In Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics, Christine Valters Paintner applies the modern psychological concept of archetype, or “primordial blueprint” in human consciousness, to twelve famous and not-so-famous figures. She then leads readers on a gentle inward journey to hidden insights into their own psyches’ light and shadows. Her choice of monks and mystics is refreshing and unexpected at times: Francis of Assisi, King David, the Virgin Mary, Dorothy Day, Desert Mother Amma Syncletica, Brigid of Kildare, Brendan of Nursia, the Old Testament’s Miriam, Rainier Maria Rilke, Hildegard of Bingen, and Thomas Merton. Each of these provides a basis for an archetype: the Inner Fool, the Sovereign, the Mother, the Orphan, the Warrior, the Healer, the Pilgrim, the Sage, the Prophet, the Artist, the Visionary, and the Monk. She addresses each monk or mystic and his or her related archetype in a separate chapter in which she provides a reflection on the person in question, a discussion of the “light” and “shadow” aspects of each archetype, and a connection to a Gospel story. She then suggests a meditation and a mandala practice. Finally, she lists questions for reflection and includes a poem addressing that monk or mystic as a closing blessing.
Although raised in a Catholic home, I have never felt any real appreciation for long-dead monks, mystics or saints. I believe this is in part because many were rather eccentric and their lives were far removed from my experience of the world. However, Valters Paintner’s application of the concept of archetype to their lives suggested a new lens through which to view my own inner life that I found insightful. For this reason, I think this book has significant value for both personal introspection and for group study.
(Reviewed in exchange for a copy of book via Netgalley.)