A Call To Service

The concept of self-transcendence and service to others is at the core of Christian belief and practice. Consider as an example Isaiah 58:10 – ‘If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday’. Or in the New Testament, 1 Peter 4:10 makes the point very succinctly –  ‘Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received’.

It would be erroneous however to think that religious belief has a monopoly on self-transcendence; it has a rich secular hinterland.  In Viktor Frankl’s classic book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ he addressed his understanding of ‘”the self-transcendence of human existence.”‘ and wrote: ‘It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself–be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter’. And crucially, ‘The more one forgets himself–by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love–the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”’

The Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was cognizant of the fact that service need not be complicated or restricted to particular occupations; it is open to all of us, regardless of who we are and how we are categorized by society:

 

The Perennial Quest For Ultimate Meaning

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As a Logotherapist and a Christian Minister it comes as no surprise to me that Logotherapy is compatible with, but not exclusive to, the practical expression of a Christian worldview.

The best book on the subject, in my opinion, is ‘Logotherapy and the Logos of God in Christic Wisdom’ by Jeremiah Murasso, a Priest and Therapist. Murasso briefly elucidates the key similarities between Jesus’ ministry of healing, and the principles of the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy, that is Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy and Existential Analysis.

These words from Murasso strike me as being particularly meaningful (note: he uses masculine references as gender-generic):

Although man has often become distracted and at times despondent in his search for ultimate meaning, he has never abandoned this quest.  The reason for man’s persistence lies in the resiliency of man’s spirit, which although buried and at times bruised by the world, yearns for wholeness and completeness. The Christic Wisdom of the New Testament describes Christ nourishing the bruised yet yearning human spirit as he seeks to rekindle man’s awareness of his noetic core.

‘I Am The Master Of My Fate’

A favourite short poem of mine was written during the Victorian era by William Ernest Henley. ‘Invictus’ is a classic blend of Stoicism, cultural and a biblical reference.  With respect to the latter, in the fourth stanza Henley alludes to Matthew 7:14, ‘Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.’ 

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Here is a poem that was written by a defiant Henley – he had a leg amputated and was fighting Tuberculosis.  He knew hardship and he knew how to make a defiant stance against ‘fate’.  This stance was a measure of a man who lived in a challenging world, accepted that to be the case, but through his words, demonstrating the power of free will Anyway, here is the full poem:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul

Such has been the impact of this poem over the years, it has been quoted by Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama, among others.

Meaning & Wellbeing: Looking to the Future

For those who are interested, I have a second website dedicated to my role as a Logotherapist & Existential Analysis. Logotherapy was developed by Psychiatrist and Holocaust Survivor Prof. Viktor Frankl; its premise is that humans are motivated by the pursuit of meaning throughout their lives and in individual circumstances. In his book ‘Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning’, Frankl writes: “Man is originally characterized by his “search for meaning” rather than his “search for himself.” The more he forgets himself—giving himself to a cause or another person—the more human he is. And the more he is immersed and absorbed in something or someone other than himself the more he really becomes himself.” 

Logotherapy can be characterised as ‘healing through meaning’ and has a broad range of applications, especially in relation to navigating existential problems e.g. career choice, retirement, relationships, bereavement and living well with chronic ill-health.  Logotherapy helps us to take control of our loves by accepting that “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” (Viktor Frankl).

You can visit the website here: www.scottpeddie.com

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Learning from the Past; Looking to the Future

It was English poet Alfred Tennyson who wrote: “Hope Smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier'”

And so we embrace that hope as we move inexorably towards a new year. For many though, it can be difficult to focus entirely on the future. The year gone by may hold painful memories of illness, bereavement, broken relationships and other negative experiences.  We like to think that a new start and a new year will signal a time to forget that which has left its mark. But by trying to suppress the depth of our true feelings, and ignoring their existence, we make the likelihood of suffering greater.

The American Poet, Theodore Roethke, once reflected: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” He was right. In the midst of darkness and suffering there is meaning to be found and wisdom to imbibe; by applying those lessons to the present and future we can make progress and develop our true potential. Or, as the Psychiatrist and Holocaust Survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl wrote in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’: “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

With these words I wish you all a peaceful, meaningful 2018, my prayer for you is that whatever difficulties you experience, you take comfort from the knowledge that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. John 1:5.

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Taking Time to Reflect on What is Important

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The question of how we best use our time, and the direction our energies are focused on, are not new. Yes, the pace of life has changed, but the core principles are the same.  The biblical narrative – in both the Old and New Testaments – bares witness to this.  There is, for example, the beautiful and poignant words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

‘3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.’

And then in the New Testament we have a number of verses reflecting on time, responsibility, wisdom and the Divine imperative to live a full life mindful of our calling. Consider James 4:14, where it is written:

’14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.’

Wise words indeed.

Nativity Narratives: Realism & Transformation

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It may seem somewhat maudlin to reflect on the topic of suffering on Christmas Day – a day of joyful celebration and expressions of togetherness. Christianity presses home the point that yes, suffering is real, but amidst that emotional, mental and  physical turmoil, there is transcendence and an encounter with a broader reality.

The joy of Jesus’ birth is brought into sharp relief by the inevitability, and the horror, of the crucifixion.   For example, in Isaiah 53:3  it was prophesied that Jesus would indeed be treated appallingly: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” One could say with validity that the shadow of the cross accompanied Jesus throughout his earthly ministry.

Jesus embraced suffering; he did not seek it out, nor did he attempt to avoid it. His life was a cogent memorial that we are all presented with myriad challenges, and that joy, and suffering, are often intertwined in the unfolding narrative of our existence. But crucially, God has the last word: suffering is transient, and through the incarnation, brought forth boldly into our consciousness by the nativity story, it is transformed. As we read in John 1:5, ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it‘.

 

 

‘The Courage to Suffer….’

As a Logotherapist and Existential Analyst I’m often asked what my favourite Viktor Frankl quote is. Such a difficult question! There are so many profoundly moving and insightful words contained in his writings and now very firmly ensconced in his legacy.

If I had to choose though, it would be a sentence I’ve clung onto many times as I’ve faced adversity, failure and unavoidable suffering:

But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.” (in Man’s Search for Meaning).

No further comment or exegesis is required…….