The impact of the imaginal and dialogical (relational) processes in the spiritual exercises, on image of self and image of God in women making the nineteenth annotation retreat.
Paulin-Campbell, Annemarie Renée.
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The thesis is situated in the interface between psychology and Christian spirituality. It explores the experience of women in the South African context making the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius as a Nineteenth Annotation Retreat. The results of the study show that shifts in image of self and image of God are facilitated by the imaginal and dialogical/relational processes in the Spiritual Exercises. A qualitative, hermeneutical approach was taken in which nineteen women were interviewed about their experience of making the Spiritual Exercises. Fifteen of these were interviewed after completing the Spiritual Exercises while four were interviewed during the process. Shifts towards more positive self and God-representations were reported by all but one of the women interviewed. Images of God shifted from distant or ambivalent to positive relational images. Images of self also shifted in concert with shifts in image of self, with the women coming to see themselves as intrinsically valuable and unconditionally loved by God. A marked lessening in defensive processes was also noted. A constructive interpretation of the themes which emerged from an analysis of the data was done from both psychological perspective and spiritual-theological perspectives. From a psychological perspective Object-Relations theory and Dialogical Self theory were used to better understand the mechanisms enabling shifts in God and self-representation. From a spiritual theological perspective, Rahner’s (1960, 1964) relational theology of grace shed light on the spiritual processes in the Spiritual Exercises which facilitate shifts in image of God and self. Imaginal dialogical or relational aspects of the Exercises were found to play an important role in facilitating shifts in both image of self and image of God. The findings of this study provide compelling evidence for the interplay between psychological and spiritual processes in the Spiritual Exercises in particular, and spiritual experience in general, resonating with the work of Meissner (1987, 2003) and Ulanov (2001). It also resonates with Rahner’s (1960, 1964) theology of grace as God’s self-communication which parallels the move in psychology towards the relational which is strongly evident in both object-relations theory and the more recent Dialogical Self psychology.
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