Sister Mary Wolff-Salin takes the reader into two worlds. She seeks to “scratch the surface” (p. 55) of the initiatory experience for monastic life and for a Jungian therapist. Best read in one or two sittings the text accomplishes the author’s goal.
While a good deal of literature related to male spirituality takes up the theme of male initiation, Sr. Wolff-Salin highlights two initiatory experiences common to men and women. To get at the experience of initiation to monasticism the author creates a fictional journal of a woman new to the vowed life. Modeled after a case study used in clinical training the journal leads the reader through the ups and downs of a woman dying to life in the world and rising to the new life of the monastic community. Clothed and as a nun and professing the vows the woman successfully completed a process of initiation.
Quoting June Singer on the education of an analyst, Sr. Wolff-Salin describes the process as coming to know one’s own soul in order to become one’s true self. As with the initiatory experiences of becoming a monastic, as well as adult initiatory experiences, the process embodies several ordeals. In analytic training even the application process with its real possibility of rejection challenges the applicant regarding his or her desire for genuine self-knowledge and genuine self-disclosure. Both of these elements stand as essential dynamics for analytical training.
The fictional journal and the descriptions of analytical training take up common themes beyond the ordeal. These include disillusionment, integration and dreams. For those familiar with Jungian theory, one knows these as patterns for individuation and the achievement of mature psychic development for everyone. The author brings this together with some practical wisdom for human life that integrates both the Rule of Benedict and Carl Jung’s theory (p. 102).
Despite some dated references in both main sections of the text, the author offers a very readable and well-organized text. Cross-cultural and cross-religious examples including references from Buddhism and Native American spirituality allow one to overlook some of the time bound elements. The fluid style and compelling descriptions in the young nun’s journal lead the reader to hope for something similar for the analyst in training. While the text does not provide such a fictional journal, the attention given to describing the process of analytical training serves a similar purpose.
Sr. Wolff-Salin provides a text valuable to vowed religious seeking a better psychological understanding of their life and a text for the analytical therapist willing to see some connection between their training and specific religious experience. Similarly, she provides a readable text for the general reader with some interest in initiatory experience.