Evelyn and James Whitehead have written a slew of books touching on ministry, theology, and psychology. I found this mid-90’s volume, subtitled “A Spirituality of the Painful Emotions” on the bookshelf in my parish’s library. It tackles some very difficult material: anger, guilt, shame, and depression–all woven deeply into the fabric of American culture, and inevitably, into Western Christendom.
It’s a wise book, thoughtful, considered, and full of clinical examples. Personally, I was looking for something more explicitly spiritual. But the Whiteheads integrate a religious sensibility with impressive psychological knowledge. They produced a book that leaps easily between the emotional and spiritual lives of a believer. And indeed, these are not separate lives so much as they are very closely linked aspects of the whole person each one of us is.
Diagnosis and discernment is key when dealing with material like this. Do we recognize anger when it wells up within us? Are we able to admit we possess shame about a traumatic experience? Or do we deny them, bury them? The challenge with our culture’s engagement with psychology, as I see it, is that it is mostly a surface thing. Americans are perhaps willing to admit they have a problem. And some concede they are victims. But is there a willingness to delve deeply, to make the grueling journey within to engage our problems and move toward healing and integration? Unfortunately, our own sense of entitlement (perhaps rooted in our affluence) trips us up.
This is a difficult book, and I’d like to think that my experiences in 12 Steps and in counseling as a young adult prepared me somewhat more for it than some. But this is also an honest book. As such, it is not for the faint of heart.