George F. Handel’s “How Beautiful Are the Feet” as Transformational Object: An Autobiographical Account


Using Christopher Bollas’s concept of transformational object, the author reflects on George F. Handel’s “How Beautiful Are the Feet” as a song that has sustained him and informed his vocational self-understanding as a pastoral theologian. The author reflects on the role of his mother and paternal aunts in fostering a model of care that instilled in him a sense of hope. The author concludes by reflecting on the kinetic quality of pastoral theology and the need to reclaim an agile, even playful understanding of hope.

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    Camila’s directive style of care is a helpful reminder that sometimes caregivers know intuitively what is needed and do well in naming it. Of course, offering direct suggestions is not always the best course of action. Commenting on Milton Erickson’s storytelling method, Donald Capps (1998) points out that unlike directives, stories allow clients to remain in control of their lives (p. 58). Capps explains that through his stories, the “prescriptions” and “orders” Erickson presents are offered as gifts and thus clients are free to decline them if they are irrelevant to what they need (p. 59). Although I agree with Capps’s reflections on the power of indirect suggestion in Erickson’s storytelling, in certain occasions, a direct remark—presented respectfully and compassionately—can be an effective pastoral response. Care seekers in certain contexts of care tend to expect direct suggestions from their caregivers. In my experience working in Mexican congregations, for example, I often found that care seekers expected direct suggestions, even instructions, from their caregivers.

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    Historian Michael A. Mullett (2004) agrees with Erikson that Luther’s mystical or pious impulse seems to have come from his mother. Mullett explains, “It seems more likely to have been the case . . . that Margaret Luther was responsible, not for ‘forcing’ her son into monasticism, but for creating the kind of domestic religious ambience that was to direct her son towards the monastery door as his own choice in 1505” (p. 26).

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    Mullett (2004) suggests that Margarethe Luther kept a copy of the Bible in the Luther home (p. 26). Mullet then refers to Luther’s own words, who reported that as a boy he had come “across a Bible,” a book “which pleased him immensely” (p. 35).


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Correspondence to Rubén Arjona.

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Arjona, R. George F. Handel’s “How Beautiful Are the Feet” as Transformational Object: An Autobiographical Account. Pastoral Psychol 69, 87–98 (2020).

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  • Christopher Bollas
  • Paul Pruyser
  • Transformational objects
  • Handel’s Messiah
  • Aunting
  • Hope