"A friend offers us a place to feel special; a friend permits our authentic
specialness to be seen...our unique specialiness at the level of soul is honored by our
friend, who can see infinity in our particularity."
Connie Zweig & Steven Wolf
You can imagine my delight when I came across this bestselling book from two neo-Jungian psychotherapists who are soul friends and are flourishing in romantic relationships… but not with each other!
Their deep bond did not happen in a social or contextual vacuum. It did not drop out of the sky one day and they had instant intimacy. Some sociologists are now saying we have shifted from a marriage-centered culture to a culture of intimacy in America (Intimacies: A New Relational World).
Wolf’s public affirmation of their intimate friendship is another cultural sign
that non-romantic intimacy is a new cultural good (for the meaning of a “cultural
good,” see Andy Crouch’s Cultural Making).
In other words, the embodied practice of the therapeutic narrative over recent years has clearly busted some malignant myths alienating men and women—myths embedded in the deep evangelical anxiety about intimacy between men and women. Busted not just merely in the sense of theory but ongoing embodied practice.
Recent books written by evangelical male leaders churches are void of the fruitfulness of deep cross-sex friendships like Zweig and Wolf’s; they still harbor fear and ambilvance stuck in the old malignant myths.
Is it possible for evangelical leaders to learn from the therapeutic narrative which has largely contributed to the cultural of intimacy? Consider these maglinant myths which shape so many evangelical communities.
Myth # 1
It flies in the face of sound wisdom for a man and a woman who are married but not to each other to risk intimacy in our hypersexualized culture.
This remains, of course, one of the most fundamental myths perpetuating anxiety among evangelical leaders. It is almost indisputably interpreted as sound wisdom. Only the naïve, unsuspecting, simple-minded, overtrusting, and gullible would dare to risk real closeness with someone of the opposite sex in light of the dangers.
Better to be safe than sorry.
Evangelical leaders espousing this traditional interpretation have many stories of wrecked marriages to support this as sound wisdom. It becomes even more powerful in light of pastors who have committed adultery. Earlier this year we learned of three megachurch pastors in the Orlando area resigning after admitting to sexual affairs.
What we don't hear from the same evangelical leaders are the thousands and thousands of stories of therapeutic relationships between men and women spanning decades now which offer a powerful and collective counterpoint of wisdom.
Jeffery Kottler in his classic book, On Being a Therapist, writes, “Intimacy means being open, unguarded, and close to one another. To facilitate trust, the therapist must feel comfortable facing intimacy without fear.”
Why have evangelical leaders ignored this social embodied practice of intimate encounters? In a classic book renowned in the therapeutic industry, Irvin Yalom writes, “We must demonstrate our willingness to enter into deep intimacy with our patient.” Yalom has written many books which involve stories of female clients.
Why, yes, the immediate pushback is that there are many safeguards and boundaries therapists practice. Yet, this does not remove the temptation and vulnerability. Jeffrey Kottler honestly states the danger. Therapists, he writes, “carry many of the risks that are operative in any such intimate encounter, regardless of the safeguards and boundaries we install.”
Thousands upon thousands of men and women have engaged in intimate therapeutic relationships--a common everyday occurrence. How can evangelicals dismiss the sheer vastness of therapeutic relationships in which sex hasn’t happened but intimacy has? The numbers of pro-intimacy but sans sex stories are staggering in the everyday world of therapy.
We are at the mercy of our unconscious drives which sabotage our marriages and friendships.
As devoted neo-Jungians, Zweig and Wolf have a special fondness for the unconscious. Now, let's be clear, I'm no psychotherapist. I'm an outsider to the industry. But such an outsider can observe that a primary tenant to psychoanalytic theory is the unconscious and our need to understand how one's past is intruding or influencing one's present fears, behaviors, or decisions in close relationships.
When we enter into any kind of intimate connection or closeness with a friend or lover, we are susceptible to self-sabotage intimacy because of our unconscious past.
Neo-Jungians like to call this aspect our "shadow."
"All too often, friendships and romantic relationships
threaten the very survival of each other...The shadow lurks
like an incredible hulk behind our dearest friends. "
Connie Zweig & Steven Wolf
Zweig and Wolf though, do not fall into despair. Undersanding how the shadows can help us recognize triggers and enter into greater authenticity, vulnerability, trust, and tenderness.
The common myth among evangelical leaders is that the unconscious Freud sex drive is ever-present and too powerful for men and women to draw near to each other. In neo-Jungian terms, the unknown sexual shadow is always lurking. Zweig and Wolf are not going to deny the sexual shadow. They do not think that delight in male-female friendships is going to be clear sailing.
In fact, they assert that the sexual shadow can sabotage a marriage or friendship. The myth they and the overwhelming number of therapeutic relationships demolish is that we all are forever at the mercy of the unconscious in male-female intimate relationships.
If this myth were anywhere close to being true as evangelicals report it is, the ordinary, the common therapeutic world in which men and women meet with no one else around would be loaded with casualties from betrayals, infidelities, affairs, and sexual trysts.
Instead the therapeutic world is blazing a new trail for non-romantic closeness between men and women. To move beyond fears of intimacy in friendship we have to engage our sexual shadow which sabotages trust, tenderness, delight, and communion of souls.
What are the shadows which our sabotaging closeness in our marriages and male-female friendships?
Zweig and Wolf help us to see another next maglinant myth shaping so much evangelical anxiety:
Men and Women can’t be Vulnerable with Each Other When No One Else is Around.
Again, as we move forward looking at another myth, the sheer number of therapeutic relationships flourishing between men and women with no sex is staggering.
With evangelical anxiety running so high because of the first two myths, it is almost asserted as gospel truth that the meaning of vulnerability is identical with an overwhelming disadvantage in which one could not resist.
When news broke out that 3 Orlando Fla. megachurch pastors had resigned because of sexual affairs, this myth was once again trotted out as if it were indisputable.
One blogger citing what he thought were "commonsense" boundaries urged pastors to:
opposite sex... watch out for that long lunch alone together, or staying late and working together on the project."
"To meet the client in a therapeutic encounter, we must leave behind some of our armor and defenses....We become for our client...living, breathing, loving, attractive people."
Meeting alone...intentionality behind closed doors!
Listen to one male therapist admitting something common in the industry:
"I work with this one incredibly attractive woman. She has a crush on me and we both know it."
But the therapeutic culture has established itself as a trusted social practice in which men and women can enter into a vulnerable relationship of intimacy with no one else around.
Vulnerability in the context of male-female relationship in the evangelical community has come to be a code word for men (including male pastors) who can't resist temptation in the presence of a woman's attractiveness, tenderness, sweetness, strength, zest, immediate presence...when no one else is around.
Vulnerability within the therapeutic culture is a cultivated, relational risky connection for deepening authentic engagement at a soul-to-soul level. Once more, the sheer vastness of stories in the therapeutic world contradicts this evangelical myth.
It's become a common, ordinary, everyday, time-tested fact: men and women can enter into emotionally intense, vulnerable relationships behind closed doors and stay clear of sexual detours.
"Friendship and love are impossible without mutual vulnerability."
"Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy,
courage, empathy, and creativity."
Therapeutic Relationships of Embodied Closeness Between Men and Women do not Reflect a Spiritual Quest for Sacred Bonds.
What is refreshing about Zweig and Wolf is their robust hope that men and women can engage the sexual shadow beyond the closed doors of therapy and enter into soul friendships.
Many of my evangelical friends pour much energy into the sacredness of spousal friendship. And they should. In the twenty-first century, now more than ever before, spousal soul friendship has the opportunity to bear witness of the mutual quest between the sexes for wholeness, healing, integrity, reconciliation, and spiritual union within marriage.
But the mystery of eternal friendship emerging between the sexes as Zweig and Wolf attest, is not fulfilled, completed, or clinched in romantic coupling. In this deep sense, the mystery of friendship moves forward as the Spirit continues to liberate the marital bond from possessiveness, insecurity, and the heavy burden a we-centered marital codependency.
"As God's Spirit, the Spirit 'opens doors' which were shut before."
Myth # 5
Opposite-Sex Soul Friendships are Limited to Romantic Soul Mates.
“We met often in restaurants and coffeehouses for long hours of ecstatic conversation, which felt like what the Sufis call sobet, a communion of souls."
I almost jumped out of my seat when I saw Zweig and Wolf glowingly make the sacred connection most evangelicals have been reluctantly to admit in public: the communion of souls between the sexes, recognizing the authentic specialness of a friend, and expressing delight in that specialness before a watching world.
In the romantic age, the code word for genuine romance was “special” or to “feel special.” Romantic “moments” were about constructing something beyond “ordinary” life to “special things.” The stark contrast between romantic soul mates in the romantic age were scripts in which the romantic couple did "special" things in public while opposite-sex friends banished from the public square.
In the post-romantic age, the authentic specialness of a friend is also valued, honored, cherished, relished....in private within the friendship and out in the streets, in social media, and so on.
Delight is the intentional practice and culitvated virtue to discern another’s goodness and beauty. To delight in a friend is to learn to relish and cherish their unique God-created, God-redeemed beauty. It's the recognition of the unique sacredness of your opposite-sex friend and your willingness engage it out in the open instead of hiding it.
"Friendship is always an act of recognition."
In the words of author Bruce Epperly commenting on the Celtic view of seeing authentic specialness in our friend: “In seeing the Eternal Beauty in another, our eyes are opened to beauty in all things. From that personal vision of beauty, we are inspired to be seek shalom and wholeness in our relationships and corporate lives."
This is what Zweig and Wolf have done for us to ponder, emulate, embody, and practice.