Monday, August 20, 2012

“An Integration of Opposites”: A Review of Healing the Sacred Divide by Jean Benedict Raffa


(Larson Publications, 2012, larsonpublications.com), ISBN: 978-1-936012-60-2

Books, in many ways, are like people, and a bookshelf full of books could be thought of as a society in miniature. Some books look nice, but don’t offer much when you get past the cover. Some books offer some companionship in the form of a bit of new knowledge, perhaps some laughs, and a pleasant passing of time, but they are soon forgotten. Still other books are provocative, poking us in uncomfortable places and riling us up—and in the process, helping us to grow.
            Then there are the books that are destined to be great. They are the books that we go to again and again. Books that are clearly the product of deep thought, extensive research, careful structure, and years of richly lived experience by their authors.
            These books, unlike those that are merely passing travelers or vague acquaintances, become our friends.
            Healing the Sacred Divide (subtitled “Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World”) has become my friend. It will be given a special place on my shelves once this review is complete and sent out into the world, and I anticipate going back to it again and again as I continue my journey to wholeness and spirtual health.
            From its stunning cover (with art by Cicero Greathouse) depicting the mandorla (which I’ll define later) to its closing myth, Dr. Raffa’s book grabbed me and egged me on. It is a fairly dense book at 318 pages, with small type and 54 chapters, but it is also varied in its presentation and structure.
            Healing the Sacred Divide is divided into two parts: The Evolution of God-Images (which sets the stage by examining the creation and promulgation of organized religion and the separation of the God and Goddess) and Nine Wisdom Gifts of an Integrated God-Image. It is this second part that constitutes the greater portion of the book.
            As I mentioned, the book, although packed full of words, is sufficiently varied to prevent it from ever feeling like a dry academic tome or didactic “self-help book.” [This makes sense considering the duality of logos and mythos that runs like a river thru the text]. Dr. Raffa presents experiences, light and dark, from her personal life, for they are inextricably woven with the chapters she has written and the ideas and suggestions she presents. This personal investment over the course of decades, through family tragedy, Church struggles, and spiritual passageways fills the book with a warmth and sincerity some books in this vein lack. One gets the sense that the exercises she offers at the end of each chapter in Part 2 should at least be tried, because she’s used them herself.
            Intermingled with the Nine Gifts (which are: Holistic Perception, Transforming Light, Acceptance of Shadow, Emotional Integrity, Partnership, Balance, Sovereignty, Meaning, and Mandorla Consciousness) are a series of “Cosmic Dialogues.” These, to me, were the edgiest and most difficult sections of the book as a male, to read (along with the culminating myth, which works on the same model), casting as they do the God as a traditionally driven, domineering Patriarch and Goddess as the solely Nurturing Mother. But, as Dr. Raffa suggests, I was open to the feelings I felt when the hackles came up, and I saw where the Shadow in me still needs some integration to get beyond the idea that Males being to blame for all of the heartaches, wars, and deceits in the world means that I am somehow to blame by being one. Not since reading Robert Bly’s Iron John 20 years ago have I so actively engaged with the notions of Maleness being devalued in society and how it has shaped my engagement with it, and I am more whole for having done so.
            One of the keys to the process of healing the sacred divide, very much in line with Jungian ideas of embracing and integrating the Shadow (I have previously reviewed an excellent book by Erel Shalit on the subject), is the mandorla [what I have always known as the vesica piscis], that middle place where Light and Dark, Male and Female, “Good” and “Evil,” etc. overlap. It's the spiritual analog of the Venn Diagram and the section of the overlap brings to mind the shape of the fish associated with Jesus and also the entrance to the womb.
            There is a thought-provoking table of pairs on pages 50–52 that are organized around the Drive for Species-Preservation (Feminine Principle) and Drive for Self-Preservation (Masculine Principle). This distinction of Species- vs. Self-Preservation is one I had never before seen and it goes a long way toward understanding what is at work here.
            Those readers familiar with Alchemy, the Hieros Gamos [sacred marriage], and Kundalini, Sophia, and other snake-based spiritual symbology will find much of interest in these layers of the text. Raffa pulls from the work of Jung, as mentioned, and also from Joseph Campbell and those from whom he learned, such as Heinrich Zimmer and the writings of Meister Eckert and Dante’s Divine Comedy.
            Many chapters have an Endnotes section, which is a wonderful aide should a certain idea or “Gift” create a pull toward further research.
            Division [partisanship, sexual politics, classism, etc.] is the coin of the realm in America as the November 2012 election approaches. The chasm seems to grow ever wider, marked by increased venom in the rhetoric of politicians, corporate CEOs, religious leaders, and the millions posting on Facebook and Twitter. The voices of those committed to healing the divide are being drowned in all the noise.
            I hope that many, many people read, digest, and practice the exercises in Dr. Raffa’s Healing the Sacred Divide. Healing begins within, but quickly spreads to farther realms. A shift in paradigms has never been needed more.

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