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Who does not get chills within the bowels of malice in stories of shape-shifting?

One of these is The Soldier’s Tale (1919), the collaborative effort of the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky and the Swiss librettist C. F. Ramuz. Because funds were scarce in the aftermath of the First World War for the composition of large works, Stravinsky scored this old Russian folk tale with seven musicians and four actors/dancers, all sharing the same bare stage. (Check out YouTube.)

We grow to love this war-weary soldier, his knapsack on his back as he cavorts toward his village, all the while anticipating his ten-day leave with his mother and girlfriend. Suddenly, into his path steps the devil, disguised as a maiden who persuades him to exchange the old fiddle (his soul) in his knapsack for a red book filled with secrets for obtaining immense wealth. After three days of luxurious initiation by the devil, the soldier is hooked.

Years of prosperous but increasingly empty living begin to glut the soldier’s passion for fame, and he longs for his old life.

This story line is painfully familiar throughout oral and literary traditions all over the world: All is ours if we but surrender our souls to the devil. A period of unprecedented prosperity ensues until eviscerated by the maggots of worldly success. A longing for the way things used to be glimmers; within its light, some move toward conversion and return to ordinary life.

Others do not, including our soldier of this Russian tale.

 

 

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Yes, there is another book out on Donald J. Trump, one that relates this phenomenon to the global epidemic of narcissism—admittedly a disturbing read. In my take, the book exposes this malignant crud incrementally poisoning the human psyche; its challenge is to recognize and transform our individual and collective narcissism—a tall order, indeed.

To facilitate this process, two psychiatrists Leonard Cruz and Steven Buser invited Jungian analysts, psychologists, and academics to contribute essays on narcissism that later evolved into A Clear and Present Danger – Narcissism in the Era of Donald Trump (2016). These essays evolved into a multifaceted picture of this disorder, with resonance in mythology, psychology, literature, relationships, gender, and world history. Ours is not the only era that has been adversely affected.

Against this background the authors also referenced Donald Trump, the then Republican candidate for the Oval Office and his supporters through depth psychology’s collective and personal unconscious; in both lie the roots of narcissism, a noxious energy that undermines relatedness and obliterates spirit in any expression. Such clarity afforded me a respite from the overwhelment that had been eating me alive.

However, the concluding essay by Clarissa Pinkola Estes lands the book on a positive note. We are precisely the leaders these dark times call for. Do not lose heart.

 

It’s all around us, shriveling our spirits: the killing winds of the election frenzy, theprotracted bombing of Mosul, the sterile dispatching of unwanted babies, the wanton garroting of truth-seekers, the covert erasing of embarrassing truth, the procrustean lopping off of imagination, the programmed mauling of the Core Curriculum, and the list goes on …

Such is the outgrowth of hedonism, secularism, and materialism that continues candy-coating its evil through the social media. All of life is trivialized, left vapid, and fed by such reports as Kate Middleton’s twenty-one outfits, disparaged by the Queen.

Other than unplug, turn off cell phones, have meals at home, monitor our thinking, and discern the drift of our choices, what can we do?

It’s about waking up to who we really are: persons created in the image and likeness of God. Such requires taking time apart from the madness, listening to our breathing, plunging into our depths and remaining there, even if awkward. From this very darkness begins to emerge a different voice, one that corrects, consoles, and counsels. If receptive enough, an inner authority, one we learn to trust, sends fresh cues. Obeying them produces a vibrancy that warms our hearts and others. No longer do we expose them to the seductive madness around us, no longer addicted to “the religion of rush,” as the Irish seer, John O’Donohue has said.

Thus guided, we co-create with our God.

 

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