This post continues yesterday’s theme of a holding space. I wrote about my responses to Liverpool’s two cathedrals, commenting that this time I had enjoyed the Anglican one more than its Catholic counterpart. I have been musing about why this might have been.
I remember a friend telling me about a church he had gone into-one that he knew and liked. He said that from the moment he went in, he felt that something was different, That something was missing. As he walked around he saw that the Reserved Sacrament had gone. (This is bread and wine that has already been consecrated and is “reserved” in case anyone urgently needs communion.) He then understood why he felt that the church was empty. “Christ” was absent.
To go back to the Catholic cathedral, I was aware that they are currently ‘fatherless” with the current Pope having retired and a new one yet to be appointed. (And the Anglican cathedral has a new father to make room for. But there is a father present here.)
I have several patients where their father has been absent in some way. If not necessarily physically absent, then absent in terms of being a Father who has any potency. The OED gives as one of its definitions of Father “One who institutes, originates, calls into being. One who performs the offices of a father by protecting care etc.” One of my patients was made to sit outside on the doorstep for several hours if she had been “naughty”-regardless of the weather. Another had a father who was probably psychotic and at times violent towards his wife. Another patient’s father killed himself when his child was five years old. I have another patient whose father was a violent alcoholic who tyrannised his family.
Listening to my patents it is interesting to see how they have managed their internal fathers. My step patient when I asked what her father did to protect her simply shrugged. “Nobody argued with mum”. Two of my patients who had violent fathers have both internalised an angry parent and have significant difficulties with their own anger. Both, at times, becoming the father they hated and feared. All but one of them have problems making and sustaining intimate, nourishing relationships. Each of them is trying to use their relationship with me to understand their anger. (Which invariably comes from a terror of – and a refusal to be- vulnerable.)
My patients had-and have- mothers. but like their fathers, these mothers seemed unable to meet the requirements implicit in the title “mother”. The OED gives as one of its definitions of mother “Applied to things regarded as giving birth, or standing in the relation of a mother, e.g. a condition that gives rise to another, the Church, Nature, one’s native country, one’s university.” Mother here seems to have some kind of holding, containing, enabling role. Not a solely biological one. And as a counsellor I am experienced as both male and female; mother and father depending on my patients and their need.