I Corinthians 2:16

At least three times this weekend, both online and off, I got into conversations with people about the word metanoia. The link is to its Wikipedia entry, which provides a succinct look at the different ways in which this delicious Greek word can be understood.

Is metanoia about repentance (stopping doing things that are unloving, addictive/abusive, inimical to the grace of God), or is it about entering into a new mind: a heightened consciousness, a spiritual quantum leap?

I don’t think the answer to this question has to be either/or. In fact, I think Christian mysticism is all about how metanoia is a both/and proposition. Christian metanoia means both repentance and higher consciousness.

One of the persons I spoke with this weekend does a lot of dream work, and when I mentioned this idea that metanoia involved entering into higher consciousness, he asked “but what about the unconscious?” gesturing with his hands to show that he (like I) recognizes the body as the “location” of unconsciousness.

“The unconscious is still part of consciousness, it’s just consciousness at a different level of awareness,” I replied. “We need to get away from any dualistic ideas that separate consciousness from unconsciousness.”

Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
Pentecost and Ecstasy
Entering the Year of Mercy: Are You Willing to Take the "Rahner Challenge"?
Is Mysticism Genetic?
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • http://dreamstudies.org Ryan Hurd

    The concept of metanoia is wonderful! It encompasses the negative (addiction/withholding/selfishness) as well as the hope for radical self transformation. Paul really forgot about that second part, it seems to me (or at least how “repentance” is conceived of today through his work).

    And I appreciate your take on the unconscious. I do a lot of dreamwork myself and have found that the autonomous forces (those shadowy figures in dreams as well as other lower-minded patterns and memories of trauma, etc) seek confrontation and communion. They sometimes just need to be seen and loved.

    The duality of conscious/unconscious really is false; it is too fluid to define and demarcate. Altho it is also clear that the process of integration happens in a way that is not intended by our conscious minds! It requires a deep trust to move into those spaces with courage. I feel that this is one of the workshops of metanoia.

  • judith collier

    My Greek son-in law(emmigrated at 4yrs) by the way who speaks Greek said he had to ask his” madre” since his mother lived there for 19 yrs. She said,”with change, so it could be repentance-change a past action” I did mention the word repentance prior to my son-in law.

  • Peter

    Thanks to Ryan for mentioning the deep trust needed to move toward the integration of unconscious/conscious through metanoia. Interestingly, I have been “doing a lot of dream work” myself, even today; even more interestingly, we in our local group have been centering intensely on metanoia over the last while, including its vast implications for change of life and behavior resulting from change of mind. This is very timely! It requires supernatural, sovereign grace: this means it is not a work we can do or accomplish but is a gift we receive from above (“infused” if you like that kind of language). Thank God this gift is universally available for us all in Jesus.

    Blessings to all,

  • http://www.philfosterlpc.com phil foster

    Victor White, I believe a Catholic priest, wrote a wonderful book in the 50s entitled “God and the Unconscious.” His basic premise was that God and the unconscious have numerous shared attributes (unfathomability beyond covenant relatedness, ineffability, universality/omnipresence, etc).

    The classic, literal use of the word metanoia is “change of mind.” Both remorse, “turning away from,” and transformation of consciousness are implied.

    And, in my little experience as a minister and a psychotherapist, Ryan has it correct. We can be conscious of the process of integration but we are not in charge. The flip side is that (miracle of miracles) our little human consciousness is co-creating with the mind of God – truly covenant based. We prepare ourselves and put God in the center (Self, as Dr. Jung suggested); we turn from our little consciousness to the Reality of God’s Infinite, Loving Consciousness.