What Is The Way of the Image?

A reading from a chapter in Ann & Barry Ulanov’s book, Primary Speech. Ann Belford Ulanov is an American academic and psychotherapist. She is the Christiane Brooks Johnson Memorial Professor of Psychiatry and Religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a Jungian analyst in private practice. Baruch “Barry” Ulanov (April 10, 1918 – April 30, 2000) was an American writer, perhaps best known as a jazz critic.

“A major step …. is learning how to have our fantasies and stand aside from them simultaneously.

Fantasy fully accepted in prayer becomes a rhythmic movement in one’s life that may lead to a meeting with Being. Here music can offer guidance and direction to the praying person. The alterations of sound and silence that we meet in music, of dynamic variations ranging from fortissimo to pianissimo, of every kind of beat and pulse, can evoke and support the rhythms of primary speech. We burst full of images and desires, crowded with rich fragments of ourselves. We fall utterly silent, lost in the timeless moment, still as an emptied pot is still. We are seized by a fantasy, and then stripped of it. But the images return, sometimes new ones, sometimes the old ones in changed form. The spirit works us like bread dough, leavening the lump of our inertia with images that make us rise, expand, and grow light in weight. Then it punches us down and the fantasies escape from us like so much hot air.

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We are pummeled and molded to fit a shape that takes its origin outside ourselves – the image of the being in which we were created. We are made to conform to its dimensions, firmer and larger than any we could fashion by ourselves. Then we can rise again to our full height. Prayer is a growing process.

A major step in the world of primary speech is learning how to have our fantasies and stand aside from them simultaneously. This apparently contradictory stance is intrinsic in all subsequent movements of the spiritual life. In its simultaneous gathering in and giving up, it rehearses us for the paradoxes and antimonies of the life of the spirit, where affirmation comes in denial and withdrawal may be the only way to move ahead.

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We are like a dancer who learns certain basic movements, repeats them, depends on them, builds on them in the most complicated and advanced executions of the body, and then can forget all about them, not losing them but dropping them from full consciousness when a new world of movement must be entered. In the same way, we receive and hold in awareness the most full bodied fantasies for the longest time, building on them, never pushing them away. And yet we are able, when the time comes1, to relinquish them, to let them disappear from consciousness altogether. The spirit finds us this way and firms us. We grow into a capacity for grateful flexibility and for the endless ups and downs of prayer, not only pliable in this life that bounds between extremes but also durable.

What does this mean in practice? It means we take our fantasies seriously. It means we offer them to God. We have them and we don’t have them. We are rich and poor, hungry and satisfied, full and empty simultaneously. Our most fearsome fantasies remain with us – we are murderer and victim, sick unto death and healer of the dying, victor and defeated. We extend across worlds into every condition of men and women and are connected with them, as ourselves, in our living persons. We become bigger, more stretched out, more transparent, less densely compacted around our tight little identity. Our fantasies become lenses through which we see God’s spirit working at us, on us, and in us. We see through our fantasies and are less apt now to be duped by them.

we become more vivid and secure….

An element of play enters….

a sense of humor….

We laugh.

God must long for a funny story, we think, instead of still another lugubrious hymn or turgid meditation, still another solemn promise, still another tortured, pompous confession in which even our sins are matters of pride.”

-Ann & Barry Ulanov

  1. I apprehend the appointed time Ps 75

Author: Kairos Spiritual Direction and Life Coaching

Rachel Magnell, Ph.D. is studied in Counseling Psychology, Neuroscience, Jungian Depth Psychology, Hypnosis, Yoga Philosophy and Meditation.

One thought on “What Is The Way of the Image?”

  1. Oh I love this! Thank you so much. “It means we take our fantasies seriously. It means we offer them to God. We have them and we don’t have them. We are rich and poor, hungry and satisfied, full and empty simultaneously.” And every moment of our life and being is a prayer. Yes.

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