April 8: Psyche learns the hard way

by Liz Hill

Lenten Devotional 2011“Why art thou cast down, o my soul?” “Hope in God.” Too fast and too simple. We have to acknowledge our problems, really deal with them, and this is painful.

An old tradition interprets the Song of Solomon as a love story, a romance between Christ and the soul, Christ and the Church, or both. Psyche, a 1648 poem by Joseph Beaumont, presents this relationship with great psychological realism. Psyche, the human soul betrothed to Christ, is guided by her guardian angel, and is given Charis, or Charity, for her handmaid. At one point he takes the maid away, and Psyche, unaware of what is happening, succumbs to a devastating spiritual dryness. She becomes fiercely legalistic and is especially hard on herself. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, …though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity… .”

Where I grew up, the term “charity” meant a tax-deductible contribution. Although we read and admired I Corinthians 13, we seemed unaware that it was about our attitudes towards others — and ourselves. We need to take “a more excellent way,” and only the Holy Spirit can show it to us. Agreeing to this proposition is easy: practicing it is not. Psyche had to learn the hard way. And so do we. “The Spirit,” said the Greek Father Origen in one of his commentaries on the Song, “goes and comes as He will, and no one rightly knows whence or where.” Charis is eventually returned to a grateful and penitent Psyche, who has learned much through her suffering. The words of the Psalm are really a condensation of experience rather than a simple answer.

Exodus 2:1-22
Psalm 107
1 Corinthians 12:27-31; 1 Cor. 13:1-3
Mark 9:2-13