and enact the TEXT. The critic in him was quite able to see where interpretations were needed and what at least some of them, must be. He was also able to admit when he needed help and wanted just to be ‘let be’. I am glad that at the end he was told, ‘But you, go away and rest, and you shall stand in your allotted place at the end of time.’

Before we leave him, however, let us notice one fact. Daniel speaks to us. Yet the author of the Book of Daniel lived many centuries afterwards, in a tempestuous world, where the writing on the wall seemed very plain but where it was almost impossible to read the signs aright, and preserve any sense of an individual’s task and dignity. Here we have a man’s active imagination at work, trying to find a way to speak with conviction to himself and to his contemporaries. Perhaps he too sensed the presence of a forgotten dream, full of a latent potentiality, that stood in need of remembering and interpretation?

Many stories, the dreams of many, remembered and forgotten, interweave their texture, stranded through layers of time, with the text that we improvise (ACTOR), receive (AUDIENCE), uncover (PLOT), make (AUTHOR). At times we know that we arc not alone, though we are often lonely.


Now I want to begin again, from a fact that kept staring me uncomfortably in the face, whenever I read the text of the prayers of Daniel and his friends and when I thought about what I had to say in this talk. That fact is the supplicatory emphasis of their prayers. They were always asking for God’s help in their present troubles and the troubles of their people and their world. They wanted, and believed they knew from past experience that they had, the active presence of God, not just as a cosmological principle but as a present help in trouble. We do not know what they thought about God; perhaps they agreed with the person who said that the only way to think about God is to pray to him. We can see something of the context in which they made their supplications, did their asking. They praised his name and his way, in a manner that might remind us how Dionysus the Areopagite, that influential, sophisticated and systematic mystical theologian, believed that the whole purpose of dogmatic theology was not about how we can predicate qualities of God but how we can find words to praise him. They also talked to him about the realities of their situation, however shame-making they were. In the burning, fiery furnace they called, by name, upon all creation to bless the Name of the Lord: for they said, “He is Good. His mercy is everlasting.” Is this reality or illusion? Given the circumstances what imaginal act could even conceive it? The weight of their trust was not as Daniel prayed: ‘in our righteousness’ (and they were surely in the best sense righteous men) ‘but in your great mercy. Listen Lord. Lord, forgive. Hear, Lord, and act.’ It is ‘a far cry’, isn’t it? How near can it feel to us?

I have been plunged into this whole problem of asking in prayer, recently, in three new ways.

The first was a man who came to talk to me, apparently about stiff intellectual problems, to do with what he could believe and what he could not, doctrinally speaking. Anything I could say was lame and inadequate and pretty soon demolished. Then he really threw me by saying, ‘Do you think it is possible, quite genuinely, to pray a lie? He had found himself, quite against most of his will and intention in the on-going PLOT of his life, having to pray for something. His reason and most of his emotional states told him to stop but a still, small part of him went on doing it. This led us into a long ACTOR, AUDIENCE, PLOT excursus into what this genuinely meant lie was all about. This meant opening up movement between what might be illusory and what might be the call of a new possibility, that could be actualized–from and in the AUTHOR dimension. Some months later he wrote briefly to say that it had stopped being a lie, it was ‘for real’ and that he had gently put his will (AUTHOR) behind effecting its implications.

The second is the people who come to talk about prayer saying that they want to, but they can’t because they don’t know how to begin; or have forgotten what they were taught; or were too embarrassed by their early struggles to start again. Most of the discussion seems to centre round two ways of beginning (mainly, I expect, because they arc about the two main ways in to prayer that have involved me, at two different stages of life). One starts from the ACTOR position and is about our need for expression. The other starts from the AUDIENCE position and is about our need for receptivity.

The expressive need, which involves the question of ‘asking’, leads me to the third recent challenge to new reflection, which came in reading Ricoeur, though he never mentions prayer directly. Before I talk about what he says, I find that I want to say that my early experience was the other way round from David’s. I always found it easier to pray, than I did to do anything that could be called meditate. Perhaps I was more extravert than introvert. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I was brought up on a sheep farm on the Yorkshire moors. Those moors were both near to me and very far; familiar and yet strangely and vastly, challengingly other. They were an undeniable presence. They often made me feel very small and made me want to express myself, in order to prove my existence, in words that were sometimes dramatic and exulting, sometimes lyrically beseeching and invocatory; and in both cases always snatched by the wind. But the wind was familiar: it always blew. Something about all this made me take to talk about God as transcendent in his immanence; immanent in his transcendence; far in his nearness; near in his farness; like … like … a curlew to the moors in the spring. Yet now, here I am, not on the moors, but floundering in Oxford. ‘Begin where you are’, exhort the teachers on prayer. It is often the most difficult place to begin. Can I, as a moderately reasonable twentieth century woman, well versed in a good number of reductionist, illusion-dispelling theories about how the world is supposed to be, really invoke the active presence and help of God, in my life and in the lives of those with whom I work? I believe it makes a difference to those who do. I think it is about the development of what Gregory of Nyssa called Parrhesia: a certain, simple, spontaneous, generous trust and confidence in God. ‘Ask and you shall receive’, says the Gospel, in one of its simple, hard sayings. Why? ‘That your joy may be full.’ That joy in the end seems to have little connection with whether we do not almost invariably receive either more, or less, or differently from what we asked, but has more to do with what we learn from the long, lifetime process of exploring that speaker-hearer (ACTOR/AUDIENCE) relationship with God. It involves necessity: coming to terms with what is often the brute facticity of the given. It also involves the grace to ‘imagine the real’, which the violence we are doing to meaning has shut away from us. It means trying to express (ACTOR), make present, our immediacy; relate it to the continuity of PLOT; open it to the forms of ultimacy that the AUTHOR/TEXT axis might surprise us by–and act on what is given, while it acts on us.

The whole process can lead us to experiences of what might be called a shift in the centre of gravity, when the ‘I’ can yield its demand always to be the centre of the universe. Ricoeur writes a good deal about the same fact in relation to dream-work in analysis; the necessary experience of the ‘off-centering of the ego’, ‘the dispossessing of immediate consciousness’, ‘the wounding of our narcissism’, if we are to lose our illusions, in the pursuit of the real. David Holt has talked of that same shift in the centre of gravity, when we begin the work of interpretation that moves between the familiar sameness and strange other-ness, of the images of ourselves and others in dreams.

Ricoeur’s argument often returns to what he calls, ‘the unsurpassable nature of desire.’ Our longing is infinite; we have to learn to cope with its craving for omnipotence; to ‘apply a certain resignation to necessity to the heart of our narcissism.’ We have to find ways of expressing our wishes demands and longings and recognise their disguises in our dreams, if we are ever to learn that desire is not only unsur-passable but can also have a history, a story that enacts itself, between oneself and the other. If we can express a wish, we are already involved with meaning as well as force, for some discrimination, some selection about the forming of the future has been made; some ‘intending of the other’ is there. If we can accept the wounding of desire, through refusals by the other, then we are open to necessity, and can begin to recognise another desire, set over against us, and can slowly begin to see that the interpersonal requires mutuality; a capacity for respect and joy in the other. Desire is only fully human, Ricoeur says, when it is a desire for recognition. The unsurpassable, infinite quality of that desire for recognition finds new force for me in Augustine’s phrase that ‘Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.’ Did Freud collapse something central by refusing to recognise that End?

Summarised like that, leaving out the detailed examination of Freud’s lifework, that Ricoeur gives us with such masterly lucidity, makes it sound simple to the point of banality. I want to try to give it life by bringing to you part of the story of a woman I once knew. She did not forget her dreams but could not bear to tell them.

When I first met her she seemed trapped (in the lower triangle of the model). She was terrified by her own inability to stop expressing an insatiable hunger for a love which she had never known, though a certain sense of God made her feel it might be possible, even for her. She was only able to act out PLOT: she could not bear to reflect on it. She experienced my nearness, my presence, as almost intolerably claustrophobic. She experienced my absence with states of panic and aggres-sion. The ACTOR/AUDIENCE axis between us never seemed to meet in the middle but always glanced off. Our work together for a very long time consisted in what I shall call thickening the distance between us (between ACTOR and AUDIENCE); testing it; shaping it; trying to let it hold and be held; exercising our will to make-believe. We had to learn to play with the fact of presence and absence, so that the one could imply a certain degree of the other; so that there could be an implied latent presence in absence and an acknowledgement, an experience, of distance in presence. The telephone was a daily lifeline. In fact her first real imaginative act was to see the telephone wire as an umbilical cord and eventually to install a placenta, somewhere between her and me (dentre: model). We came to call it Granny (she had had one good granny). Her reported prayer life during this time consisted in telling God what she wanted me to do and saying she didn’t believe in him any more, when I didn’t match up to requirements. It was all very difficult. But bit by painful bit, with many a setback, something began to happen. When she was away from me she would sometimes feel sad rather than panic-stricken by my absence. At about that time my husband, who had endured much, suddenly said to me when the phone rang: ‘Is this a life sentence?’ At her next session she began to say that she was finding her need to ring me daily ‘a ball and chain.’ For the next few weeks we were able to laugh together at an image that developed between us, of her arriving at the front door clutching a bunch of forget-me-nots (the only flowers she grew then … later she added pansies, wallflowers and snapdragons) and leaving by the back door, dragging a ball and chain. She began to share repetitive fantasies that she would use, when the sense of separation became too acute. She said that she could share those, because she knew what was going to happen in them: she could control them. She said that she hated telling me dreams, which she scarcely ever did, because she felt that they demanded attention that she wanted to have focussed on her. But she then began to bring one or two dreams. There was one particular one of a woman, a veiled woman, who both attracted her and frightened her. We held this dream between us for some time, working on it gently. Then suddenly one day she brought Eliot’s Ash Wednesday poem and in it the lines:

‘ … Will the veiled sister pray For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray.’

That surprised her, to find her dream again, in a different way, a different context. Slowly she began to imagine that there might be a way of praying that could be connected with woman. She started to think about Mary and to ask for her prayers. Prayer became a gentler, less immediately demanding activity. Mary, for her, knew about sadness, about separation. She began to overcome quite a degree of agoraphobia, enough to go to a weekday Communion Service which was held in the Lady Chapel of her local church. Sundays were still too charged with the vertical threat of the masculinity of God. That is one tiny fragment of one person’s experience in the history of desire.

However much we work with the hiatus between the imaginary and the real it always contains that element of surprise, in the way things become actual, doesn’t it? This woman who thought that dreams forgot her, leaving her immediate needs too much out of their account, found her dream remembering her in that poem. It had not forgotten her, though in the beginning she would have liked to forget it. Perhaps I could reflect this in the context of faith by a story from family life? Some time ago 1 was dishing up the lunch for three hungry sons, when the youngest suddenly said: ‘I don’t believe in God any more.’ 1 replied, on the turn of the spoon, ‘Never mind, He still believes in you.’ As far as I remember we then went back to arguments about who had the biggest share of pudding. The exchange, however, keeps unfolding in my mind. Perhaps at times I need not to believe; to forget … so that I might find myself remembered, in a different way, in a new place, with the necessity and possibility of a shift in the centre of gravity. We can never tell when or in what way that shift in the centre of gravity will occur, which, if we can bear it, will open new possibilities of movement and meaning for us. Always we have to exercise some degree of courage to make present the place in which we find ourselves.

The way we can move between presence and absence, remembering and forgetting, seems to lie very near the heart of the imaginal activity involved in both dream-work and prayer. How can we learn to interrelate the two, so that we can keep alive a sense of latent presence in absence; a sense of expectancy that can still keep our intentionality directed to the other? This is where our capacity for imagination and expression works for us. We have words, symbols with which we can try to remember the shape and meaning of presence, that seems silent, absent. So much theology came alive for me, when I realised it was the way we make-believe about the Presence of God when we are aware of a feeling of absence, silence. What we shape may carry the presence for us; or it may become an idol, which is preferred in its own right, dulling our expectancy, our desire for the return, our sense of participation with the Other. We must run the risk of idolatry, if we are to remember the possibility of presence. Equally, we must, as Ricoeur says, risk breaking our idols, in order to free ourselves to encounter the reality that they carry.


Our ability to express, in words, music, paint … or whatever we choose, or find is chosen for us (ACTOR); our ability to make (AUTHOR); needs to be met by our ability to receive (AUDIENCE), to discriminate (CRITIC), to participate in a different way. We need that ability in dream-work, as we try first of all to receive what is given to us; to hear what it says to us; to be prepared to listen to the interplay of possible meanings, in the shared work of interpretation. It is also the part of us that can make a new beginning in prayer, in the kind of prayer which is concerned with silence, a capacity for inner stillness, for contemplation, receptivity.

A real attempt to begin this kind of prayer began for me much later than my efforts to pray, in the more verbal forms of what I have called expressive prayer; the invocation through words; the asking for Presence and help, mercy, forgiveness. This new way was, and is, difficult, and yet I find it increasingly necessary and an exciting adventure, even in its apparent failures, for it is a quest with endless new beginnings. I can share very little of it to-day. What I want to do is bring to you something that I have found helpful and stilling, which has opened new ways for me, both in prayer itself and in work on dreams. It is some teaching of Gregory of Nyssa on what he calls the development of the spiritual senses. I am glad that in the year Molly Tuby is Chairman of the Guild I want to speak of Gregory, for he was a mystical theologian of the Alexandrian school in the C4, whose teaching was certainly influenced by Philo, the great Jewish, Alexandrian mystic of the CI. Gregory came from a remarkable family. He was one of the few early Fathers of the Church who was married. His wife, Theosavia, became a Deaconess and later a saint in her own right, which must have made it quite a marriage! His elder brother was the great St. Basil, a dominating, extravert character, who made his younger brother become a Bishop, against all his inclinations. It was after the early death of Basil that Gregory came into the height of his own powers, interpreting and immeasurably deepening his brother’s theology, from his own more mystical insights. Gregory’s sister, Macrina, also became a saint. He wrote a charming life of her, includmg a nice dig at Basil. He reports that Basil came down from University ‘puffed up with Rhetoric and Macrina taught him humility.’ I wonder how? There was another brother, Peter, who was not a saint, though he was a bishop. Perhaps he carried the family shadow? I believe that Gregory’s teaching on the spiritual senses was mediated to him from his love of creation, which he learnt to contemplate in such a way that he could find it, in all its particularity and uniqueness, rooted, grounded and transformed in God’s love and find his own being rooted, grounded and transformed in that same love. He believed from experience that the presence of God in the soul, when we begin to seek it in silence and stillness, can best be apprehended by a progressive interiorisation of the senses. Let us try to see what that might mean.

First we must try to look in a way that can release images from the grasp of our desires to understand, to dominate, to possess and allow them just to be in all their silent reality. He knew that sight is most closely connected with the intellect, in that movement between eye and mind. We have to learn to look from the heart: which seems to involve what I call a hooding of the seeking, curious gaze of the eye. Roethke the American poet wrote: ‘I have recovered my tenderness through long looking.’ You may remember that Dante too was exhorted to ‘look long’. Another Orthodox saying on prayer is: ‘Learn to put the mind in the heart and stand in the presence of God all day long.’ Long looking may help us to begin.

We can then try to listen from the same place, so that we can catch a certain acoustic quality in the presence of what IS. This may centre on a word, a Name, that expresses something of the presence of the Word, the Logos, but it is not so much concerned with meaning as with the vibratory quality of its resonance; perhaps understood best as ‘silent music’, with a sense of pitch, timing, rhythm.

David Holt’s article in Spring (1975) on Projection, Presence, Profession gives a moving account of what the shift from visual to auditory images, in interpretation, meant to him.

To taste inwardly, is a way of savouring presence. It can develop an intensely individual quality of discrimination, which can educate our palate and help us to know what our stomach can take and what it cannot; to know when we have had enough. It can cause us to delight in variety and unusual, exotic flavours and to tolerate sameness, for the sake of nourishment. It will form and transform what we are prepared to consider is in good or bad taste.

To smell: Gregory himself often talks about the presence of God being like a fragrance left in the air by a jar of spikenard; a bitter-sweet quality that can bind many opposing qualities. Again it is connected with a fine quality of discrimination between good and evil: to be able to detect the fragrance of the good; equally to know when a thing stinks: discernment of spirits and spirit.

Lastly we are left with a sense of touch, of a presence that is tangible, that we can feel inwardly with a capacity to appreciate volume, texture, density, projection, shape. It is connected with our sense of gravity and our lightness of touch.

I enjoy trying to relate the manifold, often very dispersed elements of my createdness to the presence of God in this way. It has a sensory, warm quality about it. I am hopeless about prayer and most other things, if it seems a matter of being coldly virtuous. Richard Wilbur once wrote a poem about

‘The tall camels of the spirit (who)
Steer for their deserts…
slow, proud, And move with a stilted stride
To the land of sheer horizon, hunting Traherne’s
sensible emptiness…..’

I know that tall camel of the spirit but like Wilbur I believe that ‘all shinings need to be shaped and borne’, and Gregory’s way helps that shaping, that bearing. It helps me to begin exploring silence, presence. What happens later when the silence, the presence takes over is another matter, on which Gregory can teach us much. But let us stay with this beginning. This way touches and brings alive for me a new awareness of the mysteries of my created, bodily existence. My body is me. Am I it? I speak from it to you to-day, and in doing so I know that I am speaking from more than I can tell of the unfathomable depths of our experience of ‘body’ as a mediator of a sense of presence.

I have found that it moves me not only in prayer but also in dream-work: it has changed a great deal in the way I work. It has made prayer for those with whom I work more necessary and more of a creative possibility. It helps me to reflect on them, on what they bring and on our work together and to try to hold it all in the presence and mercy of God. It enables me to work with a different kind of appreciation of patience, tenderness, hope, however often I fail to actualise it in practice. It has also opened for me different ways of trying to appreciate the quality, force and meaning of images in dreams, to rely on other ways of seeking to apprehend them than purely visual and verbal ones. It does not make anything easier, for that is not what it is all about. It gives me a new respect for the powers of the imagination, as it helps us to make believe and let be, moving between necessity (the reality principle) and hidden potentiality. That respect in turn makes me aware of the necessity of worship, and prayer to the Creator, who binds, in his Presence, Truth and Love.


We have to find a way of living in communion with the ACTOR, AUDIENCE, PLOT and AUTHOR dimensions in our being: to move between them, knowing that we can only be in one place at once, yet knowing that each of the others is also potentially present. We have to learn to hold a sense of distance and to keep ‘near’ a sense of the whole and not to allow a collapse into partiality, with its attendant reductionism.

I have spoken of beginnings. Yet each new beginning also involves a new sense of an ending. Let me, therefore, in ending, try to reach out, with hesitation, awe … and with love, hope and faith too, to the point of intersection of the model, the centre. How can we learn to live expressively, receptively, responsibly, participatingly–making, believing, and letting be, when the presence of what IS at the CENTRE (of the model) takes over the centre of gravity?

Let us first listen to the way of faith. Gregory of Nyssa tries to find words, and the silence between them, to describe what happens when the soul is in overwhelming immediacy with the Presence of God. He said that God’s presence cannot be seen or comprehended; but felt and accepted. The height of contemplation is a lived awareness of incomprehensibility. We cannot possess or dominate by knowing ‘The true vision’, he says, ‘and the true knowledge … consists precisely in this, in not seeing, in an awareness that … transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incompre-hensibility.’ To find God is to seek him without end, in a projection of the soul beyond the laws of reason under the impulse of love. Under the impulse of love: the soul, once it lives in an awareness of the nearness and farness of that Presence, is filled with the unsurpassable nature of its desire for that Presence. Gregory defined that desire at its height as Agape (love purified of its narcissism) in its most intense form, which he called Eros. Where we cannot know, except to know our ignorance, our unknowing, we can love and participate in loving communion with all that is, in the Presence of that Love, which loves creation. There speaks a way of Faith that has its own rigorous, obedient, graceful ways of moving between Necessity and Love.

Let us now listen to the other way, the way of suspicion, to see what might happen to it. Ricoeur’s critique of Freud centres in part on a lack in Freud’s treatment of the more participatory modes of being, implicit in concepts like identification and sublimation. Freud taught us a great deal about the necessary withdrawal of projections, if we are to yield our narcissism and its omnipotent desires in the service of reality, and genuine, mutual relationship. Freud’s own lifetime’s investigation of what IS, led him, Ricoeur believes, to make an idol of necessity, Ananke, and to deny the possibility of a personal God. Yet Ricoeur believed that in the discovery that Desire can have a history, which can lead it to appreciate the need for mutuality in desire, the way opened for Freud later in life to appreciate Eros in a new way as, I quote, ‘the power that holds everything together’. But he never seemed to suspect that Eros might be the God of faith, or, and now I quote Ricoeur, ‘The possibility that faith is a participation in the source of Eros and thus concerns, not the consolation of the child in us but the power of loving.’ Later Ricoeur adds: ‘Is reality merely Ananke? Is reality simply necessity offered to my resignation? Is it not also possibility opened to the power of loving? … The discipline of reality is nothing without the grace of imagination … the consideration of necessity is nothing without the evocation of possibility.’

The CENTRE, of the model, the turning-point of inter-section: is it then the place of conjugation between Necessity and Love, where illusion can be reduced and meaning restored by participation in faith, in hope, in love, which live between man and man, between God and all Creation? Can I hear a Call, feel the pull of that Centre? It sounds both far and near. Is it a dream that I shall forget on waking to reality? Or is it the Supreme Reality that remembers me, draws me, calls me to dream and to pray, so that I may not altogether forget the Ground of my being and that I may remember the Love of Creation?