The Grapevine Art & Soul Salon

Presentations: Barbara Knott

Note: This article was originally published in Pilgrimage: Psychotherapy and Personal Exploration, Vol. 17, Number 3, Summer 1991). I have edited it lightly for this presentation.

DEEP CALLS UNTO DEEP: Searching for Soul with David Miller

When I was a child, the stories of the Bible dropped into my soul like plumb bobs which, by their sounding, not only measured but increased the depth of my small self. Deep was calling unto deep: the stream of my inner life sent out its yearnings and in came the stories and images that had been shaped out of the cultural wellspring to satisfy my soul.

My soul wanted stories. It got an intimate story of the first fumbling and wonderful attempts to be human as Adam and Eve modeled the spiritual "fall" for coming generations. It got an epic story of a nation's enslavement and escape and new beginnings. There were love stories of many kinds, including some dark, erotic ones of kings and concubines and murder and treachery. There were stories of things I already knew to be impossible, like traveling in the stomach of a whale. And yet I knew also that there was something to the story. My excitement told me so.

My soul wanted images. It got Adam's shapeshifting rib and Eve's ear listening to a snaky, forbidden voice and the juicy bite of apple and the downcast faces and curious vulnerability in the couple's nakedness during the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. There was the murder of one son by the other and the mysterious mark set upon Cain. My excitement as a young child would reach a high visceral pitch on hearing about the hiding of baby Moses in the bullrushes and his discovery by the princess of Egypt and the pain of separation from him in Miriam and the mother. The Book of Ruth offered lovely scenes of gleaning and togetherness, a mustard-seed view of community that reached from Palestine to Aragon, Georgia; from who-knows-when B.C. to 1950 A.D. The images of Naomi coaching Ruth to lie down at the feet of Boaz during the night, and of her doing so, and of Boaz arising and caring for Ruth from that time forward, are cameo expressions of love as I wanted it to be. Whether it ever was or is does not seem to matter. Then there are the two weightiest of images, of the Child in the Manger and the Man/God on the Cross.

At this moment, having warmed up on memories, I feel some awe in approaching the Christ images. Something is stirring inside me. That is good; I want to be warmed to my subject. My subject is soul, my theme is the search for soul, and my guide, in this instance, is David Miller (with occasional reference to fellow travelers James Hillman, C. G. Jung, D. H. Lawrence, Walt Whitman).

As a theologian, David Miller is concerned that Christianity's images do not thrill us anymore. By "us" I mean people like me for whom the Bible was important in our upbringing, but who as adults find little connection between it and our actual feeling lives. At some point, those stories and images simply stopped moving inside me. They were there in memory but not in movement (as in "being moved"). I will always be grateful to the church of my youth for making the Bible available to me. And yet, my ceasing to care for the stuff of the Bible has something to do with the Church, too. Even those in the Church who do not read the Bible literally still manage, somehow, to restrain the images in bonds of concepts that prevent them from coming to life inside us.

Miller suggests that the thrilling power of Biblical images can be regained if we take them into art and poetry and depth psychology, where they can be "felt" along the blood and in the heart. He encourages us to make a list of Biblical images and to treat them metaphorically, to see how readily they begin to move in the soul. We can begin with an overview of the Bible, going from Genesis (finding ourselves suddenly in a world we have never seen before and where we don't know the names of things) to Exodus (the feeling of being in exile, from home or family or friend or from our own inner resources) to Apocalypse (the sense that our whole world is coming to an end). The Garden of Eden and Wandering in the Wilderness for 40 Days and Nights are images that invite recognition of equally familiar feeling states. The images have what Miller calls "perduring power." They are archetypal and thus imperishable, but they have to be free to move before they can move us. By linking these familiar Biblical images to our own, often unconscious feeling life, we can retrieve them from the limbo to which they have been assigned by a desacralized world view, and we can simultaneously make conscious some of the chaos of our own souls. To "move" the images, to give them space and attention in our own feeling life and imagination, is to engage in what David Miller, drawing on the work of archetypal psychologist James Hillman, calls "soul-making." Hillman insists in his work that the "root metaphor" of psychology is soul. By definition, psychology refers to "logos" or intelligible speech of soul. We cannot by definition have psychology without soul--and yet in practice we do, just as, in practice, we have religion without soul. My point will be clearer as we explore the notion of soul. The root meaning of "therapy" in Greek is "to wait upon," or "to attend," as a servant attends or a waiter waits. Psychotherapy can be seen as attending to or waiting upon psyche (soul). If, as C. C. Jung says, "psyche is image" (meaning that image is the language of psyche and therefore image is much if not all of what we know of psyche), then at least one working definition of psychotherapy is to attend to or pay attention to images produced by the psyche.

My intention here is to provide for our readers who do not know him an introduction to the work of David L. Miller by recommending his book Hells and Holy Ghosts (1989) and placing that work in the context of his other publications and lectures where he explores material that is both intriguing and potentially useful in psychotherapy. Miller retired as Watson-Ledden Professor of Religion at Syracuse University. He is knowledgeable and articulate in many fields besides theology, including the history of ideas, literary theory, and psychology. That is why he was a frequent lecturer at the Eranos conferences held yearly at Ascona, Switzerland, from the 1930s until they were discontinued in the late 1980s. They were organized to create a dialogue between Eastern and Western thought and brought together an international community of thinkers, among whom the work of C. C. Jung was central. The Eranos yearbooks, edited by Joseph Campbell for many years, are comprised of transcripts of the lectures presented at Ascona by many of the brilliant minds of the twentieth century.

Miller says of Hells and Holy Ghosts,

This book's project is a therapy of idea--Christian ideas. It is a quest for the images lurking in those ideas like spectres, unconscious images which, if religiously positive, are also, and at the same time, humanly negative.

Together with Jung and Hillman, David Miller is concerned with the shadow side of Christianity: the relegation of the feminine to a lowly place, along with body, earth, and matter in general; the prejudice against the body in particular and the consequent devaluing of sexual experience and erotic life; the insistence on separating spirit from matter, on moving away (upward) from the concrete, the imagistic and the dark into the abstract, the conceptual, and the light. He is troubled by the notion of perfection attached to the image of Christ that makes it impossible, he says, for people to live up to their own ideas of selfhood. The inner script proclaims, "I'm no good"because I cannot be perfect as Jesus is perfect or as my Father in Heaven is perfect."

How does one perform a therapy of ideas? By attending to the ideas, says Miller, and by waiting upon the images that give body to the ideas. "Image" is a basic datum that informs Miller's work, as it is for Hillman and Jung. Images are the language of the imaginal world, that middle realm of psychic reality that Hillman calls "soul"f and that Jung more often refers to as the "unconscious."

Perhaps this is the place to make a distinction between "soul" and "spirit," since they are by no means interchangeable in the work of these writers. Both refer to a subtle energy that manifests humanly, with soul being more concrete and spirit more abstract. The direction of the energy flow is important, with spirit striving upward toward peaks of experience and accomplishment, soul tending downward, lingering in the vales of our lives where we suffer our torments and experience our limitations. Soul is the "embodied" end of the spectrum of spiritual energy and as such may be seen as individualized spirit. Poets have often connected soul with those downward-tending, low dark, erotic places of human experience. I think of D. H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature where he recognizes Walt Whitman's sense of soul. Whitman was the first American, Lawrence says, "to smash the old moral conception that the soul of man is something 'superior' and 'above' the flesh." He continues,

Even Emerson still maintained this tiresome "superiority" of the soul. Even Melville could not get over it. Whitman was the first heroic seer to seize the soul by the scruff of her neck and plant her down among the potsherds.

"There!" he said to the soul. "Stay there!"

Stay there, Stay in the flesh. Stay in the limbs and lips and in the belly. Stay in the breast and womb. Stay there, Oh Soul, where you belong. Stay in the dark limbs of negroes. Stay in the body of the prostitute. Stay in the sick flesh of the syphilitic. Stay in the marsh where the calamus grows. Stay there, Soul, where you belong.

Lawrence, like Whitman (and like Miller and Hillman), locates the soul in all the places that are not "up," as ego values are "up"; instead, the soul can be found in what is "down"--down to earth, earthy, under, imperfect, rejected, dark, erotic. According to Lawrence, the soul can only be found on the ground, along the "open road."

The Open Road. The great home of the Soul is the open road. Not heaven, not paradise. Not "above." Not even "within." The soul is neither "above" or "within." It is a wayfarer down the open road.

Not by meditating. Not by fasting. Not by exploring heaven after heaven, inwardly, in the manner of the great mystics. Not by exaltation. Not by ecstasy. Not by any of these ways does the soul come into her own. Not through charity. Not through sacrifice. Not even through love. Not through good works. Not through these does the soul accomplish herself.

Earlier in this same book, Lawrence lays out his own life creed in contrast to Benjamin Franklin's, and in doing so, he offers a close corollary to another important consideration in Miller's perspective. By looking at Lawrence's criticism of Franklin, we can see a soul psychology taking a stand against an abstract, spirit-driven belief system. First, Lawrence gives his objection to Franklin's creed:

I am a moral animal. But I am not a moral machine. I don't work with a little set of handles or levers. The temperance-silence-order-resolution-frugality-industry-sincerity-justice-moderation-cleanliness-tranquility-chastity-humility-keyboard is not going to get me going. I'm really not just an automatic piano with a moral Benjamin getting tunes out of me.

Lawrence then sets out his own creed. This is what he believes:

That l am I.

That my soul is a dark forest.

That my known self will never be more than little clearing in the forest.

That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back.

That I must have the courage to let them come and go.

That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women.

The soul as a "dark forest in which many gods come and go" is an image of the psyche that Miller and Hillman would nod to.

Miller's theology is a soul theology; it is archetypal and polytheistic in that it embraces a multiplicity of images of the deity and the self. He values the immediacy of life experience and makes room in his theologizing for the tones of the "negative" keyboard (the other side or shadow side of the Franklin-Christian creed) in which value is given to darkness, depth, chaos, disgust, grotesqueness, indignity, and to that which is despised, rejected, abandoned, unwanted, material, feminine, sexual, powerless, monstrous, deformed. These are the shadows of our perfectionistic, idealistic, monotheistic, and monotonous perspective on ourselves and our world. They include what we bring with us into therapy and what therapists attend to in clients.

"My life is hell!" is the opening line of the first part of Miller's book, Hells and Holy Ghosts. Miller is referring to the anguished utterance of the psyche in response to those twistings and turnings of the soul that make us feel down, bewildered, wounded, crucified, forsaken. Contrary to the all-positive psychologies that would have us struggle upward from the experiences, Miller would have us take time to do what he calls (after Franz Kafka) "achieving the negative" (as in the negative tones mentioned above). That is, we would attend to negative experiences, live with them attentively, instead of rejecting and abandoning these important conditions encountered on the Open Road of the soul's journey.

Miller says of his work that he wants to demonstrate the "perduring power of Christian archetypal structures" and that the idea is "to try to discover some of the functions of the images that have been promulgated by Christian ideas." The twin notions that Jesus, after his execution and before he left his historical ministry, made a journey to the interior of the earth to a place called Hell and that the dead have an active life in ghostly form are not easy to sustain at the end of the twentieth century. He insists that while the "descent into hell" and "the resurrection of the dead" may be dubious as literal beliefs, they are "alive and well as postmodern metaphors." In a lecture Miller asked, in regard to Noah's flood, which of us has not been "flooded" with feeling? We know "flooding" as an aspect of immediate experience. That is what makes the Biblical account of the flood a living image, part of the logos of soul, of psychology.

Miller's book is in two parts, the first focusing on the image of Christ's descent into hell, and the second on the resurrection. I would like to single out the first of these images as a resource for working with dreams or fantasies that have to do with descending. For instance, here is a dream offered by Charles Knott:

I am leaving a conference center at night with a pal whom I have met recently. We are walking around Atlanta like conventioneers looking for entertainment. We walk down Peachtree Street past the corner where the Academy Theater used to be located. There is an abandoned filling station on the corner next to the theater and a construction crew is working away with heavy machinery under bright, halogen spotlights. They have raised a huge section of steel-reinforced concrete driveway which has broken, and the two halves are leaning against each other. l am told by a voice that the deepest fissure that has ever been found in the earth has been uncovered here and that there are things to be seen here that have never been seen before. I shudder at the thought of what might lie below and, refusing to look, hurry on my way.

It is not my purpose here to interpret the dream, but rather to illustrate Miller's argument that "the problematic Christian form of the idea of the 'descent into one's own hell' provides postmodernity with a powerful image apart from belief or unbelief." In psychological terms, the motif has to do with coming down to earth, making our own psychic journey into our own underworld. The fissure in the earth leads to things to be seen that have never been seen before. That is like the deepening that occurs when one descends into one's own hell.

In addition to its reference to the dreamer, the dream also might have something to do with the soul of the city; what is underneath Atlanta's surface, created to capture and entertain conventioneers, a veneer so solid as to seem concrete. Does the city have a soul? And if so, how is it to be found? We could begin by exploring the metaphorical possibilities of "concrete" and the image of "going deep." By going deep--into shadows, the underbelly of city life, the funk, the suffering, the imperfections and contradictions, the chaos of street life--the imaginal world that is soul might be shaped out of "concrete" experience.

In Miller's exploration of the image of Christ's descent into hell, he feeds that image with associations from myth and literature. He stimulates us to make our own amplification of the image of descent. "Amplification" is a term used by Jung to designate the process of adding to an image related material from world culture. In my amplification of descent, I encounter the Sumerian myth of Inanna, for instance, in which her descent into the underworld, to her dark sister Erishkegal, results also in a crucifixion and a return from death, a journey that enriches her even as it destroys and remakes her "upper world" consciousness. Miller points out: A person does not need to read Jung to know that experiencing the deepest aspects of the self's emotion and thought is a shocking and wounding event for the ego and its conscious and volitional interests. Discovering shadowy portions of one's own personality is often traumatic, like a descent into hell.

There is also the Greek myth of Persephone's descent into the Underworld. In the Homeric hymn, her descent is involuntary; she is abducted from her upperworldly, maidenly pursuits into "the deeps" of wedded life; rapt away from the familiar and comfortable at-one-ness with the mother into relationship with the wholly other (the male). In another, older version of the story, she makes a voluntary descent when, one suspects, she has grown restless at being kept on the surface of her world and begins to listen to the voices of the shades that clamor for an attendant spirit in the bleak places of the Underworld. She goes there to name and bless them and in turn is blessed by them. Are these two (repressed) versions of the myth metaphors for our need psychologically to enter our own underworld and wait upon the shades in our own dead spaces? Failing to do so voluntarily, we often have a sense of being "raped" or rapt by the psyche into situations that cause the ego to feel defeated, dismembered, crucified.

Jung's work is invaluable in linking the motif of descent to the experience of the Self (the name he gave to the psyche as an entity which in its totality transcends the ego and often counters ego intentions). Jung points out that the experience of the Self is always a defeat for the ego. The integration of unconscious contents, says Jung, involves "a serious lesion of the ego." A crucifixion, perhaps? A hanging upon a peg as dead meat, like Inanna? Abduction? Involuntary submission to a god, like Persephone?

This kind of work in amplification helped me to explore one of my own dreams in which I told someone to "go to hell." When I was able to see "hell" metaphorically, I realized my dream was telling me that the only way I could meet the other person was if she were willing to "descend" with me into this frightening but strangely fascinating place where our tensions, the "negatives" of our relationship, have some value. If I were to see the dream intrapsychically, the same point could be made. Inner tensions are resolved by moving them to a new place; in this case, a deeper place. In waking life, when we say, "Go to hell!" that may be a way of saying, "Get out of the tension with me! Get away! Go deeper! There is no way I can meet you here! Go to the place of soul."

The titles of Miller's books insist that there is more than one way of looking at things--anything, even our most revered notions, even our deity: Gods and Games, Three Faces of God, Christs, Hells and Holy Ghosts. Plurality is stressed in each case. The polytheistic perspective respects all things in their eachness, as in Zen Buddhism. Christianity, too, has that Zen perspective, Miller says, as can be seen in Jesus' invitation to "behold the lilies of the field." The suggestion here is that each member of creation has its own numinosity, its own integrity. But that perspective remains in the shadows of Christianity, as unlived life; and life that goes unlived (repressed) usually returns to "plague" us with diseases or disaster. For example, we are currently plagued with ecological disasters that have to do with our failure to value each member of creation. Instead of seeking dominion over the earth, we would do well to place ourselves in an egalitarian posture from which we attend to the things of the world in all their variety, valuing and praising each for its unique existence. Our similar failure to appreciate and wait upon the multiplicity of soul figures that make themselves known to us may be the source of our diseases. Miller points out in a lecture that one-sidedness is Jung's definition of neurosis. To some degree, our one-sidedness is an inner condition, yet it is also a result at least partly, he says, "of the ideas we walk around in," referring especially to the Christian climate of thought in the Western world, which encourages abstractions of the many into the one and thereby loses creation.

In amplifying mythological journeys of descent as a way of enriching Christian symbology related to Christ's journey into hell, Miller simultaneously appeals for a metaphorical exploration of the Christ journey and for a deepening of psychological readings of dreams that image such a descent, as in the dream given above. How much more "body" that dream image has if we feed it with the other images of descent I've given here and the one Miller gives in his book. Although Miller's work has a finely-honed architecture of thought within it, his method is to work through intuition and feeling to elaborate the images that provoke, haunt, shadow, and embody thought. He is concerned, as Joseph Campbell repeatedly was in his writing and lectures, to de-literalize images and release them into the fluidity of metaphor where they can regain their thrilling power as they touch our feeling life and our sense of immediacy in experience. For instance, if one takes the image of hell literally, one is forced to think of hell as a place off in the future where one may be forced to spend an eternity in torment. As such, it is a dead image, vaguely dreadful but out of touch with feeling life, which is in the here and now. I have tried to suggest, in conjunction with Miller's work, how releasing that image into a fluid stream of comparisons (metaphor) quickens the image and creates this possibility of being moved by it.

Miller's rhetoric weaves, embroiders, juxtaposes; it is dense, full of wit and word play. It is not easy reading. One has to imagine with him, to take delight in sniffing out the undisclosed likenesses in familiar oppositions and the multiplicity in things that formerly seemed to be of one piece. The reward is to expand the range and depth of one's imagination, to engage in soul-making. For a refreshing look at theological material that may have become stale or psychological experience that may want more soul, I recommend an excursion or two with David Miller.


James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology (New York: Harper & Row, 1975)

Carl Jung, Collected Works, tr. R.F.C. Hull (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955�)

D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, pb. ed., (New York: The Viking Press, 1964)

David L. Miller, The New Polytheism: Rebirth of the Gods and Goddesses (Dallas: Spring Publications, 1981)

David L. Miller, Christs: Meditations on Archetypal Images in Christian Theology (New York: Seabury Press, 1981)

David L. Miller, Three Faces of God: Traces the Trinity in Literature and Life (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986)

David L. Miller, Hells and Holy Ghosts: A Theopoetics of Christian Belief (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1989)

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