Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rahner on the danger in sleep

"If a man brings with him into his sleep good, genuine, holy images, if his power of imagination is already formed by means of the true archetypes of reality, archetypes blessed and redeemed, pure and radiant in the flesh in which the Logos of God was himself formed; if a man sinks into sleep like this, not formless (for the Christian has no need to become mystically formless in order to seize hold of God, since God has himself eternally assumed the form, the schema of man), nor in the chaotic distortion in which his daylight consciousness mirrors the lacerated reality of the world; then doubtless there will come to meet and greet him out of the kingdom of sleep in secret sympathy these images, which in reality he is bringing with him; then there is in him already a hidden principle of selection to determine what is to be allowed to pass from the depths of the soul into the soul which is left open. Those images which a believing man forms in himself when fully conscious call up out of the depths of his natural soul their own likeness. For indeed these Christian archetypes are really concealed in the depths of our 'natural soul' because we are redeemed not only from above but also from below by him who descended into the depths, and because there is in reality no such thing as a 'purely' natural soul, a soul in a state of purely natural innocence, because it is either saved or damned, or to speak even more correctly--after all it exists prior to the personal choice between the alternatives of salvation and damnation--it is both at the same time, the radical source from which both can well up, the might of darkness and the light of the morning-star which, according to Scripture, rises in . . . the heart.
"The 'schemata of the power of the imagination' (to speak in Kantian terms for once) don't consist merely in those harmless things which a rationalistic, unexistential psychology or a metaphysic of the sensitive soul tells us about. They are not empty forms of space and time. Rather, they have a historical physiognomy which is in the last analysis Christian or demonic. Which of the two sets of images--which constitute reality--will in effect become efficacious in us depends too upon which the personal spirit in his waking state has chosen as his.
"That is why our night prayer . . . ought to be a quiet, untroubled, relaxed and recollected gathering together of those great images in which the supreme reality, that of God, has come near to us and impressed itself on this visible world: the Son of Man, the Sign of the Cross, the Blessed Virgin, to name but a few. . . . Here it is not a question of a frivolous play of phantasy. Has not our phantasy too been consecrated down to the deepest roots of man since the eternal Word became flesh? And should the image, which faith creates out of this fact and in which it is concentrated and embodied, not be a kind of quasi-sacramental sign which sanctifies and blesses, guards and enlightens? In recommending this kind of 'imaginative' prayer, I naturally include under the heading of 'image' everything which belongs to the realm of sensibility, and not only what is ordered to the sense of sight, and therefore words, sounds, signs, gestures, in short everything in which the celestial spirit can be embodied, the nether depths of our being sanctified and the spirit of earth banished. The correct, calm and recollected signing of oneself with the sign of the Cross, the simple gesture of prayer, the words of prayer, if they are filled with simple greatness and concentrated reality, all these [too] belong to that imaginativeness which--in my opinion--ought to be the characteristic precisely of night prayer, if it is to become an exorcism and consecration of that kingdom into whose power man surrenders himself in sleep."

Karl Rahner, "A spiritual dialogue at evening: on sleep, prayer, and other subjects" (1947), Theological investigations 3, The theology of the spiritual life, trans. Karl-H. and Boniface Kruger (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1967), 232-233.

Whatever one thinks of Jung, or Kant for that matter, this, it seems to me, is quite right. There are dangers in sleep, and evening prayer in general and compline in particular "should be of such a nature as to be adapted, more than any other prayer, to the peculiar character of that 'kingdom' into which man in sleep finds his way, so that he 'arms' himself against the dangers of [(i.e. peculiar to)] this region of life in sleep, in a sense exorcises and blesses it" (230).

I wonder, though, if "quasi-sacramental" is really strong enough. I mean, are the holy icons only "quasi-sacramental"? (According to the Orthodox, that is.) And what of Scripture itself, so pervasive throughout the Liturgy of the hours? Why not in some cases simply "a kind of . . . sacramental sign"? Not perhaps a sacrament, but not merely a sacramental either? (That was theologically imprecise, I know.)


Bonhoeffer"in all the ancient evening prayers we are struck by the frequency with which we encounter the prayer for preservation during the night from the devil, from terror, and from an evil, sudden death.  The ancients had a persistent sense of man's helplessness while sleeping, of the kinship of sleep with death, of the devil's cunning in making a man fall when he is defenseless.  So they prayed for the protection of the holy angels and their golden weapons, for the heavenly hosts, at the time when Satan would gain power over them.  Most remarkable and profound is the ancient church's prayer that when our eyes are closed in sleep God may nevertheless keep our hearts awake.  It is the prayer that God may dwell with us and in us even though we are unconscious of his presence, that He may keep our hearts pure and holy in spite of all the cares and temptations of the night, to make our hearts ever alert to hear His call and, like the boy Samuel, answer Him even in the night:  'Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth' (1 Sam. 3:9).  Even in sleep we are in the hands of God or in the power of evil.  Even in sleep God can perform His wonders upon us or evil bring us to destruction.  So we pray at evening:

          When our eyes with sleep are girt,
          Be our hearts to Thee alert;
          Shield us, Lord, with Thy right arm,
          Save us from sin's dreadful harm.
                                                     Luther

     "But over the night and over the day stands the word of the Psalter:  'The day is thine, the night also is thine' (Ps. 74:16."

     Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life together (Gemeinsames Leben, 1938), trans. John W. Doberstein (San Francisco:  HarperOne, Harper Collins Publishers, [1954]), 74-75.

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