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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
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.
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).
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).
Alexander, J. A. (1847). The later prophecies of Isaiah. New York: Wiley and Putnam.
Arjona, R. (2012). A time to sing and a time to dance: Activating hope and wisdom. Pastoral Psychology, 62, 781–790.
Barrett, W. (2005). G. F. Handel’s Messiah: Drama theologicus—A discussion of Messiah’s text with implications for its performance. Choral Journal, 46, 8–14.
Blume, F. (1973). Luther the musician. In H. G. Koenigsberger (Ed.), Luther: A profile (pp. 218–226). New York: Hill and Wang.
Bollas, C. (1987). The shadow of the object: Psychoanalysis of the unthought known. New York: Columbia University Press.
Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans. Ancient Christian commentary on scripture Vol. 6. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn.
Capps, W. H. (1970). Times invades the cathedral: Tensions in the school of hope. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Capps, D. (1995). Agents of hope: A pastoral psychology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Capps, D. (1998). Living stories: Pastoral counseling in congregational context. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Ellingson, L. L., & Sotirin, P. J. (2010). Aunting: Cultural practices that sustain family and community life. Waco: Baylor University Press.
Erikson, E. H. (1958). Young man Luther: A study in psychoanalysis and history. New York: W. W. Norton.
Erikson, E. H. (1997). The life cycle completed. Extended version by J. M. Erikson. New York: W. W. Norton.
Freud, S. (1961). Civilization and its discontents. New York: W. W. Norton.
Hanson, P. D. (1995). Isaiah 40–66. Louisville: John Knox Press.
Mish, F. C. (Ed.). (1993). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. Springfield: Merriam-Webster.
Mullett, M. A. (2004). Martin Luther. London: Routledge.
Pruyser, P. W. (1983). The play of the imagination: Toward a psychoanalysis of culture. New York: International Universities Press.
Young, E. J. (1972). The book of Isaiah (Vol. 3). Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Arjona, R. George F. Handel’s “How Beautiful Are the Feet” as Transformational Object: An Autobiographical Account. Pastoral Psychol 69, 87–98 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11089-020-00894-6
- Christopher Bollas
- Paul Pruyser
- Transformational objects
- Handel’s Messiah