St Clare’s First Letter to Agnes of Prague

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As a Lent exercise I am re-reading these four 13th century letters which are fragments of correspondence between two high-born medieval women who became religious sisters. They communicate to us across time from a culture very different to our own and they contain practical instruction how to prepare the reader mentally to receive the presence of Christ.  So I hope this Lent series may inspire readers in meditation or further reading. The articles on the four letters will appear each Sunday.  As I re-read each of the letters, I shall reflect on my earlier studies of them in Assisi a few years ago, in the footsteps of Clare, and I will share my thoughts here.

For Catholics it is easy to become absorbed in the compelling life of Saint Francis, but we should also remember that it was the Protestant writer Paul Sabatier whose story of the saint’s life popularized Francis in the 19th century and he retains a remarkably ecumenical following.  I don’t think the same ecumenical appeal was ever achieved by Saint Clare, which is a pity because she is totally Christ-centred and her theology entirely biblical.  Unlike the vagabond saint from her own Umbrian town of Assisi, whose poor Gospel life among lepers beyond the city walls inspired her to join the mission, Clare was from a noble family and had received an education.  Saint Francis died in 1226, and as the new friars’ leadership deviated from the example set by their founder, Clare applied her intellect to preserving and developing his call to poverty. She and her sisters became the true guardians of the Franciscan rule of poverty, while the brothers of Francis totally lost the plot, then spent several centuries in a war of factions over the meaning of the rule.

The recipient of Clare’s letters, Agnes the daughter of the King of Bohemia, was a formidable lady who mirrored in Prague the witness of Saint Clare in Assisi.  She declined betrothal to Emperor Frederick II in order to found a monastery of Poor Ladies and after Agnes entered religious life in 1234, Clare wrote her the First Letter for her encouragement.  Clare saw Agnes as an ally in the struggle to win ecclesial approval for the rule of poverty, for Agnes had powerful royal connections that were useful to negotiate papal permissions for the Poor Ladies to live their rule of poverty.  The two were fighting the same battle with the ecclesial authorities in order to establish a way of life that mirrored the poverty of Christ.  Clare’s letters to Agnes of Prague involve the struggle to preserve the “privilege of poverty”, a papal exemption whereby women’s monasteries did not need to rely upon endowment income.  Early Franciscan women wanted to give their dowries to the poor, not to the Church! The spirituality contained in the letters focused on the relationship between Christ’s mystical poverty and his followers’ pursuit of material poverty.

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13th century San Damiano in Assisi where Clare was mother superior for twenty years before her first letter to Agnes, Princess of Bohemia

The First Letter from Clare to Agnes

Read the full text. This link will open the letter in a new tab: First Letter from Clare to Agnes

The letter was written at Pentecost in 1234 after the Bohemian princess Agnes entered the Franciscan monastery in Prague. In doing so, she incidentally tipped the balance of power in Europe by breaking off her betrothal to Frederick II to became a bride of the poor Christ.

Clare’s four letters to Agnes are framed by this central metaphor of the mystical bridal relationship: the soul as bride of Christ.   Notice how the letter refers to Jesus nine times and the letter is richly biblical with nearly every sentence filled with direct quotations, allusions or paraphrases from the Old and the New Testaments.  The letter is also informed by the popular medieval legend of Saint Agnes of Rome, a Christian girl whose fidelity to Christ as her Bridegroom eventually leads to her martyrdom.

As well as the bridal metaphor, Clare uses supporting metaphors to illustrate her ideas, beginning in this first letter with the metaphor of ‘commerce’ [commercium] or divine-human exchange of gifts. The term stems from the commercial world of antiquity and is present all through the language of salvation history. It is used here to express the mystery of Christ: God became us so that we could participate in divine life.  Clare would know this from the antiphon for Vespers on the feast of the Circumcision on January 1: “O admirabile commercium”.  The reference to exchange or commerce is also there in St Paul: “For you know how generous our Lord Jesus Christ has been: he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)

The word poverty is found ten times in the letter.  Poverty is the Person who takes the initiative in this commerce and leads in self-giving, in order that we should be transformed into His likeness:

“What a great laudable exchange:
to leave the things of time for those of eternity,
to choose the things of heaven for the goods of earth,
to receive the hundred-fold in place of one,
and to possess a blessed and eternal life.”

Every line in this letter is designed by Clare to guide Agnes of Prague into spiritual receptivity: to prepare her for the coming of the Bridegroom.  So, in this Lent period as we prepare for the mysteries of Holy Week and Easter, may this letter and the following three letters from Saint Clare to Agnes of Prague also guide us, help to form us and open our hearts to the divine exchange.  This is the same mystery at the centre of Communion and at the core of Christian biblical understanding.

Next week, in the Second Letter: Clare’s metaphor of The Way.

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St Agnes of Prague: 13th century convent of the Clarisses as it is today

 

 

 

 

 

Gospel 1st Sunday in Lent Year C

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Luke 4:1-13

Ephrem the Syrian explains that Satan waits until Jesus is thirty to tempt him because it is only then that Jesus reveals himself to be the Messiah. We see an Adam typology and a Genesis background to the story, the parallel being with Adam cast out of paradise into the desert, whereas Christ, the new Adam, goes into the desert on our behalf, explains St Ambrose, who adds that he will come back from the wilderness of temptation to lead us to paradise.

Origen and St Cyril both note that the first temptation is the one by which Adam fell – the gluttony in eating that which he was bound not to eat. Jesus conquers by not eating the food with which Satan tempts him. As St Ambrose reminds us, Jesus, the Son of God Incarnate, the very Word of God, is the bread of life from Heaven whose body and blood will become real food for his people – and it is the heavenly bread, the Word of God, who defeats Satan.

Origen says that Satan’s second temptation is a reminder of his rule in the world. He has, St Cyril comments, taken this world by fraud, but now Christ has come he will have to restore it to its proper authority through the suffering and death of Jesus.

Ephrem notes the way in which Satan changes tack in his final temptation, but Jesus’ nature is unchanging. He offers him what Adam had been offered, wisdom and power, so he could become as God. But Jesus was God and he knew Satan for what he was, the first and greatest of the sinners. Satan studied only those passages from Scripture which suited him and twisted them to his own ends – as do all who follow him.

St Augustine, in one of his sermons, concludes by saying that when the Lord had suffered these threefold temptations, Satan departed, but only until his time came again, and this would happen at the Last Supper when he came to Judas who did, like Adam succumb. But on that occasion, Satan encompassed his own ultimate defeat as through the Cross and Resurrection, Christ set us all free.

Devotion: women and veiling

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When they marry Christ, nuns wear a form of wedding dress. It marks them as being apart. Priests, too, wear garments that set them apart. It is a sign. Does it matter? In my own church recently there has been a move to dispense with the canons about clerical dress. Are we not to mark out any territory for what is holy? We see in Scripture that these things are taken seriously, and yet, it seems we think we somehow know better. Time was when if we went to church we dressed up. When I was a little girl my father, who did not go to church but would take me and wait there until it was over, would make sure I wore my best dress, and everyone else was in their ‘Sunday best’. This was a lesser form of wearing special dress to show one was consecrated to Christ, but it came of the same mind-set.

We have lost this I think. To point this out is to be called a Pharisee and to be accused of caring more about surface appearance than anything else. Yet, these same people who say that, if invited to a formal dinner by their boss would not turn up in shorts and tee-shirt. If they were invited to meet the US President or the Queen, I doubt they would not think of getting new, smart clothes. Are they ‘pharisees’ then, or are they simply being respectful? Do we not think we should be respectful to God?

I like the practice in the Orthodox and Traditional Catholic traditions of women wearing a mantilla. I usually wear a veil or a hat to church. It seems to me respectful, and scriptural – St Paul recommends it in 1 Corinthians 11:5-6, 13-16. Sometimes I want to go further, but my one attempt to do so, when I was about 15, was not a roaring success – I suppose going round in my first communion dress for the whole of Sunday was probably a bit much. It took about a month of stares every Sunday for me to revert to something a bit less conspicuous. I understood what I was doing, it was a little act of consecration, but I doubt many in our village got that – it was just ‘old Hoff’s girl’ going ‘through a phase”. Maybe I should have been braver? But at least it was an attempt to say to God that on Sunday, his special day, I was devoting myself to him in a special way.

I agree with our own orthodoxgirl99 when she writes:

So why do I veil? Well certainly not to make any kind of fashion statement as veiling today is probably considered completely ‘uncool’. I veil because I am in the presence of Almighty God, my Creator, my source of Life and my soul’s delight.   I veil as an external manifestation of my belief that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist and I wish to show love, reverence and humility in his Holy presence. I veil because like the Angels I feel I should cover myself in the presence of the Holy One. I veil because I love Our Lord. I veil simply because I feel it matters.

I still sometimes wish I had persevered with the courage to wear that communion dress every Sunday – but I suppose wandering round in a wedding dress every Sunday might be a bit much – although it would be better than turning up in shorts and halter-neck tops – which seems not too much for too many.

Catholic culture?

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Geoffrey has been on fine form, even for him, this week. I know I am not the only Catholic here who is grateful for the tone in which he approached that most difficult of ecumenical topics, Marian veneration. His exposition of his own tradition’s emphasis on the simplicity of God. I can see the close correlation, and of course at one level he is right. Christ is the only way to God. But the ways to Christ are many. It is, of course, perfectly possible to be a Christian and to have no particular devotion to Mary; it is not, though, possible to insult her and be a Christian, and it is a mark of Geoffrey’s discourse here that he never falls into any suspicion of that. It is possible to be a Christian and never attend a Mass with settings by Allegri or Mozart; but why would one want to, once one had heard it once?

I take, entirely, Geoffrey’s point about there being much in the Christian tradition for which one has no inclination because it was not part of one’s own culture. This is not so for Our Lady and the English. England was ‘Mary’s dowry’ and Walsingham the site of one of medieval Europe’s great pilgrimage centres. Archaeologists find plenty of Marian badges along the old pilgrimage routes, and latterly, Walsingham has, again, become a great shrine – indeed the Catholic National Shrine there has just secured a donation of £4m towards new accommodation – so great is the press there. So, although it is not part of Geoffrey’s own Baptist tradition, Marian veneration is not only extremely English, it is meeting growing needs in England. I would urge Geoffrey, if he can manage the time, to visit the Shrine – we would be very happy to put him and Mrs S up and to show them round.

When it comes to politics, Geoffrey is partly right and partly not. He is, of course, right that ambitious men have always used whatever source of power was to hand, and there can be no doubt that when both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England were at their zeniths in terms of the political culture of the time, they attracted a goodly number of careerists. But it should also be recalled that they attracted a great many saintly men and women who are there for the right reasons. St Ambrose of Milan gave up a fine secular career to take on the onerous burden of being a Bishop because the people of Milan wanted him. For every Wolsey, doing the king’s bidding, there was a Becket who would not; for every vicar of Bray, there was a Vicar of Hursley (Keble’s parish); the broad brush leaves a bold picture, but perhaps a misleading impression. The Catholic Church has often found itself opposed to secular power – and suffered for it. Where I would concur with Geoffrey, is that it has seldom been at its best when it has been hand in glove with the State.

The problem with writing about Catholic culture is that it infuses many different national cultures without being dominated by any of them. This creates many problems if one wishes to generalise, but actually accounts for the great success of the Catholic Church which really has, like Paul, been able to be all things to all men. But then what else would one expect from Christ’s Church?

State and Church

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At the centre of my life as a Christian, its very foundation and cause, is my relationship with God. As I tried to explain last week, that involves being part of a Christian community, as we are offered no examples in Scripture, of the individualist Christian doing it all by himself. This is the school in which one grows in the faith, and in which one works with fellow ‘saints’ to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Until the fourth century this was how it worked for all, and a perilous existence it was. The Roman Empire distrusted this religion, which refused to play the game of the State religion; it owed allegiance to King Jesus, not Emperor Caligula. Then, in the fourth century, Emperor Constantine seems to have decided that if you could not beat them, you could co-opt them. After his victory at Milvian Bridge, he allowed Christianity to flourish unchallenged. This did more damage than any amount of persecution.

When a faith is persecuted, no one joins it for any reason other than the obvious one – like Paul on the Damascus Road, they can do no other. They are called out, together, to give witness to Christ. It is a hard road, made all the more so by the distrust of the State. Once a faith is approved of, and even more, once it becomes the State faith, then every grovelling little lick spittle who wants preferment will join it. In the case of Constantine, it was clear that a symbiotic relationship with the Church developed. He wanted a faith which would provide some glue to hold together his sprawling empire, and the bishops wanted a way of putting an end to the Arian heresy. It was a marriage made on the banks of the Bosphorus. As it happened, although the Council of 325 thought it had solved the problem, it took another century for the Orthodox position to win out. After that there was no looking back. Did Nestorius say things which seemed suspect? Set the Emperor on him. Did Disocorus of Alexandria reject Leo’s Tome, set the Emperor on him. Did the Patriarch at Constantinople reject Rome’s claims, excommunicate him and rely on the power of the Holy Roman Emperor to protect you. Did Luther’s calls for reform get your goat, excommunicate him and use the power of the Emperor to try to put an end to him. Did Elizabeth I not come back as you wanted, bless Phillip’s II’s Armada. It was so easy to resort to force, so much easier than having arguments.

Its effect was to create every schism there has ever been. Not once has the use of force actually done anything but split the Christian community. A man will not cease to believe what he has been taught because some fool with a sword tells him to: sincere men will die; insincere ones will pretend they believe. In the end you end up with more of the latter because the former have gone. That’s how you end up with a Laodicean church community.

What happens when being a Christian is no longer the route to a privileged position in society? The time servers go elsewhere, although, as long as there is preferment to be had, some of them will stay where they are; but it will get hard to recruit talented people. What happens when you can no longer use force, or when the idea of excommunicating someone ceases to frighten them? You don’t know what to do. You have lost the art of apologetics and of discussion, and you have to relearn it.

I take, entirely, the point made here by Jess and others that the example of the Church of the East suggests that not having a State to protect you can be damaging, but having one can be so in another sense. My own tradition goes back to those who have always rejected State patronage. We’ve been persecuted by Catholics and Anglicans, and I daresay had there been Orthodox control, they’d have done the same. But we hold to the spirit of the original. We are a called out people owning allegiance to King Jesus and no other. My ancestors suffered persecution, imprisonment and even death for this, and not one of them benefitted materially from their stubborn persistence in this narrow way.

It’s no accident, I suspect, that the faith remains strongest in the West in America, and there are welcome signs that the Catholic Church is gaining the courage to reject the patronage of princes. In the end we stand together. The State has used the faith as best it could and wants to discard it. Good, I say, no one will come to it now because it offers power and a career and wealth. They come, as they should, as we all come, because we are unworthy sinners throwing ourselves on the mercy of Christ. Where that comes to you, into which gathered community it leads you, I no longer much care, for in the face of the hostility of the princes of this world, the Christian identifies him or herself as such because of their belief; that’s enough for me.

Ashes and dust

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‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’

As we receive the ashes on our foreheads, we are reminded of this. To those of us who have been seriously ill, it is not a reminder we need, because it is present before us much of the time. But Lent is not about feeling guilty, it is about repentance and receiving forgiveness God loves us – always – his hands remain outstretched, and he is grieved by our sin, and wants us to repent and return to him; this is a season when we can – if we will – focus on this. We ask God to create a pure heart within us, because we know that only the pure in heart shall see God. We begin by acknowledging what the Prayer Book calls ‘our manifold sins and wickedness’, and we repent of our sins, knowing that this is the road toward forgiveness and spiritual health. Often, in this society, we are reluctant to accept bodily infirmity, we demand there is some drug, some treatment which will make us well again, despite knowing that sometimes the so-called side effects of drugs can actually make us worse. We feel we have some ‘right’ to be well. But focus as we do on the body, we so often forget the spirit.

Surveying the interesting to and fros here the past few days, it seems to me that we see something of this here. I am unashamedly emotional about my faith, I feel it deeply, and I love Our Lady who represents to me not only the Mother of the Church, but the mother I never knew in my own life.  I can speak only for me, but when I love, I do not always reason everything through, and I am not very literal in my language. I daresay that if someone parsed and examined my words, they could show that I was exaggerating – my loved one was not the ‘most wonderful man in the world’, and that when I said I would ‘love him forever’, that was not a very precise use of language. OK, guilty as charged, and let the person who, when in love, has not used poetic language because it expressed what they thought best, throw that first stone.

It is, of course, quite impossible to explain why you love someone. As I look back to my own failed marriage, I see a lot of warning signs to which I was quite blind at the time; if someone had pointed them out to me then, I should not have believed them. Why should I mark Lent by the receiving of ashes? Why should I fast? Is this not just surface religion? Yes and no. It is important for me that I have some road signs by which to guide myself, and they have to be where I can see them. But they are, I hope, the outward and invisible sign of Grace moving me. Can I prove that? No, not a bit of it. Should I, therefore, abandon the attempt? No, not a bit of it.

Why, because it is good to remind myself daily that this is a season of penitence. Do I have a lot to be sorry for? My confessor used to remind me that there was such a thing as over scrupulosity, and I have taken his words into my heart. But I can do penance for the sins of the world, I can offer up what I do for the sins of others. Just as I can pray for those who have no one else to pray for them.

This is not, I agree, a very rational approach, and I am sure that some would see in all of this an over-emotional young woman with too much time on her hands. I am equally sure that Our Lady, like her Son, knows that love brings forth love – and love is not rational. My heart sometimes outstrips my head – it’s why I love St Peter so much. In his impetuousness I see something I can recognise – and love him, flaws and all. But there I go again – where in the Bible does it say I should feel like this about Peter, or St John, or Mary. Nowhere – and everywhere, because to be in God is to love, and love begets love and overflows.

On this penitential day, I just want to remind us all that our faith is of God, and he is love, and he calls us to repent and be healed. A holy and edifying Lent to you all.

The simplicity of God

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I am grateful to Chalcedon  and Dave Smith for their help in trying to understand the language of Marian veneration. But I still feel, as I did reading David Monier-Williams’ explanation of the ‘hows’ of therapy as though I am in the presence of something designed to complicate matters in a way that allows those conveying the language to exercise power; it is the creation of an hieratic priesthood which has privileged access to secret mysteries cloaked in a language of social exclusion: don’t understand it? You are shut out, unless, that is, you consent to be taught it. This is as far from Jesus as you can get. Jesus spoke in parables because he wanted to be clear to folk. His prayer was a simple one which had in it all a person could need. His message was also simple – repent, the kingdom of God is at hand. In everyone’s life that’s the case. I could drop dead this afternoon, so could you. We never quite got round to the repenting because there was always tomorrow – Jesus is reminding us that one day there won’t be. It is urgent we repent and come to Him. That is why his language is straightforward, as is that of Paul and the others. Now it is true that the passage of time and the necessities of translation mean that we need some help with understanding what is being said – but that’s all.

Complex vocabulary has its place, but is, too often, the instrument of a small elite entrenching itself with the power which the understanding of that language gives it. This was one of the arguments of the Reformers against using Latin. Latin was not the original language of the Scriptures, it may be doubted that Jesus or his Apostles understood it very well, if at all. Yet, for centuries, it was the language of the Bible in the West. That served the purposes of a clerical elite very well, but there’s no evidence it served the purpose of communicating the Gospel to the people. When I was a lad, I never met a Catholic who had even read the Bible. They listened to the passages said at Mass, but I never came across a Bible study class at a Catholic Church, or a Catholic who could refer, with ease, to the Scriptures. I blame no one for that – save their clerical class. If a powerful group of men hold the great secret in language you don’t understand, that puts you at their mercy. However much you mouth that you are the servant of the servant of the poor, you aren’t – you really aren’t.

The great strength of English Protestantism has been that it brings the words of God to all who will hear them, and it takes those words very seriously. Recently here we had some discussion of the length of a sermon, with some of my Catholic friends here saying that no one could be expected to concentrate for 45 minutes. Tosh, was, and is, my response. If you cannot concentrate on the word of God for 45 minutes, then I am not sure what sort of relationship you think you have with God. If the ploughboy and the serving maids in the early part of this century could do so, I am not sure why some think modern man is so lacking – 45 minutes on the computer game would be thought a tiny amount of time.

In the end, if comes back to taking personal responsibility. Yes, you are saved by the blood of Christ. If you want some other intermediary, if you want some hieratic mystery, fine, reach out for it – even if you can’t be bothered to listen to a 45 minute sermon – but it is really much easier – and also harder, than that. Jesus has saved you. He is the one mediator with God. His the one sacrifice which you ever need. His the only Graces you need. But that calls forth from you a personal responsibility. The priest, the bishop, Mary herself can, none of them, not one of them, call forth from your heart the love which will make you want to transform your life. The Holy Spirit does that – and like Peter, you will follow where he leads – even if it isn’t where you want to go. You don’t need anyone save the Holy Spirit – and if you have him, you know it.

No one goes to Christ but by his Mother?

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Following a recommendation of our host, Chalcedon, I got hold of a copy of a book by Mgr Florian Kolfhaus called The School of Mary. Rather than ‘do a Bosco’, I sincerely ask Catholics here to help me with this, as I do not understand what is being said – at least if it is what it seems to be.

We are offered (p.19) the words of the Blessed Bartolo Longo (1841-1926) – no me neither – said in a prayer to Mary: “You are almighty by Grace”. It is for this reason, we are told, that the Church ‘uses the Christological titles also in the feminine form, for his mother: King – Queen, Mediator – Mediatrix – Saviour – Salvatrix’, St Catherine of Sienna (and yes, I have heard of her) we are told, calls Mary “Redemptix” because ‘Mary is so deeply involved in Jesus Christ’s work of redemption that there is truly no way other than her that leads to Jesus’. The author then quotes Pope Leo XIII in Octobri Mense:

With equal truth may it also be affirmed that, by the will of God, Mary is the intermediary through whom is distributed unto us the immense treasure of mercies gathered by God, for ‘grace and truth were realised by Jesus Christ’. Thus as no man goeth to the Father but by the Son, so no man goeth to Christ but by His Mother.

The author finishes this section by commenting:

As Christ is the only way to the Father also for the ones who do not know and pray to Him because they blamelessly or as a result of insurmountable obstacles have not found Him, so is Mary always and for everyone the gate that gives access to her Son’.

I have not quoted out of context. The author himself clearly states that this hyperdulia is about ‘excessive praise’ reserved for Mary alone.

So, to my misgivings and the hope they can be put to rest. First, I have no problem with excessive praise of Mary. How could one? She was the Mother of God, she took on herself the burden of becoming pregnant not be her fiance, she bore the sword that pierced her own heart, she is worthy, if that is one’s way, of all praise. That’t not my problem. The problem comes with what I take to be rather extravagant language, but which, if taken literally, does risk elevating Mary to a position she never claimed.

Scripture is clear – there is one mediator – Jesus Christ. If you want to claim some role for Mary, use another word. Mediator is tied to Jesus, and it is inevitable that, if you use it, people will think you are claiming for Mary what belongs -in Scripture – to one person alone. You don’t have to be Bosco to think that – the use of the word pushes you there. The same is true of the idea that there is no road to Jesus other than Mary. If that is meant literally it is simply wrong. Not one single convert in the NT is led to Jesus by his mother. That is not to insult her, she is the mother of my Lord, and I am sure like all good Jewish boys he loves her and expects me to do so too. It is to insist there is a distinction between him and her, and to say that passages such as the ones quoted blur it.

I cannot even understand what the author means when he talks about those who cannot come to Jesus coming to Mary as the ‘gate’. If you don’t know who Jesus is, how on earth are you going to get there through his mother? Sorry, maybe the translation from the original German is faulty, but this either means nothing much, or it implies that someone one can know Mary before one knows Jesus – and I can attach no meaning to that.

Chalcedon suggested that I share my views here because he thinks that it would help others, like me, to have the answers in plain sight. I am happy to oblige. For those who have read my stuff here, you will know I am not writing out of any desire (God forbid) to insult Mary, I am a simple old Baptist puzzled by such language – and happy to be enlightened.

The Hows of Therapy

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This is the second part of David Monier-Williams’ account of his theraputic practice

The Hows
What would you expect to experience in your first visit to a therapist? Since most operate on a 55min schedule, the first thing out of the therapists mouth after greeting you would be, “ How can I best help you?” your answer would be what is called, “The presenting problem.” most of the rest of the session would hopefully the therapist building rapport with you and taking what is know as your history.

In subsequent session depending of the type of therapy involved, the underlying beliefs of that particular therapy would come into play. In other words, the particular beliefs of the therapist presuppose that there are round holes and you’re a square peg. Since, I what I do doesn’t fall into that category, I’m not going to comment on what to expect in future sessions. It would be up to you to investigate the particulars of the therapy and be aware whether that is something you want to pursue.

I have practiced Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) and Ericksonian Hypnosis for 25 years. My practice has been varied but mostly with women who’ve been abused, Vets with PTSD and marriage and relationship counseling.

NLP is the study of the structure of subjective experience and the modeling of excellence. It has no belief system and no round holes or pegs. What it does have is a set of working presuppositions based on the works of Milton Erickson and Gregory Bateson:

1. The Meaning of your communication is the response you get.

2. There’s no such thing as Failure only Feedback.

3. People have the resources to accomplish their goals.

4. There’s a positive intention behind every behaviour.

5. Power is the ability to produce the intended results. (Power is flexibility not “control over”or “power over.”) The law of Requisite Variety states, “The person or system with the greatest flexibility controls any given situation.”

6. People make the best choices available to them.

7. The map is not the territory. (But it don’t make it so.
If two people watch a sunrise, then spend a leisurely hour at breakfast chatting about the sunrise, each will have experienced it very differently based on their past experiences which in total formed their limited beliefs, values and behaviours).

So our brains (neuro) have been programmed by our experiences (linguistic programming). These positive and negative(traumas) early childhood experiences bring challenges of how they deal with the world around them e.g. stuttering, resultant abuse symptoms, phobias, violence, multiple unsuccessful marriages/relationships etc.

One set of possible responses is, “Get over it, get on with it, I have. Man up, it’s not a big deal.” If this is your model of the world read no further. You have the answer. If on the other hand, you can understand that not everyone is like you and their models of the world are different, then we can move on.

The first thing you learn in NLP is how to build rapport. Rapport is easy with those you like not so much with those you don’t. It’s like a thermostat, fully flexible as the temperature moves in either direction. There are many ways to build it. The real flexibility is to know how to build it, know when you’ve lost it, know how to get it back and above all know the difference.
You can’t help anyone with anything without on-going rapport.

The rest of NLP is becoming familiar with the various speech patterns that people use and the various different processes to help them have more choice, options and possibilities.

As a beginning, I use the Enneagram, the most effective and dynamic archetype of personality. It was started by the Sufis a long time ago. It is a set of nine basic personality types around a circle. The basic types form an isosceles triangle. The top one is the Mediator, the one on the right the Performer and on the left the Devil’s Advocate.  I listen for the occupation and speech patterns that help me identify the basic and secondary types. This will give me some of their beliefs but most importantly the chinks in armour.

The next thing that important for everyone is how you spatially perceive time. Some always believe that there’s never enough of it, some that it always passes too slowly. How you perceive time is how you lead your life. How you perceive it is totally idiosyncratic though not always useful and helpful. For many the future is in front and the past behind. The latter so it can come and kick you in ass from time to time. Others think of it as them in the middle of two concentric circles, with the future running in one direction and the past in the other. This, by the way, is how you’re at cross purposes to yourself—quite literally. There are as many other configurations as there are people.

The most useful Timelines, as they’re called, is the InTimeline which passes through your body, the past behind , the present inside of you and the future in front of you, and the ThruTimeline, which is tangentially touching the center of your chest, the past off to your left at a 45 degree angle and the future to your right at a 45 degree angle. The InTimeline is used to motivate you to your goals, the ThruTimeline give your future  possibilities and options when you run into life’s obstacles.

There is a whole lot more to NLP which together with Ericksonian Hypnosis took over two years of experiential training.

So now let me describe to you my initial work with a Vet with PTSD. Btw, I would use similar techniques with a woman who had been abused as the only differences are frequency and intensity.

I met with Joe, that’s not his real name, he’d spent four months in Iraq at the beginning of Desert Storm. He not only suffers from PTSD but also Fibromyalgia.

After I explained that his perception of his experiences were about how he perceived time I elicited his Timeline. He had two concentric circles around him. I stood behind him and with his two arms crossed in front of his I grabbed hold of both his wrists from behind and I asked him to walk into his future and to be aware of what was happening to him. He said, “I’m confused.” I pointed out that this was also in English to be at cross-purposes to oneself…quite literally. I broke the circles, straightened them out and attached his past Timeline to his back, it stretched out all the way back to in utero and the future to his front going forward. This was his new IntimeTimeline. I helped him install and optimize a future goal out six month into the future. Then I had him install a ThruTimeline which was a Vee shaped line tangentially attached to his chest. The past at a 45 degree off to his left and his future the same degree of to his right. I had him notice the difference of the goal in front of hin versus at a 45 degree off to his right. The latter offering possibilities the former motivation.

I had him then begin to deal with his past by identifying a minor stressful event on his InTimeline behind him. I had him replay the event there and then put it on his Thrutimeline and relive it disassociated. That is to say, to his left and had him watch it instead of being inside of it. The latter was less stressful. Ergo by changing the location of a stressor you change the perception. In NLP it’s called RWS…real weird shit! This instilled in him that change can happen quickly.

I had him put his ThruTimeline on the floor and had him watch the bright healing light come from before his birth into him and out into the future, then I had him step four paces forward, between his past and his future into, “out of time” so as I could instill Joe’s uniqueness of Joe. It was just a wee bit of trance work.

I had him put out his past ThruTimeline and throw all his traumas on it. There were 12 going back to age 6. Guess what? All the traumas were in chronological order. Before working on the past ThruTimeline, the Fibromyalgia in the joints of his hands and legs were an 8 on a scale of 1-10. The three most stressful events on his ThruTimeline were 10s. The first two were from his time in Iraq.

Here’s a question for you, have you ever watched a home movie as a child? If so, at the end, the person re-threaded it and ran it backwards to the beginning, and everyone laughed to see and hear people moving and talking backwards. Rather than what the VA does here or in the UK having the people run the trauma forwards re-living it…Damn it, run the bloody thing backwards!

OK, there’s a trick to this. In order to run it backwards, you have to run it forwards. Well, how do you do that and not have the person re-live it. You do it by having him do it initially from a multi-dissociated position. In NLP it’s called The Phobia Cure. I had him imagine himself in his favourite movie house sitting the best seat in the house. I had him put on the screen a still picture of what was happening just before the trauma started. Then I had him float out of his body and sit at the far left aisle seat so he could watch himself watching the trauma. At the end of the trauma he was to nod his head. Then I would tell him to jump into the movie and run it backwards to the beginning, in colour in three seconds so that everyone and everything moved and talked backwards. This, of course, would be too difficult for him as the trauma was too intense. So I had him go from the aisle chair and float out through an opening in the roof to the surface of the moon.

I had him on the moon with his back to the screen looking through a handheld periscope like the one for looking above crowds at a golf match. From there he could barely make out his other self in the movie house and he could watch himself watching the movie for him in safety. From the moon’s surface I had him jump into the movie and run it backwards. That was fine. When I brought him half way back to earth he said he couldn’t go on I asked him why, he said he needed his son. I said you’ve got your son. We repeated the process …that was OK too. I got him and his son to the opening in the roof of the theatre when he stopped and told me he couldn’t go on that he had to tell me the story.

He was in an convoy from Baghdad to Kuwait as they entered a town he saw the legs of a person on one side of the street the torso on the other and everything else across the street. On his side was sitting a little boy with most of his insides out. He went over tried to push his intestines back in. The boy grabbed his thumb looked at him and died, while his mother was on the other side of the road screaming and crying. He remembers nothing till he was back in base. He was then told it took three men to prize him from the boy who was cradled in his arms.

Joe had a cross around his neck. I asked if he was a man of Faith. He said, “Yes.” I asked him if he knew where that child was, he said, “with God.” I then in my own special and different way had him “offer the bitter root to Christ.” This involves three chairs. The person sitting in the one at the center, putting Christ in the left one and another holy person of his choice in the other. Then I had, with both his hands, bring out all his problems and hold them between his hands in front of him. We then established the shape, size, colour and weight of all his problems. Then slowly he gave them to the holy person and I allowed him to notice how everything began to change as the holy person gave it to Christ who continued the change and gave the change problems back to him. I then had him take out those problems again in his hands and notice the radical change. Catharsis!

We finished off the Phobia Cure now with his TWO sons at the opening of the roof of the theatre repeating the process. Finally with his two sons in the aisle seat.. It was done over, schluss basta, aus!

The two most stressful items were now Zeros and his Fibromyalgia was a 5.

What a great relief for him. He and I knew he was on his way.

As for me, it was a journey of mental tap dancing like crazy and my imagination working overtime. It was some day!

It had only taken two hours from start to finish.

This is how I begin to help people with their problems but it’s only the beginning. From there I have to help him deal with his inner conflicts and dichotomies, re- prioritize his criteria and expand his limiting beliefs all supported by new behaviours.

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